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SKYE on AOL

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    A short-lived waterspout moved over northern Hillsborough Bay, about 2 miles south-southeast of Tampa, and dissipated as it approached Harbour Island.

    A waterspout developed around 11:12 a.m. in the channel between Harbour Island and Davis Island, between the Westin Hotel on Harbour Island and the Tampa Bay Convention Center. The waterspout moved onshore as a tornado along the northern shore of Harbor Island near the Westin Hotel and proceeded down the channel between the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Harbour Island. The tornado continued through the channelside area before lifting just east of the Florida Aquarium.

    Related:
    AccuWeather's Severe Weather Center
    Cold and Wind Head South for Spring Break


    The National Weather Service office in Tampa reports that a waterspout came onshore as an EF-0 tornado with winds of 60 mph. They tweeted the photo above before the waterspout moved onshore.

    Here is the preliminary National Weather Service survey of the downtown Tampa tornado:

    Rating: EF-0
    Estimated peak wind: 75 to 85 mph
    Path length /statute: 0.85 of a mile
    Path width /maximum: 100 yards
    Fatalities: none
    Injuries: none
    Start date: 02-26-13
    Start time: 11:12 a.m. EST
    Start location: 0.10 of a mile south of the Tampa Bay Convection Center
    End date: 02-26-13
    End time: 11:15 a.m. EST
    End location: 0.10 of a mile east of the Florida Aquarium

    For more weather news visit AccuWeather.com.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    Was Mother Nature preparing for a monster snowball fight? Hundreds of massive balls, or boulders, of ice have appeared along Lake Michigan's coastline near Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. The unusual natural winter phenomenon has attracted the attention of people here and across the nation after photos taken by a local resident went viral across the Internet.

    Experts believe that though it's a rare occurrence, there is a simple explanation for the giant ice boulders. Enormous sheets of ice form over Lake Michigan in winter. Chunks of the ice break off, growing layer by layer. As the growing chunks are tossed by waves they eventually form smooth, rounded balls which then wash up along the shores.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    A senior engineering student at the University of Colorado removes the snow from his car on a sunny morning following a winter storm in Boulder, Colo., Monday Feb. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    DENVER (AP) - Colorado authorities are trying to reach drivers stranded by a snowstorm that also forced about 60 students to spend the night in their school.

    The El Paso County Sheriff's Office says officers are still responding to motorists on the Eastern Plains who have called for help, most of them from side roads.

    Ellicott fire officials have rescued around 20 people so far.

    East of Colorado Springs, about 60 Miami-Yoder district students were stuck at school because of hazardous road conditions that prompted the closure of Colorado Highway 94 leading to the school.

    Superintendent Rick Walter told KUSA-TV on Wednesday morning the kids were having breakfast and watching movies and would be home soon.

    Interstate 70 was reopened after it was closed overnight from Aurora to the Kansas line.

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 8:27 p.m. ET

    A pedestrian passes snow covers cars and trees Tuesday, Feb. 26, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/The Kansas City Star, Keith Myers)

    MILWAUKEE (AP) - A Midwest snowstorm packing heavy snow and strong winds left six people dead in Kansas, hundreds of vehicles crashed or stranded in Wisconsin, and tens of thousands of utility customers without power in Michigan.

    "It's the heaviest snow we've received all winter long, as far as the largest quantity and it's wet," said Mark Rupnik, a sheriff's lieutenant in Sheboygan County, Wis., where residents were hit with 15 inches of wet snow over two days - Tuesday and Wednesday. "This is our big storm for the year, I hope."

    The storm hit a wide swath of the U.S. with wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph and wet snow. It started in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Missouri on Monday night and headed through Colorado, Iowa, northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan on Tuesday into Wednesday, according to Bob McMahon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wisconsin.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Intense Blizzard Slams Midwest
    snowboard, missouriKansas has been particularly pummeled with snow lately, receiving more than 2 feet of snow in some places over the last week or so. As of Wednesday morning, about 10,000 Kansas customers in mostly eastern counties were still without power, though company officials expected all service to be restored by the end of the day.

    Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday said two people died in traffic crashes, two siblings died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Kansas City, Kan., a woman died in southwest Kansas while shoveling snow, and another Kansas City resident was killed while walking in the snow.

    At a Macy's in northeast Kansas, 3 to 4 feet of heavy snow on the store's roof caused an evacuation Wednesday morning because of safety concerns.

    More than 50,000 homes and businesses in Michigan lost electrical service at one point Wednesday after a storm knocked down power lines and tree branches. About 40,000 remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon, with Washtenaw County hardest hit.

    The utilities said crews would work around the clock to restore power.

    The National Weather Service said Muskegon, Mich., was reported to have 9 inches of snow as of Wednesday morning. Authorities said weather might be a factor in crashes that killed motorists in Sanilac and Monroe counties.

    In Wisconsin, more than 440 stranded vehicles and crashes were reported in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Kenosha, Ozaukee and Washington counties after heavy snowfall that started Tuesday and continued into Wednesday. No major injuries were reported.

    Rupnik said the main highways in Sheboygan County were drivable as of Wednesday afternoon, but he expected the secondary roads to remain a problem into Thursday.

    Many parents in southeastern Wisconsin didn't have to take to the roads Wednesday, with several school districts canceling classes. That included the state's largest school district of Milwaukee, which received about 9 inches of snow. A 71-year-old man collapsed and died Wednesday afternoon shortly after snow blowing in Milwaukee.

    On the plains in the eastern half of Colorado, wind and snow created white-out conditions Tuesday afternoon just as buses began taking students home from the Miami-Yoder district school about 40 miles east of Colorado Springs. The buses turned back to the school and about 60 students ranging from preschoolers to 12th graders watched movies, played basketball, ate concession-stand pizza and talked to their parents before bedtime.

    The older kids slept on wrestling and gym mats covered with coats, while the younger ones curled up on preschool napping mats, Principal Sharon Webb said.

    The school is a large version of a one-room schoolhouse. The students all know each other, and many are related, which Webb said gave it the feel of a sleepover. She said parents were understanding.

    "When you live out here in this wide-open country, you know they're where it's the safest," she said of the school.

    Back in the Midwest, about 100 flights in and out of Chicago's airports were canceled for Wednesday, according to the air traffic tracking website FlightAware.com. Flights into O'Hare International Airport were being delayed an average of about an hour at one point Wednesday.

    In Missouri, a Kansas City man's neighbors may be part of the reason he's alive after he suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow. The ambulance became stuck Tuesday while rushing to his home, said fire department spokesman James Garrett. While rescue workers ran the rest of the way to treat the man, as many as 20 people helped free the vehicle.

    Elsewhere, authorities said no one was injured after a train collided with a car that was stuck in snow on railroad tracks in Woodward, Okla., where at least 15 inches of snow fell. The motorist tried to drive over the train tracks Wednesday morning but became trapped on the snow-covered road, Oklahoma City television station KWTV reported.

    Authorities say the driver was able to exit the car safely but couldn't push the vehicle from the tracks before the train smashed into it. The car was totaled in the collision.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Intense Blizzard Slams Midwest

     

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    This Oct. 30, 2012, photo shows flooding on the New Jersey shoreline during a search and rescue mission by the New Jersey Army National Guard following Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, File)

    TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says federal flood insurance claims from Superstorm Sandy are being paid too slowly.

    Christie stepped up criticism of the federal program on Townsquare Media's "Ask the Governor" program Wednesday.

    The Republican governor says he complained to President Barack Obama over the weekend that "the performance of the national flood insurance program is unacceptable, that it's awful."

    Christie says private insurers have been more responsive, settling more than 90 percent of claims. He also reports most of the debris left on land at the Jersey Shore after the October storm is gone.

