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    Clocks hang on a wall in Hands of Time, a clock store and repair shop in Savage, Md., Friday, March 8, 2013. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Ushering in the bloom of spring, it's time to set the clocks forward for daylight saving time.

    At 2 a.m. local time Sunday, daylight saving time arrives with the promise of many months ahead with an extra hour of evening sunlight.

    You lose an hour of sleep, but make sure to turn the clock ahead - spring forward - before heading to bed Saturday night to avoid the panic of a late rise.

    It's also a good time to put new batteries in warning devices such as smoke detectors and hazard warning radios.

    Some places don't observe daylight saving time. They include Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas.

    Daylight saving time ends Nov. 3.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Heavy Snow Hits New England

     

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    Updated 5:29 p.m. EDT Sunday, March 10, 2013.
    Giant Sandstorm Swallows Up Yokohama in Japan

    Sandstorms from China swept across eastern Japan this weekend, cutting visibility and forcing many indoors. Those who ventured outside often wore masks. The yellow dust originated in China's northern provinces and Mongolia. In Tokyo, Sunday reached a high of 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) - the warmest in March since recordkeeping began in 1876, according to national broadcaster NHK.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Surprising Ways to Predict the Weather

     

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    Updated 9:41 p.m. EDT on March 10, 2013.

    Four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser arrives first at the Yukon River in Anvik, Alaska, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race early Friday. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A former winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race took the lead early Sunday and held onto it as he pressed forward along the Bering Sea coastline. Another musher was just 15 minutes behind.

    With less than 250 miles to the finish line, Mitch Seavey was the first musher to leave Unalakleet, where he pulled into town earlier at 10:13 a.m. and was able to rest his team for about five hours. Aaron Burmeister pulled into the checkpoint just 15 minutes after Seavey and was the same musher who followed him out.

    The mushers arrived at the checkpoint after traveling from Kaltag, the last stop on the frozen Yukon River.

    "It was a long run. I think my dogs are kind of tired from yesterday on the river," Seavey told the Iditarod Insider after pulling into Unalakleet. "So much deep snow and hot, but they are hanging in there. Not as quick as I would like to be, but quick enough for today I guess."

    The 1,000-mile race to Nome began with 66 teams at a ceremonial start in Anchorage March 2, and the race's competitive start was the next day in Willow. Five mushers have scratched so far.

    In Unalakleet, Seavey - the 2004 champion and the father of defending champion, Dallas Seavey - was greeted by dozens of townspeople and awarded $2,500 in gold nuggets and a trophy.

    Four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King moved into third position. Jake Berkowitz was in fourth, followed by Aliy Zirkle and Ray Redington Jr., the grandson of race co-founder Joe Redington Sr. Rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway was in seventh place.

    Seavey, 53, made the 90-mile trip from Kaltag to the Bering Sea coastline in a little more than 12 ½ hours, going at 6.72 mph in the nearly 1,000 mile race from Anchorage to Nome.

    Dallas Seavey was in ninth place Sunday. Four-time champion Martin Buser, who has led much of the race, was in eighth.

    Mushers reported very difficult trail conditions on the Yukon River that required dogs to go through deep snow and navigate glare ice. Above-freezing temperatures also have led to overflow along the trail, a potentially dangerous situation where water has pushed up through the ice and refrozen, creating a weak top layer of ice that teams and mushers can break through.

    Buser's team, after tearing up the trail during the first half, is now going slower than the race leaders. He may have spent too much energy driving his team on a blistering fast 170-mile run that gave him a four-hour lead that now has vanished.

    From Unalakleet, teams head onto the frozen Bering Sea coastline and north toward the finish line in Nome about 240 miles away.

    The first musher to reach Nome will win $50,400 and a new 2013 Dodge Ram pickup truck. The rest of the $600,000 purse will be split among the next 29 mushers to cross the finish line.

