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SKYE on AOL

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    Jan. 16, 2013
    Jersey Shore, Superstorm Sandy
    This aerial photo shows destruction left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) - The boardwalk where generations of families and teens got their first taste of the Jersey Shore and where the MTV reality show of the same name was filmed is about to be rebuilt following its destruction in Superstorm Sandy.

    Seaside Heights on Wednesday night awarded a $3.6 million contract to have the boardwalk rebuilt in time for Memorial Day weekend.

    The walkway, one of the most popular and heavily used at the Jersey Shore, was destroyed in the late October storm, the state's worst natural disaster. Officials say it is the centerpiece of the borough's tourism industry, which funds 75 percent of its budget.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy
    Superstorm Sandy, New York City, Taxis"A lot of people love Seaside and want to see what's happening this year," Mayor William Akers said. "If they don't come back, we don't eat."

    Florence Birban, a 47-year resident, said the boardwalk means a lot to homeowners.

    "We need a boardwalk here to bring in the revenue and keep our taxes from going up, hopefully," she said. "It just looks wrong without a boardwalk. I look up the street, and I don't see one, and it's not right."

    The work should be done by May 10.

    Seaside Heights was famous for generations as a summer destination for families, teens and young adults. It took on a new level of fame in recent years when MTV set its "Jersey Shore" reality show on the boardwalk, where a tipsy Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi tottered unsteadily and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino flexed his abs as cameras whirred.

    The contract approved Wednesday just covers replacement of the boards and the substructure beneath it. Akers said a future contract will include ramps, railings and a protective sea wall.

    Borough Administrator John Camera said the entire length of the mile-long boardwalk will be rebuilt.

    That was good news for Sue Poane, another longtime resident concerned about the town's financial future and its quality of life.

    "We need the people to spend their money here; we need the boardwalk back for the businesses," she said. "My husband and I walk the boardwalk every Sunday afternoon. We have our supper at our special place - they have the best seafood in the world! - and then we sit and people-watch."

    Seaside Heights is the second major boardwalk to see rebuilding begin; Belmar started work on its walkway last week. Spring Lake also has started fixing its boardwalk, as has Point Pleasant Beach.

    On Thursday, Seaside Heights plans to solicit bids from companies interested in removing the remains of the Jet Star roller coaster from the Atlantic Ocean, where it sits after plunging off a collapsing pier during the storm.

    Town officials are anxious to have it removed. Last week, a man sailed a small boat to the coaster, climbed to the top of it and affixed a flag to it before being talked down and arrested by police. Officials and some residents are worried about liability for the coaster if someone is injured on or near it. The beachfront remains off-limits and is guarded by police and state troopers.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy
    Superstorm Sandy

     

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    The caboose in a train of storms affecting the South will trend colder and deliver wintry precipitation farther east than its predecessors, including heavy snow for the mountains and some major population centers. Snow will reach part of the coastal mid-Atlantic as well.

    The storm has the potential to down trees and power lines as well as make for difficult travel.

    Part of the lower Mississippi and Tennessee valleys has been hit with two ice storms in as many days.

    The third and final storm in the series will bring a change from rain to snow from west to east over part of the interior South beginning tonight west of the Appalachians, Thursday in the southern Appalachians and a mix of rain and snow to some areas east of the mountains Thursday night.

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER: Winter Weather Center

    Rain will change to snow and push out of the mountains Thursday into Thursday night.

    There is the potential for a heavy amount of snow, in excess of half a foot in the southern Appalachians later Thursday into Thursday night. With such a dynamic storm system, there could be thunder with the snow in some locations.

    Snow will fall and accumulate in northern Georgia at an elevation above 2,500 feet. Some wet snow can mix in several hundred feet below this level.

    According to meteorologist Mark Mancuso, "Some wet snow can mix in around Birmingham, Atlanta, Virginia Beach and Elizabeth City, N.C."

    As you head north the snow will become more extensive, lower in elevation and will reach east of the Appalachians. The mountains of North Carolina to southwestern Virginia could be on the receiving end of a foot of snow or more.

    In Virginia, a swath of heavy snow may extend northeastward from the mountains to part of the Tidewater. Several inches of snow are possible for a large part of the Delmarva Peninsula.

    The Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas will be on the northern edge of the accumulating snow.

    "Cities that have the potential to receive several inches of snow include Knoxville and Bristol, Tenn., Asheville and Winston-Salem, N.C., Roanoke and Richmond, Va.," Mancuso added.
    Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, N.C. could receive an inch or so of snow.

    Due to the recent warm weather, much of the snow will melt on roadways. However, where the snow comes down hard, over the bridges and overpasses and over the higher elevations, slippery travel is likely.

    Prior to the snow or a wintry mix, additional heavy rain and incidents of flooding will continue to be centered over the southern Appalachians, but will reach westward and eastward to the foothills and beyond.

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.


    RELATED ON SKYE: How to Survive a Winter Storm

     

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    This May 18, 2011, file photo shows a partially flooded building on the banks of a river outside of the levee protection area in Simmesport, La. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, inspectors taking the first-ever inventory of flood control systems overseen by the U.S. government have found hundreds of structures at risk of failing and endangering people and property.

    Levees deemed in unacceptable condition span the breadth of America. They are in every region, in cities and towns big and small.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal public engineering agency, has yet to issue ratings for a little more than 40 percent of the 2,487 structures, which protect about 10 million people. Of those it has rated, however, 326 levees covering more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) were found in urgent need of repair.

    The problems are myriad: earthen walls weakened by trees, shrubs and burrowing animal holes; houses built dangerously close to or even on top of levees; decayed pipes and pumping stations.