    Christie has been criticized for hiring a Florida debris removal firm without putting the $100 million contract to bid.

    Obama last month signed a $9.7 billion bill to replenish the National Flood Insurance Program, which has received more than 100,000 Sandy claims.

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

     

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    In this Jan. 3, 2013, photo, two life rafts sit on the beach adjacent as the conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter, File)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - An effort to give the United States a new source of domestic oil and refill the trans-Alaska pipeline took a hit Wednesday when Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced it will suspend offshore petroleum drilling in the Arctic Ocean for 2013.

    Shell drilled last year in both the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast and in the Beaufort Sea off the state's north coast.

    But problems before and after drilling, culminating with the grounding of one of Shell's two drill ships, left in doubt whether the company could make repairs in time to drill in 2013. Shell Oil President Marvin Odum answered that question with the announcement that the company would "pause" exploration to prepare equipment and vessels for drilling in the future.

    "We've made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term program that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way," Odum said. "Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012."

    Environmental groups bitterly oppose Arctic drilling in the rich ecosystem that supports endangered whales, polar bears, walrus and ice seals. They claim not enough is known about drilling's effects on an ecosystem already being hammered by climate change, with summer sea ice continuing to be lost on a record pace. They also say oil companies have not demonstrated the ability to clean up a petroleum spill in ice-choked waters.

    "This is the first good decision we've seen from Shell," said Mike LeVine, an Alaska spokesman for Oceana, a conservation group. "Given the disastrous 2012 season, our government agencies must take advantage of this opportunity to reassess the way decisions are made about our ocean resources and to reconsider the commitment to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean."

    The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 26.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas exist below Arctic waters. The vast underwater reservoirs could be linked to shore by underwater pipelines and then overland to the trans-Alaska pipeline.

    Shell in 2008 spent $2.1 billion on petroleum leases in the Chukchi Sea and estimates that it has spent $5 billion on Arctic drilling. Shell contends that it can drill safely, its two drill ships completed top-hole drilling on two wells last year, but the company was bedeviled by problems in 2012.

    The company's spill response plan required that a response barge be on site before drill bits dug into petroleum-bearing zones. That never happened. A key piece of equipment, a containment dome, was damaged in testing off the Washington coast.

    Seasonal ice in the Chukchi Sea delayed Shell vessels from moving north. When Chukchi drilling began Sept. 9, a major ice floe forced Shell's drill ship off a prospect less than 24 hours later.

    When the drilling season ended, the Coast Guard announced that it had found 16 safety violations on the Noble Discoverer, which drilled in the Chukchi, when it docked in Seward, Alaska. The Coast Guard said last week that it has turned its investigation of the vessel over to the U.S. Department of Justice.

    The problems crested in late December when the Kulluk, a circular barge with a diameter as long as nearly three basketball courts, broke away from its towing vessel on its way to a shipyard in Washington state.

    The Kulluk on New Year's Eve ran aground off a remote Alaska Island near Kodiak Island. It was pulled off six days later but requires repairs. The Kulluk left under tow Tuesday for the Aleutians Island port of Dutch Harbor, where it will be loaded onto another vessel for transport to a shipyard in Asia. The Noble Discoverer also will undergo maintenance and repairs in Asia.

    Shell's spill response plan calls for two drill ships to be in the Arctic so that if one is damaged in a blowout, the other could drill a relief well.

    After the Kulluk was refloated, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that his department would perform an "expedited, high-level assessment" of the summer drilling season. Salazar said the review would pay special attention to challenges that Shell encountered with the Kulluk, with the Noble Discoverer and with the company's oil spill response barge. The Interior Department oversees offshore drilling permits, and Salazar said drilling in frontier areas such as the Arctic demand a higher level of scrutiny.

    The Coast Guard also is reviewing the Kulluk grounding. Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo said the investigation will look at every aspect of the incident, from possible failure of materials to evidence of misconduct, inattention or negligence.