    Five mushers have scratched.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Iconic Widescreen Images of the Iditarod

     

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    In this Jan. 31, 2013, photo, a storm-damaged beachfront house is shown in the Far Rockaways section of the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

    LONG BEACH, N.Y. (AP) - It sounds like the premise for a new reality TV series: "Hurricane House" - people scouring waterside communities looking to buy homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy at a deep discount.

    While there are bargains out there, ranging from 10 percent off pre-storm prices for upscale homes on New York's Long Island and the Jersey Shore to as much as 60 percent off modest bungalows Staten Island and Queens, it's still very much a game of buyer beware.

    Not only are buyers are on the hook for repairs and in some cases total rebuilds, they're also wading into a host of potentially expensive uncertainties about new flood maps and future insurance rates, zoning changes and updated building codes.

    "It's totally changed the way I sell real estate," said Lawrence Greenberg, a sales associate with Van Skiver Realtors, whose own Mantoloking, N.J., office was wrecked in the storm.

    Prior to Sandy, prospective buyers rarely mentioned issues such as flood maps and building elevations until the matter of flood insurance came up - often at closing. "Now, everybody asks the question of elevation," Greenberg said. Even if potential buyers plan to tear down and build new, they ask about the pending changes in flood maps proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, because flood insurance rates will depend upon the new zones.

    There is no sign of a mass exodus from shoreline communities. The number of for-sale listings in January in the 380 zip codes hit by the storm was about 2 percent below the same time last year, according to online real estate information company Zillow, Inc. That indicates that most homeowners are rebuilding, or have not yet decided how to proceed.

    But real estate agents in New York and New Jersey say the majority of homes for sale in these areas have some damage from the Oct. 29 storm, and it appears to them that a rising number are being put on the market as the spring home-buying season approaches.

    New listings range from destroyed oceanfront properties being sold for the land, to flooded bayside homes untouched since the storm that must be gutted. Even the few undamaged homes in affected neighborhoods are listing at prices about 10 percent lower than they would have been pre-storm.

    Some sellers are overwhelmed by the daunting prospect of restoring a damaged home. Some are older homeowners who had stayed in the houses where they raised their families, but now are relocating. Some didn't have flood insurance.

    "They either don't have the funds or don't have the energy to go through the renovating and rebuilding process," said Jeff Childers, a broker with Childers Sotheby's International Realty in Normandy Beach, N.J.

    Lisa Jackson, broker and owner of Rockaway Properties in the Belle Harbor section of Queens, N.Y., said a number of her new listings are homes owned by senior citizens. One 85-year-old client was living alone in her 1940s-era six-bedroom, six-bath brick home right on the beach. The house was hammered by Sandy, and must be at least partially demolished, but will still command a hefty price. "Everything on the water is big money," Jackson said.

    But the $3 million listing price is nevertheless a huge discount from the roughly $4.25 million it would have commanded before the storm.

    Another set of sellers were in the process of getting out before the storm hit. Jackson had 18 properties in contract prior to Sandy, but all of those sales either fell through or were renegotiated for a lower price.

    One 1930s-era three-bedroom, two-bath house with a view of the bay was in contract for $665,000, but the entire first floor was gutted after it took on about four feet of water. The buyer, a single woman, was unwilling to take on the renovations. The property is back on the market for $550,000. That's a 17 percent discount, but the eventual buyer will have to pay for new floors and walls, plus a new kitchen and bathroom.

    Still, that sort of cut might make the neighborhood affordable for a family that was priced out in recent years, when houses were selling for $750,000 and more.

    And in one sense, buying a storm-damaged home can offer an advantage, said Tom Tripodi, president of the Tripodi Group/Douglas Elliman Real Estate in the Long Island city of Long Beach, where damaged houses are selling for about 10 percent less than before the storm.

    "If it's all gutted out, you can do what you want," he said. "You can own the house with a brand new kitchen, new appliances, new floors."

    In addition to people looking to create their dream house out of a damaged home, Tripodi has seen investors eyeing the area. In Long Beach's West End neighborhood, for example, investors are looking to tear down gutted 1920s-era ranch homes and build bigger houses with multiple stories at higher elevations in their place.