    Local governments are responsible for upgrading unacceptable levees. Some local officials say that the Corps is exaggerating the dangers, that some deficiencies were approved or not objected to by the federal government and that any repairs could cost them hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

    "It's just not right to tell a little town like this to spend millions of dollars that we can't raise," said Judy Askew, mayor of Brookport, Illinois, a hardscrabble town of about 1,000 on the banks of the Ohio River.

    The condition of flood control systems came into dramatic focus in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina's rain and storm surge toppled levees in New Orleans and tore up the Gulf Coast. It left 1,800 people dead and was the costliest storm in U.S. history with damage estimated at $108 billion.

    Afterward, Congress told the Corps to catalog federally overseen levees, many of which it built and handed over to municipalities to run and maintain. The Corps has spent more than $140 million on inspections and developing the inventory.

    As of Jan. 10, the agency had rated 1,451 or 58 percent, of them. Of those, 326 were unacceptable, 1,004 were minimally acceptable with deficiencies that need correcting, and 121 were acceptable.

    In interviews, some local managers disputed their "unacceptable" ratings, saying their levees were sound, if not perfect.

    Bill Sheppard, assistant chief engineer for the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board, noted that none of its levees failed during severe flooding in spring of 2011. "Our system works," he said. "Does it have components that need to be fixed after this flood? Absolutely. But if you look at the levee evaluation reports, you'd think, 'Oh Lord, run for the hills.'"

    A number of local managers blame their "unacceptable" ratings on the Corps taking a harder line on compliance with levee construction, operation and maintenance standards.

    "Since Katrina, they're almost hyper-vigilant," said John Sachi, city engineer for South St. Paul, Minnesota. "It's almost like they're remedying their mistakes from the past by putting the onus on us to make sure things get better."

    Eric Halpin, the Corps special assistant for dam and levee safety, agreed that levees covered by the agency's safety program mostly held their own during some of the heaviest flooding on record in 2011, which caused an estimated $9 billion in damage.

    But that doesn't mean inspectors are overstating the system's flaws, Halpin said, noting that some communities escaped catastrophe only after heroic efforts to shore up levees more than half a century old.

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

     

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    A National Weather Service forecaster in Cheyenne, Wyo., looks at radar images of a winter storm in the western plains and Black Hills. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

    CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Ever hit a mental whiteout pondering the difference between a winter storm watch and winter weather advisory?

    The National Weather Service is looking at the idea that less is more when it comes to such jargon.

    This winter, the federal forecasting agency is trying out simple, descriptive language to possibly replace its 14 watches, advisories and warnings for wintry weather - from ice storms to blizzards, wind chill to lake-effect snow.

    Recent example: Alongside a winter storm watch for northeast Wyoming, the Weather Service released a possible substitute statement: "The National Weather Service in Rapid City (S.D.) is forecasting the potential for a significant winter storm."

    "The purpose of this project is to use language that is self-evident, that everybody would immediately understand," said Eli Jacks, the forecaster leading the experiment.

    The experiment began in December and runs through March 31 at 26 Weather Service offices covering Alaska, Oregon, the northern Great Plains, Michigan, New England, Appalachia and Oklahoma. A separate website for the project avoids confusing people who just want to look up the forecast.

    The clear-and-simple approach could be carried over to heat waves, flooding, dangerous wind and other conditions, but that will depend on what the public has to say.

    Reaction so far has been partly cloudy. Many people don't want to give up familiar terms that have been around for generations, Jacks said.

    "But then other people say, 'Well you know what, I've always been confused by 'watch' and 'warning' because they both start with 'wa.' Or, 'I've never quite known what an advisory means,'" he said.

    Jackson said he's thought about the problem for years and got to work on changes about two years ago. Hear, hear, said one Cheyenne-area man as he waited for his flight to California at the city's tiny airport.

    "It is confusing. What is the difference between a warning and a watch? To just have it spelled out in plain English would be handy," Roger Longstreet said.

    The new approach targets watches (which predict the potential for hazardous weather while the likelihood, timing and/or location remain uncertain) and advisories (for weather hazards that are imminent or occurring but are not inherently dangerous.)

    The Weather Service would continue to issue warnings when it means serious business with dangerous weather.

    The Weather Service isn't alone in reconsidering how it communicates with the public.

    Remember "Snowmageddon," the East Coast blizzard of 2010? Federal forecasters aren't getting that creative yet, but The Weather Channel this winter has formalized naming winter storms like hurricanes, typhoons and tropical storms.

    "When they get named, they're instantly raised in the public consciousness. People just pay more attention to storms when they get a name," explained Bryan Norcross, a content director for The Weather Channel who helped develop the naming system.

    In December, the storm Draco (named for an ancient Athenian legislator) dumped a foot of snow from Wyoming into the Upper Midwest. Next up were Euclid (ancient Greek mathematician), Freyr (Norse god) and Gandalf ("Lord of the Rings" wizard).

    Social media played a big role, starting with an October 2011 snowstorm that The Weather Channel's social media specialists gave the Twitter hashtag snowtober.

    "What we realized was that, in the future, with the reality of Twitter and the fact that we're going to send information out about storms all winter long, we're going to have to come up with some kind of hashtag for every storm," Norcross said.

    He pointed out that a pre-decided list of names gets around the problem of having to come up with a creative name for every storm.

    The National Weather Service in the late 1990s toyed with rating winter storms on a 1-5 intensity scale, as is done for hurricanes, but the idea didn't catch on.

    The public can see how the Weather Service's proposed new wording works and comment on it at http://nws.weather.gov/haz_simp.