    Shell has said the grounding was a maritime transport problem. Drilling in 2012, Odum said Wednesday, was completed safely.

    "Shell remains committed to building an Arctic exploration program that provides confidence to stakeholders and regulators, and meets the high standards the company applies to its operations around the world," Odum said. "We continue to believe that a measured and responsible pace, especially in the exploration phase, fits best in this remote area."

    Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said drilling could resume in 2014.

    "It's possible, depending on the result of ongoing reviews and the readiness or our rigs, and frankly the confidence that lessons learned from our 2012 drilling program have been fully incorporated.

    Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is gearing up for confirmation hearings next month on Salazar's announced replacement, Sally Jewell, said Shell's decision to postpone exploratory drilling program shows that the company is committed to safety.

    "This pause - and it is only a pause in a multi-year drilling program that will ultimately provide great benefits both to the state of Alaska and the nation as a whole - is necessary for Shell to repair its ships and make the necessary updates to its exploration plans that will ensure a safe return to exploration soon," Murkowski said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Smog Returns to Beijing

    Haze mixed with a sandstorm on Thursday in Beijing, blanketing the capital in toxic levels of bad air. A reading of hazardous particulate matter showed levels well beyond recommended daily intake. Beijing's air quality fell to the worst on record in January and has become a major challenge for new leader Xi Jinping.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Recent blockbuster snowstorms in the U.S. have many people asking when winter will loosen its grip, and the answer is: not likely any time soon.

    An active storm pattern may stay put in the U.S. for at least a few more weeks.

    Recent Major Storms

    New England has been walloped by three snowstorms in as many weeks, and two back-to-back blizzards have shut down travel in the Plains.

    Meteorologists are referring to the recent snowstorms as "over-achievers."

    A major nor'easter buried Boston with 24.9 inches of snow from Feb. 8-9, 2013. Another storm delivered 5.2 inches of snow on Feb. 16-17, 2013. Boston's total February snow so far adds up to 34.0 inches, more than three times the normal monthly snowfall of 10.9 inches.

    The snow total in New York City is 12.2 inches so far this February, and that is higher than the normal monthly snow of 8.8 inches. New York City got 11.4 inches of snow from the Feb. 8-9, 2013, nor'easter, resulting in travel nightmares.

    The second biggest snowstorm on record in Wichita, Kan., occurred on Feb. 20-21, 2013, with a total of 14.2 inches of snow. Yet another storm unleashed around 5.0 inches of snow on Feb. 25-26, 2013. The February snow total in Wichita so far is more than six times the normal monthly snow of 3.2 inches.

    Related
    Storm Dragging Its Feet Through Midwest
    Winter Weather Center

    The 21.0 inches of snow that Wichita, Kan., has received will go down in the record books as the snowiest month ever recorded.

    Kansas City International Airport was entirely shut down during the blizzard on Feb. 21, 2013. The total of 11.0 inches of snow from that storm contributed to the February total of 16.3 inches. That is more than five times the city's normal monthly snow.

    A major contributing factor to the major winter storms in the U.S. is blocking in the atmosphere.

    Blocking occurs when warm air masses associated with large areas of high pressure become anchored across Greenland or eastern Canada. Cold arctic air is forced southward into the U.S. in this pattern. Storms across the U.S. can also be blocked from moving along quickly, causing them to slow and have more impact.

    AccuWeather chief forecaster Elliot Abrams explained how blocking is like an accident on a busy highway.

    "You're on a highway, and there is crash up ahead. Traffic is blocked from moving ahead until the crash is cleared up," Abrams said. Atmospheric blocking acts in the same way to slow down storms in the U.S. or even to cause them to stall completely. A blocking pattern can allow storms to drop very heavy snow amounts in the winter.

    Active Storm Parade to Continue

    "Blocking will stick around through March, and the stormy pattern will last through as least the first two weeks of March," AccuWeather lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

    This means that more storms will have the potential to slow down and produce heavy snow.