    The shorefront sections of Staten Island are also seeing accelerating turnover of homes that are likely to eventually get torn down.

    Lee Venezia, a broker with Neuhaus Realty Inc., recently sold three adjacent bungalows owned by a longtime resident of Staten Island's Midland Beach for $240,000 cash - about $20,000 less than each one might have garnered before the storm. "The homeowner refused to go back," she said.

    The buyer will fix the properties up and rent them "until the dust settles," Venezia said. Once new flood maps are finalized and new building codes sorted out, she expects the houses to be sold again to a developer who will replace them.

    Cash deals are the only ones closing right now in Staten Island's storm-damaged neighborhoods, Venezia said, which means the buyers are almost all investors, even though the area's small houses are selling for $85,000 to $100,000. "Banks are not going to lend," she said. "The banks are waiting for the dust to settle to see what the building requirements are going to be."

    The new flood maps must go through public hearings before they are finalized, a process likely to take two to three years.

    Meanwhile, public officials and homeowners are trying to look to the future.

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a plan to buy out the entire Staten Island neighborhood of Oakwood Beach and allow the land to revert back to the marshland it once was, because the homes there have flooded multiple times. It remains unclear if any other neighborhoods might get bought out.

    That may be the best hope for homeowners like Michael Kuhens, who has been trying to sell his bungalow in Staten Island's Ocean Breeze section, which was ripped off its foundation by the 14-foot storm surge.

    A buyout would be attractive because, instead of dealing with bargain hunters, the state is offering pre-storm value.

    "I know a lot of people in my neighborhood don't want to stay, and if they were offered a buyout they'd take it," said Kuhens, who is staying at his parents' house with his wife and 1-year-old daughter. "We just want to get on with our lives. It's a hundred-something days after the storm, and we're still stuck in limbo."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    A sign blocks the ramp on to eastbound Interstate 70 as closed near Bennett, Colo., as a late winter storm packing wet, heavy snow and high winds swept over the intermountain West on Saturday, March 9, 2013. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

    DENVER (AP) - Plans for soccer in the snow - complete with a bright orange ball - were scuttled Saturday because a blizzard made it too dangerous for fans to get to the match even though the snowstorm moving across the Colorado Front Range didn't pack as big of a punch as initially predicted.

    With accumulations about half of the 16 inches expected, fans made it out to several big basketball games across the state despite icy roads and at times white-out conditions.

    The snowstorm put a damper on the state's busiest sports schedule of the year, scuttling the Colorado Rapids' home opener against the Philadelphia Union. Major League Soccer postponed the match until Sunday, when warmer temperatures and clearer skies are expected.

    The University of Colorado went ahead with its 2:30 p.m. tipoff against Oregon State, but asked fans "to use extreme caution if they are still planning to attend," noting that "travel in the Denver-Boulder area is not advised."

    Still, 10,105 showed up - although many of them might have wondered if it was worth the trouble after watching the Buffaloes lose to the last-place Beavers 64-58.

    Among the fans at the Coors Events Center in Boulder was Philip Greenberg, a season-ticket holder whose drive from Denver took just 30 minutes as the roads were mostly clear early in the day.

    "I was expecting it to take us an hour or hour and a half," Greenberg said. "We slid a little bit. They were like, 'It's going to be the worst weather ever.' I pretty much ignore that. I've lived out here long enough to know that they're just making it up anyway.

    "They take an educated guess and they're right about a third of the time."

    There also was a decent crowd at the icy Air Force Academy, where the Falcons upset 12th-ranked New Mexico 89-88.

    "What a group," Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich said of the announced crowd of 6,112 at Clune Arena on Saturday. "To get through that weather - I mean, I didn't know if I was coming. It was bad out there. The game was on TV, so I was going to stay home and watch it."

    The Falcons had never beaten a team ranked as high as the Lobos.