    Ideas submitted by the public so far include trying a color-coded scale for severe weather.

    Jacks said he's read all 3,000 or so surveys returned to date.

    "It's a challenge," he said. "These are all interesting comments and we have to take some time to think about them."

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    (AP Photo)

    The warmest springs on record caused flowers to bloom at their earliest dates in decades at two historic sites, according to new research.

    The findings, published online January 16 in the journal PLoS ONE, show just how much climate change has altered ecosystems throughout the temperate areas of the United States. The study used 161-year-old data on flowering times from Henry David Thoreau's notebooks, as well as nearly 80-year-old data from the famous naturalist Aldo Leopold.

    Scientists had previously described the Thoreau records but they hadn't combined the two naturalists' findings until now.

    "Record warm temperatures (in 2010 and 2012) have resulted in record early flowering times," said study researcher Elizabeth Ellwood of Boston University. [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]

    Famous naturalists

    Henry David Thoreau was one of the most iconic figures of the 19th century. The famous naturalist and poet wrote the book "Walden" about his years living at idyllic Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. Starting in 1852 and at different points throughout his life, he also created the first "spreadsheets of flowering dates" for many well-known flowers, including the wild columbine, the pink-lady slipper orchid and the marsh marigold, Ellwood said.

    Similarly, the naturalist Leopold took detailed records of first flowering times at a site called "The Shack" in wilderness near the Wisconsin River, starting in 1935.

    "It's the iconic equivalent to Walden Pond for Wisconsinites," Ellwood told LiveScience.

    While scholars knew of these flowering observations, many were scattered in different libraries and archives, and no one had systematically analyzed their patterns, she said.

    Hotter springs, earlier blooms

    To do so, Ellwood and her colleagues gathered all of Thoreau's flowering records from several archives. They then compared flowering dates with spring temperatures for 32 different flowering plants.

    They found that as temperatures warmed over the last 161 years, the date of first blooms of the season crept forward, too - about 10 days earlier than when Thoreau first visited the site. During the record-breaking years of 2010 and 2012, flowering happened a full 20 to 21 days earlier. The average spring temperature at Walden Pond has increased about 6 degrees Fahrenheit since Thoreau's time.

    Similarly, at The Shack, as average spring temperatures rose about 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the last eight decades, first flowering came a week early for the 23 species they studied. During the hottest years in the United States (2010 and 2012), flowering came 24 days earlier than in Leopold's time.

    Still adapting

    The research may have tracked just two sites, but has broad implications, said Elizabeth Wolkovich, a climate change ecologist at the University of British Columbia who was not involved in the study.

    "One is deep within the country and one is on the coast," Wolkovich said.

    That means the findings probably apply to temperate climates throughout a large swath of the United States, she told LiveScience.

    Though Thoreau and Leopold's works have highlighted how much climate change alters ecosystems, in some ways, the findings are good news.

    At some point, the climate will get too hot for plants to survive without evolving, but the fact that the plant flowering time is still changing in step with the temperature means they haven't hit that point yet, said David Inouye, a University of Maryland biologist who was not involved in the study.

    Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted
    Image Gallery: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth
    6 Signs that Spring Has Sprung

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

     

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    Avalanche survivor Elisabeth Malloy and skiing partner and initial rescuer Adam Morrey discuss their avalanche ordeal Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

    SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A 43-year-old Utah woman who survived an avalanche says she felt a 'strange serenity' while trapped under the snow before she went unconscious.

    Elisabeth Malloy suffered frostbite in her toes and fingers, but lived to tell her harrowing story thanks to her boyfriend, avalanche rescue beacons, a skier that wandered by and avalanche rescue teams.

    She and her boyfriend and skiing partner, 30-year-old Adam Morrey, spoke at length about their experience during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. They said they were lucky to be alive after they triggered and were engulfed by a 700-foot wide avalanche while skiing in the mountains east of Salt Lake City on Saturday.

    Malloy said it felt like a water slide as she slid face first on her stomach down the mountain in the avalanche. She meditated, breathed slowly and told herself that it wasn't her time to die during the few minutes before she lost consciousness while buried about 18 inches into the snow.

    "It was surreal, as quiet and as embryonic without being water that I could imagine," said Malloy, a pediatric nurse. "I had this feeling that I was going to be fine."

    She said she remembered being awoken by "sweet kisses" from Morrey, then feeling very cold.

    Morrey, who had skied downhill about 10-15 feet downhill before being bowled over by the slide, emerged with his head and chest out of the snow. After Malloy failed to answer his calls, he frantically shimmied out of the snow and began searching for her. After several long minutes, Morrey found Malloy using avalanche rescue beacons they were both wearing.

    Using an avalanche shovel, Morrey hit her foot and then found the rest of her body. She was breathing but unconscious for a bit before she stopped breathing. Morrey performed CPR on her. She didn't have her ski boots and had lost her gloves. Morrey grabbed extra clothes she had in her backpack and put them on her to keep warm.

    Another skier came by and helped the two make their way down the mountain - Morrey and the other man on skis and Malloy on a plastic bag with one ski boot. After calling to initiate a rescue, the man helped them slide their way down until a rescue helicopter spotted them about 2 ½ hours later.

    They were taken to University Hospital in Salt Lake City. Malloy has been there since receiving treatment for her frostbite in the burn unit.

    Morrey said they both have years of experienced backcountry skiing, and that they knew about the considerable avalanche danger that day.

    "Our judgment was overwhelmed by the pursuit of having more fun and skiing the steeper slopes and the great Utah powder," Morrey said.