    The Ohio and Tennessee valleys to the East will lie in the active storm path, receiving rounds of snow and rain through the first half of March.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Intense Blizzard Slams Midwest

     

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    Snow lovers will be pleased to see that the bands of snow that fell through much of the Midwest Wednesday will continue Thursday.

    However, these light snow showers and flurries may cause some problems on the roadways.

    Although snow is expected to fall from northern Michigan through the Ohio River Valley on Thursday, little to no accumulation is expected for most of the area.

    Up to an inch of new snow is possible in locations that get a heavier band.

    This snow will linger through the day, allowing for rain to mix in with the snow from southern Ohio and Indiana through Kentucky and northern Tennessee to Nashville.

    This nuisance snow will make for yet another day of tricky commutes for the area, recovering the roadways with a dusting of snow.

    Slick spots are most likely in the morning. In addition to cold air from Canada rushing in behind the storm, falling morning temperatures will be cold enough for rain and slush to refreeze.

    To avoid travel complications, give yourself some extra time to get to your destination so that you can drive cautiously.

    RELATED:
    Record Snow Hits Chicago
    Wednesday Night New England Snow
    More Winter to Come

    Thursday, higher snow accumulations are expected in the Northeast, where the center of the storm will move through.

    Highest accumulations Thursday into Friday morning are expected in Maine where up to 6 inches are possible. Pockets of 1-3 inches are possible in northwest Pennsylvania and northern New York.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Intense Blizzard Slams Midwest

     

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    Twin waterspouts churned just off the coast of Alicante, Spain, on Feb. 28. According to ABC Spain, the waterspouts dissipated before hitting land. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

    Waterspouts are tornadoes over bodies of water with whirling columns that consist of air and water mist.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes
    tornadoe

     

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    Inmate firefighter crew members move from the heat of the fast moving brush fire as it burns everything in its path at the Santa Ana River Wildlife Area in Riverside, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/The Press-Enterprise, Terry Pierson)

    RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) - Flames from a ferocious wildfire burned palm trees along residential streets and came very close to homes in inland Southern California, but waning winds have helped firefighters stop its progress.

    Residents from two streets in Riverside County were advised to evacuate Thursday night at the peak of the fire that burned about 150 acres in and around Rancho Jurupa Regional Park, county Fire spokeswoman Jody Hageman said.

    It was not clear how many people left their homes, but no one had sought refuge at a shelter established for evacuees.

    About 200 firefighters, helped by helicopters, took on the blaze whose bright flames and huge plumes of smoke were visible from long distances.

    The fire was 20 percent contained around midnight, hours after it began. The threat to homes was mostly beaten back, but firefighters were expected to work well into Friday to contain it.

    There were no reports of any injuries or homes or buildings burning, but the blaze brought down power lines and left more than 1,800 customers without power, fire officials said.

    Video from television news helicopters showed a backyard trailer go up in flames about a quarter-mile from the fire lines in a neighborhood where embers were flying, but fire officials couldn't immediately say whether the wildfire embers sparked it.

    "You never know how far they'll go," county fire Capt. Lucas Spellman told KCAL-TV. "Normally they don't go that far, but I can't say for sure."

    To the west in Los Angeles, a fire sparked the underbrush near homes at the top of the Cahuenga Pass but firefighters and water-dropping helicopters made quick work of it.

    The fire broke out at 2:39 p.m. Thursday just east of Interstate 101 and California Route 170, and was knocked down in less than an hour, city fire spokeswoman Katherine Main says

    The fire burned about one acre and no structures were damaged, although flames came very close to some homes and traffic on the nearby freeways was slowed, Main said.

    The National Weather Service issued an advisory for gusty offshore winds for valleys in Riverside County and elsewhere in Southern California that will be in effect until Saturday afternoon.