    "It was so loud in the second half, I couldn't hear our assistant coaches talking to me," Pilipovich said. "That was pretty neat, and for a moment, I had to just look up and soak it all in. I can't thank our fans enough."

    Falcons senior guard Todd Fletcher, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds, said: "It was great that everybody came out, even though the roads were kind of bad. I know I had trouble getting here. We definitely thrived off their energy, and they helped us keep the game close and helped us win."

    The University of Denver walloped Louisiana Tech 78-54, leaving both teams with a share of the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title. Colorado State set a school record for wins with its 24th victory, 77-66 over Nevada, and the Denver Nuggets won their 13th straight home game, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 111-88 Saturday night in front of a near-capacity crowd of 18,823.

    "It was easy to get here," said Chris LaRocque, a fan from suburban Lone Tree. "I think the news guys made it sound a lot worse than it was. I thought it would be a pain but it turned out to be a pretty smooth."

    All of this was less than 24 hours after the Colorado Avalanche ended the Chicago Blackhawks' streak of 24 straight games to open the season with at least a point, an NHL record. The Avalanche beat the Blackhawks 6-2 Friday night at the Pepsi Center before the snowstorm moved in, canceling more than 600 flights and creating hazardous road conditions that closed several highways in the plains east of Denver.

    The Rapids had planned to embrace the blizzard and play in the snow in suburban Commerce City.

    "We had hoped and planned to play our match as scheduled, but we cannot put staff, fans, and players from both teams at risk by asking them to travel or play in unsafe conditions," Rapids President Tim Hinchey said.

    The Rapids had said that they would hold the match no matter the weather, using an orange ball and a field painted with orange lines. That plan changed when Adams County, with forecasts predicting up to 14 inches of snow and 40 mph winds, issued a travel advisory that recommended people travel only in case of emergencies.

    "As always, the safety of our fans, staff and athletes is paramount, and the conditions in the Denver area preclude the game from being played today," said MLS executive Nelson Rodriguez, who is in Colorado for the match.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Aaron Burmeister arrives at the Unalakleet, Alaska, checkpoint on Sunday, March 10, 2013, during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - There comes a time during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race when fatigue can turn Alaska's frozen landscape into an unlikely habitat for an elephant that really isn't there.

    Ask Lynda Plettner, a former participant in the 1,000-mile race. The Big Lake, Alaska, musher was so sleep-deprived once that she saw a large gray African elephant in the distance trudging in the snow toward a metal building that had no doors or windows. Both the elephant and the building got bigger as Plettner got closer and her weary brain focused on getting the dogs safely past them before it dawned on her that she was hallucinating.

    "I concluded that that couldn't possibly be there," she said.

    Participants in this year's race are struggling with their own exhaustion in their journey toward the finish line in Nome on Alaska's western coast. But they keep on mushing anyway.

    Four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser of Big Lake reclaimed the lead Friday afternoon that was taken earlier by Aliy Zirkle, last year's runner-up. Zirkle, of Two Rivers, had been the first to reach the village of Grayling, a checkpoint on the Yukon River, but Buser caught up and left before Zirkle.

    Buser was first into the previous checkpoint at Anvik early Friday. But he decided to take a mandatory eight-hour break there, while Zirkle blew out of the village one minute after arriving. Zirkle arrived at Grayling 18 miles away almost three hours before Buser, but he caught up and left the village after only 10 minutes.

    Buser was headed to the next checkpoint at Eagle Island, where no one lives. It's 62 miles from Grayling.

    Because of a low cloud ceiling, planes apparently weren't able to get to the checkpoint earlier Friday, and it was likely people were headed to the checkpoint on snowmachines from Kaltag ahead of Buser's anticipated arrival, race spokeswoman Erin McLarnon said. Communications also have been affected because of the weather, forcing people to use satellite phones.

    Zirkle led more than a half-dozen mushers out of Grayling on Friday night. That group included 2004 winner Mitch Seavey and four-time winner Jeff King.