    Malloy said she's glad she was buried and not Morrey because she's not sure she would have been able to be calm enough to pull off the rescue. Both thanked university officials for treating them and to avalanche rescue teams for bringing them to safety.

    Malloy is leaving University Hospital Wednesday. Even though she's at risk for future frostbite, she vowed to return to the snowy mountains.

    "It's who I am," she said. "It's not about the powder turns, it's about the mountains. It's about the hiking, it's about the experience for me. I enjoy being in the mountains, I love snow. I've always considered myself a mountain goat."

     

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    Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

    When NASA revealed its stunning new images of the Earth at night - or the Black Marble, as some referred to the darkened planet - one NPR correspondent noticed something unusual: a mysterious mass of lights in North Dakota near the Canadian border. The sighting was surprising for a few reasons. First, there are no large cities in the region that would cause the phenomenon, and second, the lights didn't exist in that same spot six years ago. So how to explain them?

    Far below the Earth's surface in this once-desolate region lie vast oil deposits, which in recent years have been captured by fracking, a process that fractures rocks below the surface to release the oil. With this innovation, oil fields have sprung up in a remote corner of North Dakota, along with hundreds of requisite oil rigs - and their bright lights.

    Still, oil rig lights are not the sole cause of the mass of lights in the NASA image. As oil is being captured by fracking, less valuable gas is also released. Rather than capturing all of the gas, oil companies are letting nearly a third of it burn - creating brights bursts of flames, or as we see in the image, an additional surge of light, according to the NPR post.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Breathtaking Images of Earth from Space

     

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    President Barack Obama speaking in the East Room of the White House Jan. 14, 2013. (AP)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's second-term energy agenda is taking shape and, despite the departure of key Cabinet officials, it looks a lot like the first: more reliance on renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and expanded production of oil and natural gas. Obama also is promising to address climate change, an issue he has acknowledged was sometimes overlooked during his first term.

    "The president has been clear that tackling climate change and enhancing energy security will be among his top priorities in his second term," said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman.

    While the administration has made progress in developing renewable energy and improving fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, "we know there is more work to do," Stevens said.

    He'll have to do that work with new heads of the agencies responsible for the environment. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Environmental Protection chief Lisa Jackson and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have announced they are leaving. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is expected to follow his colleagues out the door in coming weeks.

    The White House says no decisions have been made on replacements for any of the environment and energy jobs but says Obama's priorities will remain unchanged.

    One of the first challenges Obama will face is an old problem: whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. Obama blocked the pipeline last year, citing uncertainty over the conduit's route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska. Gov. Dave Heineman is considering a new route; he is expected to make a decision next month.

    The State Department has federal jurisdiction because the $7 billion pipeline begins in Canada.

    The pipeline has become a flashpoint in a bitter partisan dispute. Republicans and many business groups say the project would help achieve energy independence for North America and create thousands of jobs.

    But environmental groups have urged Obama to block the pipeline, which they say would transport "dirty oil" from tar sands in western Canada and produce heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming. They also worry about a possible spill.

    If the pipeline is approved, "the administration would be actively supporting and encouraging the growth of an industry which has demonstrably serious effects on climate," 18 top climate scientists wrote in a letter to Obama this week.

    Obama also faces a choice over whether to promote a boom in oil and natural gas production that has hampered growth of nontraditional energy sources such as wind and solar.

    The emergence of cheap, plentiful natural gas in particular poses a dilemma for Obama, who supports gas development as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels that trigger global warming.

    Many environmental groups who support the president are wary of natural gas and are critical of drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing that allow drillers to gain access to reserves that formerly were out of reach. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," involves injection of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up dense rock that holds oil and gas.

    The Obama administration has said it will for the first time require companies drilling for oil and natural gas on public and Indian lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in fracking operations. The proposed rules also would set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal.

    Environmental groups are pushing the administration to do more to crack down on fracking, while industry groups and Republican lawmakers say federal rules are unnecessary, since states already regulate the drilling practice.

    The natural gas boom "puts the administration in an interesting position. They can be aggressive and look at natural gas for the possibilities it brings, or they can bow to the environmental community, which is not interested in more natural gas drilling," said Frank Maisano, a Washington spokesman for a range of energy producers from coal to wind.

    The Environmental Protection Agency also is expected to forge ahead with the first limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. The administration has imposed rules on new plants but is expected to move forward on rules for existing plants, despite protests from industry and Republicans that new rules will raise electricity prices and kill off coal, the dominant U.S. energy source.

    Older coal-fired power plants have been shutting down across the country, thanks to low natural gas prices and weaker demand for electricity.

    Environmental groups also hope Obama will use his executive authority to protect more wild places, through creation of national monuments and other steps. The last Congress was the first since the 1960s not to designate a new wilderness area.

    "We're hoping he can leave a legacy for conservation of public lands and have a real vision for it," said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society.

    Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Obama's second term will be pivotal in the fight against climate change, which he called the "singular issue of our time for anyone who cares about clean air, clean water and a safe future for our families."

    Brune urged Obama to take "swift, decisive action to prevent more erratic weather, superstorms and wildfires."

    Top contenders to replace Salazar include former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes and John Berry, head of the Office of Personnel Management and a former director of the National Zoo. A host of green groups are backing Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva.

    Gregoire also is under consideration for the EPA slot, along with Jackson's deputy, Bob Perciasepe, and the head of the agency's air and radiation office, Gina McCarthy.

    University of Maryland Prof. Donald Boesch, who served on Obama's 2010 oil spill commission, is a leading candidate to replace Lubchenco at NOAA.