    About 200 miles north of Los Angeles in Inyo County, a wildfire that consumed more than 400 acres in the high desert Lone Pine area was fully contained after burning for four days.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    This 2011 image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a field survey site in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. (AP Photo/Jessie Creamean/NOAA)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - One of the driest spots on Earth - the Sahara desert - is increasingly responsible for snow and rain half a world away in the western United States, a new study released Thursday found.

    It's no secret that winds carrying dust, soot and even germs make transcontinental journeys through the upper atmosphere that can affect the weather thousands of miles away. Yet, little is known about the impact of foreign pollutants on the West Coast, which relies on mountain snowmelt for its water needs.

    Previous studies hinted these jet-setting particles may retard rainfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California by reducing the size of water droplets in clouds. But scientists who flew through storm clouds in an aircraft, measured rain and snow and analyzed satellite imagery found the opposite: Far-flung dust and germs can help stimulate precipitation.

    During the 2011 winter, a team from the University of California, San Diego and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration traced particles suspended in clouds over the Sierra to distant origins - from the skies over the arid Sahara that later mingled with other pollutants in China and Mongolia before crossing the Pacific.

    The days with the most particles in the clouds were also "days when we see the most snow on the ground," said study leader Kimberly Prather, an atmospheric chemistry professor at UC San Diego, whose study was published online Thursday in the journal Science.

    Scientists believe wafting dust, grit and microbes - including bacteria and viruses - can spur the formation of ice crystals in clouds that in turn can influence how much rain or snow falls.

    For years, governments and utilities in California and other Western states have used cloud seeding, in which a chemical vapor is sprayed into clouds, in a bid to increase rainfall.

    The new study shows how "Mother Nature has figured out how to give us more precipitation" and that may lead to changes in cloud-seeding efforts, which can be hit-or-miss, Prather said.

    David J. Smith at the NASA Kennedy Space Center said it was refreshing to see measurements from the ground, air and orbit to tackle how airborne particles affected Northern California snowfall.

    "Such a comprehensive approach is the only way to thoroughly examine global transport [of particles]," said Smith, who had no role in the research, in an email.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Surprising Ways to Predict the Weather

     

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    (AP Photo/Johanna James-Heinz)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - It's not just honey bees that are in trouble. The fuzzy American bumblebee seems to be disappearing in the Midwest.

    Two new studies in Thursday's journal Science conclude that wild bees, like the American bumblebee, are increasingly important in pollinating flowers and crops that provide us with food. And, at least in the Midwest, they seem to be dwindling in an alarming manner, possibly from disease and parasites.

    Wild bees are difficult to track so scientists have had a hard time knowing what's happening to them. But because of one man in a small town in Illinois in the 1890s, researchers now have a better clue.

    Naturalist Charles Robertson went out daily in a horse-drawn buggy and meticulously collected and categorized insects in Carlinville in southern Illinois.

    More than a century later, Laura Burkle of Montana State University went back to see what changed. Burkle and her colleagues reported that they could only find half the species of wild bees that Robertson found - 54 of 109 types.

    "That's a significant decline. It's a scary decline," Burkle said Thursday.

    And what's most noticeable is the near absence of one particular species, the yellow-and-black American bumblebee. There are 4,000 species of wild bees in America and 49 of them are bumblebees. In the Midwest, the most common bee has been Bombus pensylvanicus, known as the American bumblebee. It only stings defensively, experts say.

    But in 447 hours of searching, Burkle's team found only one American bumblebee, a queen.

    That fits with a study that University of Illinois entomologist Sydney Cameron did two years ago when she found a dramatic reduction in the number and range of the American bumblebee.

    "It was the most dominant bumblebee in the Midwest," Cameron said, saying it now has pretty much disappeared from much of its northern range. Overall, its range has shrunk by about 23 percent, although it is still strong in Texas and the West, she said.

    "People call them the big fuzzies," Cameron said. "They're phenomenal animals. They can fly in the snow."

    Her research found four species of bumblebees in trouble: the American bumblebee, the rusty-patched bumblebee, the western bumblebee and the yellow-banded bumblebee.