    Because of the situation in Eagle Island, race officials asked mushers to carry extra food with them when they left Grayling.

    Teams must take the eight-hour layover at one checkpoint on the frozen Yukon River. Mushers also may take the layover at Shageluk - 25 miles east of the river - during odd-numbered years when the village is included in a part of the race that takes a southern route. Mushers also are required to take another eight-hour rest at the White Mountain checkpoint 77 miles from the finish line in Nome.

    Break or no break, mushers get only a fraction of the rest that their hard-running dogs do, many said before the race began last weekend. The human participants take care of their dogs first when they stop, serving up hearty stews for their teams. Dogs nap while the mushers melt snow to fix food for their teams, massage dog paws and shoulders, fill up on their own grub, fix damaged sleds and study the strategy of rivals.

    "They know what they're supposed to do, and they absolutely know what I'm supposed to give them," Zirkle said of her team. "And if I don't, that relationship is broken and we can't do the race. So it's really on me, honestly."

    Four-time champion Lance Mackey had been leading earlier this week when he was the first to reach the halfway checkpoint at the ghost town of Iditarod. Mackey, who was in 16th place Friday night, said at that time, he had taken no shut-eye since a short nap at an earlier checkpoint. So he was feeling out of sorts and wasn't sure if a light he saw along the trail since then was real, the Fairbanks musher told Iditarod greeters as he arrived there Wednesday evening.

    "It looked like a light beacon up in the air," Mackey said in an Iditarod.com video. "I don't know what it was. It probably wasn't even there. But I saw it."

    Mushers catch what little sleep they can, when they can. But many will shrug and tell you it's no big deal. It's just part of running an endurance match in some of the world's toughest conditions, where blizzards can create blinding stretches of trail, temperatures can plunge to minus 50 Fahrenheit - or, as is happening in this race, above-freezing temperatures can slow teams down in punchy snow or river overflows.

    Buser, for one, crossed a wet creek barefooted Thursday after shedding his clothes in case he fell in, according to an Iditarod representative.

    The race is a grueling run that mushers and their teams train hard for. So they are conditioned for it, to a certain degree. But that doesn't make it pain-free.

    Defending champion Dallas Seavey, of Willow, said his dogs get up to 10 hours of sleep a day during the race while he is lucky to get 75 minutes. And if a dog needs some extra rest, Seavey will carry it in the sled for stretches of the trail.

    Seavey, in 15th place Friday night, said mushers can become "pretty much destroyed" by sleep deprivation by the time they reach Unalakleet, where the coastal run portion starts along the wind-battered Bering Sea coast.

    This is when mushers are so foggy with fatigue that they can focus on one lagging dog, instead of all the strong ones, rather than leave the weaker dog behind, Seavey said. Mushers can become overwhelmed by pessimism where all they see are problems and defeat. They can oversleep, as Seavey has in past races.

    "I see mushers lose the race right there by making poor decisions," he said. "Your decision-making ability is pretty slim to nil at this point."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Iconic Widescreen Images of the Iditarod

     

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    A mosquito takes a blood meal from a human host. (AP Photo/CDC, University of Notre Dame, James Gathany)

    One of the most ferocious insects you've ever heard of - it's the size of a quarter and its painful bite has been compared to being knifed - is set to invade Florida this summer.

    The Sunshine State, already home to man-eating sinkholes, invading Burmese pythons, swarming sharks, tropical storms and other disasters, can expect to see an explosion of shaggy-haired gallinippers (Psorophora ciliata), a type of giant mosquito, according to entomologist Phil Kaufman of the University of Florida.

    Gallinipper eggs hatch after a rainstorm or flood, and the state saw a big jump in the numbers of gallinippers last summer after Tropical Storm Debby dumped its load on Florida. Eggs laid last year could produce a bumper crop of the blood-sucking bugs this summer if Florida sees a soggy rainy season.

    "I wouldn't be surprised, given the numbers we saw last year," Kaufman said in a statement. "When we hit the rainy cycle, we may see that again."