     

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    Jan. 16, 2013

    Heavy snow falls along Interstate-65 in Hartselle, Ala., Thursday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

    ATLANTA (AP) - A winter storm was making its way across the Southeast on Thursday, dumping 4 inches of snow in Mississippi and playing a role in a traffic fatality there, with the system expected to spread across northern Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia, according to the National Weather Service.

    Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Cpl. Criss Turnipseed said Johnnie A. Matthews, 64, of West Point died when his car collided with a downed tree about 5 a.m. on Mississippi Highway 50 in Lowndes County.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Hits Mississippi and Alabama
    Mississippi snowTurnipseed says the large pine tree in the roadway appeared to have been uprooted by wind and ground saturation due to excessive rainfall. The winter blitz follows days of heavy rain across much of the Southeast.

    No other fatalities have been reported.

    In Huntsville, Ala., a mix of thick snowflakes and sleet fell Thursday afternoon, turning roadsides and plowed farm fields white. Much of the state - including large parts of northern and central Alabama - were under winter storm warnings set to expire between 6 and 7 p.m., National Weather Service officials said.

    Traffic slowed to a crawl on the bridge spanning the Tennessee River, with snow accumulating on guardrails. The river was swollen out of its banks after days of heavy rain across north Alabama. Some areas of the state had received as much as 6 inches of rain since Sunday.

    Officials closed NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville because of the threat of slippery roads. Engineers postponed an outdoor rocket test to give workers time to get home.

    Heavy snow reduced visibility to one-half mile north of Birmingham.

    In Mississippi, winter storm warnings had expired and the snow was expected to melt by early afternoon. The last time central Mississippi got at least 2 inches of snow was in February of 2010.

    Weather warnings and advisories remained in effect for parts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland, in addition to Alabama.

    In northern Georgia, the heaviest snow was expected to fall in the mountains, with lighter amounts possible in parts of the Atlanta area. Schools in at least five counties in the northwest part of the state dismissed early Thursday. Winter weather advisories were in effect across at least 25 counties, set to expire between midnight and 7 a.m.

    Snow also was possible across much of North Carolina, with as much as 9 inches in the northwestern mountains. Snow was expected as far east as Elizabeth City.

    A winter weather advisory also was issued in South Carolina, with up to 3 inches of snow expected in the northern part of the state.

    In Virginia, the National Weather Service expected snowfall to range from a dusting in Hampton Roads to as much as 9 inches in the Blue Ridge Mountains and other high elevations.

    The National Weather Service said Thursday evening that most of the Washington area would avoid snow, although some southern Maryland counties might see an accumulation of 2 to 4 inches.

    The weather service said temperatures were expected to stay above freezing in Washington and that if rain fell, it would move out of the area before midnight.

    However, a winter weather advisory remained in effect south of Washington in St. Mary's, Charles and Calvert counties. Meteorologists predicted 2 to 4 inches of snow in those counties.

    The moisture may be welcomed by farmers in the Southeast, notably in those states hardest hit by the nation's worst drought in decades.

    An update Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that about 59 percent of the continental U.S. remains gripped by some form of drought. More than 91 percent of Georgia is in drought, as is about a third of Mississippi.

    Climatologists and hydrologists have called winter precipitation - and lots of it - crucial in breaking the grip of drought and restoring moisture to soil and pastureland.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Hits Mississippi and Alabama

     

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    A woman uses an umbrella to stay dry as she goes to work during a heavy snowfall Thursday afternoon in Bristol, Va. (AP Photo/The Bristol Herald-Courier,Andre Teague )

    ATLANTA (AP) - Parts of the Southeast were digging out Friday from a winter storm that dumped snow around the region and played a role in at least one death.

    In Virginia, the areas hardest hit Thursday and Friday were in the southwest, where the National Weather Service says 13 inches were reported in Giles County, while Grayson County and the Galax area received about a foot.

    Road crews in that part of the state were out in force early Friday to plow and treat roads. Hardest hit was Interstate 77. The highway still had snow cover and there were reports of disabled vehicles along the roadway.

    While the winter storm wasn't as severe as initially feared, icy roads remained a concern Friday morning and some school systems decided to open late.

    Parts of Mississippi saw 2 to 4 inches of snow on the ground Thursday. In Lowndes County, Highway Patrol spokesman Cpl. Criss Turnipseed said Johnnie A. Matthews, 64, of West Point died when his car collided with a downed tree about 5 a.m. on Mississippi Highway 50.

    Turnipseed says the large pine tree in the roadway appeared to have been uprooted by wind and ground saturation due to excessive rainfall. The winter blitz follows days of heavy rain across much of the Southeast.

    No other fatalities have been reported but thousands lost power.

    Virginia State Police say they were swamped with calls at the height of the storm. Dispatchers fielded more than 760 calls reporting crashes and disabled vehicles.

    In Roanoke, Va., heavy snow was falling as residents prepared for the first significant storm of the season.

    In Bland County, Virginia, heavy snow, downed trees, disabled vehicles and numerous crashes partially closed I-77, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. Traffic was moving slowly Thursday night and Geller said officials would work through the night to reopen all lanes.

    In Alabama on Thursday, northern and central parts of the state were blanketed with as much as 4 inches of snow, forcing businesses and schools to close early and snarling traffic on Interstate 65, where some motorists were stuck for seven or more hours after a series of crashes that caused a miles-long traffic jam. The county emergency management agency opened a shelter at the Cullman Civic Center for stranded motorists, but it wasn't clear how many drivers could even get there.

    Traffic crawled across a slickened Tennessee River bridge over a waterway swollen out of its banks. Some areas of the state had received as much as 6 inches of rain since Sunday, prompting flood warnings and watches across a wide area.