    A separate Science study by a European team showed that wild bees in general have a larger role in pollinating plants than the honey bees that are trucked in to do the job professionally.

    Those domesticated bees are already in trouble with record high prices for bees to pollinate California almond trees, said David Inouye at the University of Maryland.

    Scientists suspect a combination of disease and parasites for the dwindling of both wild and domesticated bees.

     

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    A wintry system that will make a cross-country tour beginning this weekend has the potential to develop into a major storm along the East Coast next week.

    The storm is cruising northern Pacific waters to close out this week and will push into the Pacific Northwest this weekend with a modest dose of rain and mountain snow.

    In fact, most of the life of this storm as it traverses the Northwest (March 2-3), then the northern Rockies and central Plains into early next week (March 3-4) will not be blockbusting news.

    Through this point, the storm will tend to bring travel disruptions typical of the winter months with a swath of light to moderate snow. On a positive note, the storm will provide some moisture to a needy area. (States in the path of the modest storm to this point include, but are not limited to, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri).

    However, toward the middle of next week (March 4-5), as this storm crosses the Mississippi River, changes taking place in the upper atmosphere will favor gradual strengthening to the Atlantic coast. Moisture will begin to feed into the storm from the Gulf of Mexico, and we are likely to start to see heavier precipitation in the form of snow, rain and thunderstorms from the Ohio Valley states to parts of the South and the mid-Atlantic. (States likely to be most involved at this point include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.)

    Once the storm reaches the Atlantic coast Wednesday into Thursday (March 6-7), conditions at most levels in the nearby atmosphere and well away from the storm throughout North America will favor explosive development.

    The track of this atmospheric bomb will determine whether or not portions of the mid-Atlantic have a foot or more of windswept snow, travel mayhem, power outages and the whole nine yards with a storm hugging the coast or another non-event with the storm heading out to sea.

    (States on the bubble for a major storm or a near-miss include Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia).

    Other Stories of Interest:
    Blocking Pattern Favors More Big Storms
    Cold, Wind Head South for Spring Break
    Blizzards Bring Drought Relief to Winter Wheat

    At this point, it is certainly not worth altering plans, but rather something to keep an eye on and perhaps come up with "Plan B" in case a major blizzard unfolds and wallops areas from Richmond and Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia and New York City Wednesday into Thursday.

    As the track develops over land this weekend, we will have more information to pass along to followers on AccuWeather.com related to the timing of the precipitation and amount of snow and severity of any rain, thunderstorms and coastal flooding.

    Some of the early weather-related problems with the storm in the Northwest this weekend will be drenching rain along the coast and snow dipping to pass levels. As with many storms that bring snow to the high country and shifting snow levels in the Northwest, there is a risk of avalanches.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    (AP Photo)

    Californians can get ready for a warm weekend. The area most likely to see numerous record highs challenged on Friday and Saturday is Southern California, west of the mountains.

    The reason that Southern California will see the most amount of records broken or challenged is that there will also be an offshore flow in place.

    An offshore flow means that the air is flowing from inland areas to the coast. When the air flows down the western slopes of the mountains west of Los Angeles and San Diego, it warms and boosts temperatures in Southern California.

    The air flowing in that direction will keep marine air out of Southern California. The ocean air can often bring low clouds, fog and cool air.

    With that offshore flow will also come gusty Santa Ana winds. This Santa Ana wind event will be a weak to locally moderate event with gusts to around 35 mph. The wind will blast through and below the passes and canyons late Thursday through Friday morning. The mountains will see higher gusts.