    Scores of schools, businesses and government offices as far south as metro Birmingham pushed back their opening times for Friday because of the threat of icy roads after freezing temperatures overnight.

    Officials closed NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville because of the threat of slippery roads. Engineers postponed an outdoor rocket test to give workers time to get home.

    In northern Georgia, the heaviest snow was expected to fall in the mountains, with lighter amounts possible in parts of the Atlanta area. Schools in at least five counties in the northwest part of the state dismissed early Thursday.

    The moisture may be welcomed by farmers in the Southeast, notably in those states hardest hit by the nation's worst drought in decades.

    An update Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that about 59 percent of the continental U.S. remains gripped by some form of drought. More than 91 percent of Georgia is in drought, as is about a third of Mississippi.

    Climatologists and hydrologists have called winter precipitation - and lots of it - crucial in breaking the grip of drought and restoring moisture to soil and pastureland.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Hits Mississippi and Alabama

     

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    This Jan. 20, 2009, photo shows people keeping warm near a steam vent on the National Mall in Washington prior to the start of then-President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - It will be the first up or down fact check of a Barack Obama campaign pledge for his second term: Promised warmer Inauguration Day weather. Will he - or Mother Nature - deliver?

    It's looking like an uncomfortably close call - the emphasis on the word uncomfortable for people who will be outside on what's predicted to be a downright chilly day.

    In September, campaigning in Colorado, Obama was talking to a potential voter who mentioned he had been one of the hundreds of thousands of people outdoors at Obama's bone-chilling first inaugural when the noontime temperature was an unseasonable chilly 28 degrees. Obama promised: "This one is going to be warmer."

    Scientifically, the president doesn't have control of day-to-day weather. While his policies can lessen or worsen future projected global warming on a large scale, they cannot do anything about Washington's daily temperature on Jan. 21.

    Still, it's a promise that for a long time looked close to a sure thing. The history of local weather was on Obama's side. On average, the normal high is 43 degrees and the normal low is 28 but that's just around dawn. There have been 19 traditional January inaugurations and only two were colder: Ronald Reagan's second in 1985 was a frigid 7 with subzero wind chills and John F. Kennedy's in 1961 was a snowy 22. Jimmy Carter's 1977 inauguration also was 28.

    And then there was the general warming trend Washington had been stuck in. The last time the nation's capital stayed below freezing all day was Jan. 22, 2011. The city has gone a record more than 700 days since it had two or more inches of snow.

    So a dozen days before Inauguration Day, when asked if it this inauguration would be warmer than in 2009, Mike Halpert, deputy director of the federal Climate Prediction Center said: "Sure, that would be something I'd bet on. Now looking at the (long-range computer forecast) models, I'd definitely bet on it. It's very very likely be warmer than it was four years ago."

    That was more than a week ago. The forecast changed. An Arctic cold front looks to be racing toward the mid-Atlantic, so it will be cooler than normal, but probably not cooler than 2009, said Christopher Strong, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va., that oversees forecasts for the capital area.

    Look for highs that day in the upper 30s with noon temperatures in the "middle 30s," Strong said. That would keep Obama's pledge.

    "That's certainly below normal," Strong said. "It's not as cold as it can be."

    The weather would be closer to normal for Cleveland rather than Washington, Strong said. And there's a 30 percent chance of light snow showers.

    But that Arctic front could move in faster than expected with even cooler temperatures, Strong said. So he put the chance of the noon temperature being colder than 2009's 28 degrees at 20 percent.

    Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground, said he thinks there's a 30 percent chance that Obama's promise won't be kept.

    Another factor is that earlier this month cold air suddenly appeared in the uppermost atmosphere and that often means considerably colder weather for America's East coast for several weeks and it appears to be starting, said Climate Prediction Center forecaster Anthony Artusa.

    Extreme cold on Inauguration Day, folklore says, can be a killer.

    In 1841, newly elected president William Henry Harrison stood outside without a coat or hat as he spoke for an hour and 40 minutes. He caught a cold that day and it became pneumonia and he died one month after being sworn in. Twelve years later, outgoing First Lady Abigail Fillmore got sick from sitting outside on a cold wet platform as Franklin Pierce was inaugurated and she died of pneumonia at the end of the month. Doctors now know that pneumonia is caused by germs, but prolonged exposure to extreme cold weather may hurt the airways and make someone more susceptible to getting sick.

    And there's one thing Washington's history shows. Bad weather generally creates bad traffic jams. John F. Kennedy found that out in his 1961 inauguration when 8 inches of snow fell overnight and crippled the city for what at that time was Washington's worst traffic jam. Thousands of cars were abandoned in the snow.

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

     

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    The USS Guardian, a U.S. Navy minesweeper, after running aground off Tubbataha Reef, southwest of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/AFP WESCOM)

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) - A U.S. Navy minesweeper was stuck on a coral reef in the Philippines for a second day Friday, as the crew struggled to extract the ship and Philippine authorities tried to evaluate damage to a protected marine park.

    The Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement that the crew of the USS Guardian was working to find out the best method of safely extracting the ship. Winds and waves were stronger Friday and may make it more difficult to free the ship, Philippine officials said.

    It had just completed a port call in Subic Bay, a former American naval base west of the Philippine capital, when it hit the reef Thursday in the Tubbataha National Marine Park, a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Manila.

    The ship was not listing or leaking oil but its bow struck the reef, said Angelique Songco, head of the government's Protected Area Management Board, after flying over the ship in a Philippine Air Force plane. "(The ship) does not appear to be damaged."

    She said it was unclear how much of the reef was damaged. She said the government imposes a fine of about $300 per square meter (yard) of damaged coral.

    In 2005, the environmental group Greenpeace was fined almost $7,000 after its flagship struck a reef in the same area.

    The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines said in a statement that according to an initial ocular inspection, the 68-meter (74-yard) long, 1,300-ton Guardian damaged at least 10 meters (yards) of the reef.

    Songco said that park rangers were not allowed to board the ship for inspection and were told to contact the U.S. embassy in Manila. Their radio calls to the ship were ignored, she said.

    The Tubbataha Reef is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Coral Triangle, the world's cradle of marine life. It is off-limits to fishing and the collection of corals, wildlife and any marine life is prohibited. In 1992, UNESCO designated the reef as a World Heritage Site.

    U.S. Navy ships have stepped up visits to Philippine ports for refueling, rest and recreation, and joint military exercises as a result of a redeployment of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region. The Philippines, a U.S. defense treaty ally, has been entangled in a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

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    Jan. 18, 2013

    The GOES satellite captured the stalled cold front causing wintry weather in the Eastern United States. (NOAA)

    A cold front sweeping across the United States stalled out over the East Coast on Thursday, causing flash floods in the Southeast and bringing heavy snows to the North.

    The GOES satellite snapped the stagnant system yesterday as it draped across the eastern states.

    The mass of cold air is dropping snow across the southern Appalachians and into parts of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Accuweather.com reported. Flash floods are hitting parts of eastern Tennessee and the Carolinas.

    The heavy rains and snow result from the brutal trough interacting with a ridge of high pressure centered over Bermuda, climatologist Jeff Weber told OurAmazingPlanet in an email interview.

    The stalled front finally will be pushed farther east by a new blast of Arctic air expected early next week, said Weber, a scientist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colo. This could bring freezing temperatures to areas as far south as northern Georgia by Jan. 22.

    The system sitting over the East Coast was produced by an extreme southward dip in the jet stream, which allowed cold air to travel south into California earlier this week. After setting a record daily low in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, the air mass marched across the country, settling in for a predicted week of havoc in the East.

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

    Weirdo Weather: 7 Rare Weather Events
    Weather vs. Climate Change: Test Yourself
    The World's Weirdest Weather

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    Researchers examine a buoy and refrigerator traced to the 2011 Japan tsunami. (Credit: Nicholas Mallos)

    Oyster buoys and refrigerator parts set adrift by the 2011 Japan tsunami are now rolling in with the tide on Hawaii's beaches, a new field survey reveals.

    Black oyster buoys and refrigerator parts - and even a full refrigerator - that trace back to Japan have shown up on the islands of Oahu and Kauai, said Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and ocean debris specialist at the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. Also on Oahu, researchers found a large 4-foot by 4-foot chunk of housing insulation framed in wood, a piece almost certainly sent into the sea by the devastating tsunami.

    "These items have never before been seen on these beaches," Mallos told LiveScience.

    The Japanese government has estimated the tsunami, which was triggered by an underwater earthquake in March 2011, swept about 5 million tons of wreckage out to sea. While 70 percent appears to have sunk offshore, the rest is floating in the Pacific Ocean. The first bit to show up in Hawaii, in September, was a barnacle-covered seafood storage bin.

    Paradise of plastic

    Exposed to ocean currents on every side, the Hawaiian Islands are a hotspot for Pacific junk. Some of this ocean litter originates from the fishing industry; most of the rest is consumer garbage from soda bottles, toys and other plastic goods, much broken down by the waves beyond recognition. [In Photos: Tsunami Debris & Ocean Trash in Hawaii]

    At Kimalo Point on Hawaii's Big Island, tiny fragments of plastic penetrate as much as 3 feet below the beach surface.

    "Many places on the beach, it's hard to differentiate the sand from the plastics on the surface," Mallos said.

    The tsunami debris is different. For one thing, it tends to be larger, having only been in the ocean since March 2011, Mallos said. The debris also comes ashore in surprisingly homogenous waves. This summer, it was oyster buoys, Mallos said. Now, it's refrigerator parts.

    The reason? Wind acts on similar objects in similar ways, according to research by Nikolai Maximenko of the University of Hawaii at Manoa's International Pacific Research Center. All of the tsunami debris went into the ocean at the same time, but some objects drift across the Pacific faster than others. That results in clusters of similar objects showing up in Hawaii and along the North American West Coast at the same time. [Tracking Tsunami Debris (Infographic)]

    Debris hunt

    Mallos and colleagues from the Japan Environmental Action Network, the Oceanic Wildlife Survey and the Japan Ministry of the Environment just completed a beach survey in Hawaii in search of this tsunami debris. They found about six or seven items, including the rusted Japanese refrigerator and buoys, which very likely came from the tsunami, Mallos said.

    "We're not seeing a massive wave of debris wash onto the shore at one time, but right now, what it's been is a slow accumulation of debris here and there," he said.

    The tsunami debris is a problem, but it's part of a much bigger issue, Mallos said. Hawaii is awash with plastic trash from all over the world; the islands also neighbor the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the North Pacific where currents push masses of plastics into a suspended gyre of trash. Long story short: The oceans are a mess.

    The Hawaii survey turned up masses of this typical ocean garbage, including fishing nets and traps, Mallos said. One of the stranger items was an intact plastic trashcan from Los Angeles County with "Heal the Bay" stickers on it. Heal the Bay is a nonprofit group that works to clean up California's Santa Monica Bay. In an unfortunate irony, one of the group's trashcans got into the ocean and floated some 2,500 miles to end up on a beach in Hawaii.

    "It really highlights the fact that trash travels very far," Mallos said.