    Other Stories of Interest:
    Blocking Pattern Favors More Big Storms
    Cold, Wind Head South for Spring Break
    Blizzards Bring Drought Relief to Winter Wheat

    This warmth will not last long. Cooler air will return Sunday as a storm system moves from the Northwest into the Rockies and breaks down the ridge.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave

     

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    A girl, 9, winces as she receives a flu shot from at the Dean West Clinic in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, January 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Amber Arnold)

    By Rachael Rettner, MyHealthNewsDaily Staff Writer

    You may be safer from the flu in a humid room than in a dry one, according to a new study from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    To simulate flu transmission in a health care setting, the researchers used "coughing" and "breathing" mannequins that were placed about 6 feet apart. Flu virus particles were released during a "cough," and devices throughout the room and near each "breathing" mannequin's mouth captured the particles. The particles were then collected and tested for their ability to infect human cells.

    At humidity levels of 23 percent, 70 to 77 percent of the flu virus particles were still able to cause an infection an hour after the coughing simulation. But when humidity levels were raised to 43 percent, just 14 percent of the virus particles had the ability to infect. Most of the flu particles became inactive 15 minutes after they were released into the humid air. "The virus just falls apart," at high humidity levels, said study researcher John Noti, of the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

    High humidity was just as detrimental to small flu particles as large ones. That's important because small flu particles tend to hang in the air for a longer time, while large particles fall to the ground, Noti said.

    Researchers already knew that humidity levels affect flu transmission. One reason flu transmission is thought to be lower during the summer months is because of the high humidity. But the new study more directly assessed how humidity levels might affect flu transmission in a health care setting, and also took into account flu particle size, said study researcher Donald Beezhold, also of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

    During the summer months, it's pretty easy for indoor humidity levels to be up to 30 to 40 percent, Noti said. But during the winter months it's harder because indoor heating dries out the air, he said. [See Does A Warmer World Mean Less Flu?]

    Raising the humidity level of a whole building could be a challenge. But the findings suggest that hospitals might consider raising humidity levels in certain rooms where there might be a high risk for flu transmission, or in rooms with patients who are particularly vulnerable to the flu, such as the intensive care unit (ICU), Noti said.

    However, humidity levels should not be too high, because mold starts to grow, Noti said.

    The new study is published today (Feb. 27) in the journal PLOS ONE.

    Pass it on: The flu virus is less infective at in rooms with higher humidity levels.

    Follow Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner, or MyHealthNewsDaily @MyHealth_MHND. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    7 Health Woes Brought on by Winter
    Stand Back: Flu Virus Travels 6 Feet
    6 Flu Vaccine Myths

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Could a Trip to Your Favorite Beach Make You Sick?

     

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    The fifth-largest meteorite ever found in East Antarctica was discovered Jan. 28 by an international team of meteorite hunters. (Credit: International Polar Foundation)

    Meteorite hunters at the bottom of the world bagged a rare find this southern summer: a 40-pound chunk of extraterrestrial rock.

    A team from Belgium and Japan discovered the hefty meteorite as the members drove across the East Antarctic plateau on snowmobiles. Initial tests show it is an ordinary chondrite, the most common type of meteorite found on Earth, Vinciane Debaille, a geologist from Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, said in a statement.

    "This is the biggest meteorite found in East Antarctica for 25 years," Debaille said. "This is something very exceptional. When you find such a meteorite on Earth, it means that when it was in the sky, it was much larger." [Images of the Antarctic meteorite.]

    The Russian meteor that burst into fragments above the Chelyabinsk region on Feb. 15 is also an ordinary chondrite, according to initial tests by Russian scientists.

    Every year, scientists travel to Antarctica to search for meteorites. Their charred black crust stands out starkly in the white snow, and the cold, dry climate helps preserve any organic chemicals inside the rocks.

    The expedition collected 425 meteorites in 40 days, with a total weight of 165 pounds. Debaille said they may have found one Mars meteorite and one piece of the asteroid Vesta among the many discoveries.

    The researchers canvassed the Nansen Ice Field, 86 miles south out of the International Polar Foundation's Princess Elisabeth station. The United States also sent scientists out on the polar ice to collect meteorites this season, from McMurdo Station on the opposite end of the continent.

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

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

     

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