    The average person can do their part to reduce ocean trash, Mallos said. Because consumer plastics are a huge part of the problem, resolving to use reusable grocery bags, coffee mugs and water bottles can keep one-time use plastics out of the oceans. The Ocean Conservancy has developed a free app, called Rippl, designed to nudge users into a more ocean-friendly routine by reminding them to take those sorts of small actions.

    The problem of typical ocean trash is inextricably linked to the issue of tsunami debris, Mallos said. Tsunamis aren't preventable, but regular ocean litter is, he said.

    "To the extent we can keep regular forms of ocean trash out of the ocean, in the face of disasters, the ocean becomes more resilient and better equipped to deal with the debris," he said.

    The new survey was funded by the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency of Japan.

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

    Waves of Destruction: History's Biggest Tsunamis
    Images: Japanese Dock Washes Ashore in Oregon
    Disasters at Sea: 6 Deadliest Shipwrecks

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    Jan. 18, 2013

    Heavy fall snows in Decatur, Ala., Thursday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Hundreds of people spent a cold night trapped on Interstate 65 in central Alabama as a winter storm dumped snow around the Southeast and caused at least one death in Mississippi.

    The motorists got stuck on the interstate in Cullman County after the snow caused a series of wrecks Thursday that snarled traffic for miles.

    Hundreds of cars and 18-wheelers were at a standstill on the highway as Friday dawned, county emergency management director Phyllis Little said. The highway reopened in both directions by 9:30 a.m., Alabama state troopers said, but it would take time for traffic to move freely again because of the size of the blockage.

    The backup began Thursday afternoon as a winter storm blanketed the area with as much as 4 inches of snow. The jam was made all the worse by drivers who got on the interstate despite the backup, Little said.

    "Even with the interstate backed up as far as you could see people were still trying to get on it," she said. "Troopers were flashing their lights at people to stop them, and they finally closed exit 310 to keep them off."

    Little said 120 motorists made it to a shelter in Cullman, but many more couldn't.

    Officials hoped rising temperatures would thaw the snow and ice and get traffic moving sometime Friday.

    In Virginia, the areas hardest hit Thursday and Friday were in the southwest, where the National Weather Service says 13 inches were reported in Giles County, while Grayson County and the Galax area received about a foot.

    Road crews in that part of the state were out in force early Friday to plow and treat roads. Hardest hit was Interstate 77. The highway still had snow cover and there were reports of disabled vehicles along the roadway.

    While the winter storm wasn't as severe as initially feared, icy roads remained a concern Friday morning and some school systems decided to open late.

    Parts of Mississippi saw 2 to 4 inches of snow on the ground Thursday. In Lowndes County, Highway Patrol spokesman Cpl. Criss Turnipseed said Johnnie A. Matthews, 64, of West Point died when his car collided with a downed tree about 5 a.m. on Mississippi Highway 50.

    Turnipseed says the large pine tree in the roadway appeared to have been uprooted by wind and ground saturation due to excessive rainfall. The winter blitz follows days of heavy rain across much of the Southeast.

    No other fatalities were reported but thousands lost power.

    Virginia State Police say they were swamped with calls at the height of the storm. Dispatchers fielded more than 760 calls reporting crashes and disabled vehicles.

    In Alabama, scores of schools, businesses and government offices as far south as metro Birmingham pushed back their opening times for Friday because of the threat of icy roads after freezing temperatures overnight.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Hits Mississippi and Alabama
    Snow Alabama

     

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    Dazzling green, purple and turquoise auroras glimmer in the sky over Iceland while a man proposes to his girlfriend in a new time-lapse video.

    Neuroscientist Alex Rivest shot the amazing aurora time-lapse video, which featured his own proposal, over several days and nights in September 2012.

    "On a trip to Iceland, I asked my girlfriend to marry me under the aurora borealis," Rivest wrote in a video caption. "She said yes."

    The couple is seen hugging after Rivest bows down on one knee toward the end of the footage, all while gorgeous displays of the Northern Lights dance in the night sky.

    "Iceland is a pretty amazing place to watch the stars and the aurora," Rivest told SPACE.com.

    The aurora borealis, as well as its Southern Hemisphere counterpart, the aurora australis, is created when charged particles from the sun hit atoms in Earth's high-altitude atmosphere, which are directed by the planet's magnetic field. The resulting light show has been dubbed the northern lights in the north, and the southern lights in the south.

    Rivest has a Ph.D. from MIT and studies how brains form episodic memories. Rivest is also the founder of a non-profit called Blue Kitabu, which works to build sustainable schools in Ghana and Kenya. And of course, he's also an avid photographer and videographer.

    The aurora time-lapse was shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 40D, using a triggering device from pclix.com.

    This isn't the first time an astronomical event has served as a backdrop for a marriage proposal caught on video. Last year, stargazer Shookie Basuroy proposed to girlfriend Rajeep while watching a total solar eclipse from a hot air balloon above Cairns, Australia, on Nov. 14.

    Rajeep, like Rivest's girlfriend, said "yes."

    Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Total Eclipse Hot Air Balloon Proposal - She Says Yes! | Video
    Aurora Guide: How the Northern Lights Work (Infographic)
    Amazing Auroras: Northern Lights of November 2012 (Photos)

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    French Capital Wakes Up to Snowy Morning

    [Silent video] Parisians woke to find the streets of the French capital carpeted in a rare blanket of snow Saturday as wintry conditions swept the country, prompting weather authority Meteo France to issue severe weather warnings. The snow and ice meant half the country was put on orange alert - the second highest level - as the snow and freezing rain led to multiple road road accidents. Five fatalities were reported, Le Monde reported.

     

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