    As insects go, gallinippers are particularly formidable. Their eggs lay dormant for years, awaiting the floodwaters that will enable them to hatch. Even in their larval stage, gallinippers are so tough they'll eat tadpoles and other small aquatic prey. [Ouch! Nature's 10 Biggest Pests]

    And as adults, the voracious pests feed day and night (unlike everyday mosquitoes, which generally feed only at dawn and dusk). Their bodies are strong enough to bite through clothing, and they're known to go after pets, wild animals and even fish, MyFoxOrlando.com reports.

    "It's about 20 times bigger than the sort of typical Florida mosquito that you find," Anthony Pelaez of Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry told Fox Orlando. "And it's mean, and it goes after people, and it bites, and it hurts."

    Pelaez described the gallinipper's bite as so painful it "feels like you're being stabbed."

    The term "gallinipper" isn't recognized by most entomologists, but over the past century, the word - and the insect - entered popular legend through Southern folktales, minstrel shows and blues songs, according to a report from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.

    The earliest description of the pest comes from 1897 by a writer who called the insect "the shyest, slyest, meanest and most venomous of them all." (Gallinipper bites don't actually contain any venom - they just feel that painful.)

    Will insect repellents help to protect people from the dreaded gallinipper? Maybe, Kaufman said, though the pests may be more resistant to bug repellents - even those containing DEET - because of their large size.

    If there's a silver lining to a possible invasion of gallinippers, it's the fact that their larvae are so ravenous they eat the larvae of other insects, including mosquitoes, thus reducing the populations of those pests. And they're not known to carry any diseases, though that may be small comfort to beleaguered Floridians.

    Email Marc Lallanilla or follow him @MarcLallanilla. Follow us on Twitter @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

    Dazzling Photos of Dew-Covered Insects
    Microscopic Monsters: Gallery of Ugly Bugs
    In Photos: Top 10 Deadliest Animals

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: World's Freakiest Bugs

     

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    In this photo released by NOAA, a boat lost in the Japanese tsunami of 2011 sits onshore on a remote Canadian island. The boat was discovered on Aug. 9, 2012. (Credit: Kevin Head)

    Two years after a deadly tsunami swept ashore in Japan, killing more than 15,000 people, solemn reminders of the disaster are still washing ashore in Hawaii and along the Pacific coast of North America.

    The tsunami debris, sometimes identifiable by serial numbers, includes boats, docks, appliance parts and fishing buoys. Though harder to trace back to a particular source, an uptick in Styrofoam and housing materials may also originate from the March 2011 wave.

    "This has been a very unprecedented event," said Nancy Wallace, the director of the marine debris program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency has been tracking the debris, which can pose a navigation hazard to boats and an entanglement or choking hazard to wildlife. The process has given scientists a better understanding of how debris travels, Wallace told LiveScience, but no one knows how much is yet to come ashore.

    "We just don't know how much debris is still floating in the water," Wallace said. "We don't know how much has sunk. What we're trying to be as focused on as possible is trying to prepare for it as best we can."

    Unusual debris

    So far, NOAA has confirmed 21 pieces of debris from the Japan tsunami on U.S. shores. The most recent piece, confirmed by the Consulate of Japan on Feb. 5, was a large yellow buoy found off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. (The agency has received more than 1,000 debris reports, but many items cannot be definitively linked to the tsunami.)

    Other confirmed items that have washed up include a soccer ball in Washington State, a 35-foot (11 meters) steel tank in British Columbia and multiple small, derelict boats.

    Two floating docks beached themselves in Washington and Oregon, both harboring massive amounts of marine life and requiring decontamination to prevent invasive species from establishing themselves on the U.S. coastline. [Images: Beached Japanese Dock]

    Sometimes, a sudden influx of a particular item strongly suggests that it is tsunami-related, even in the absence of other evidence. Styrofoam and other housing materials, for example, have been showing up in bulk in Alaska and Hawaii, said Nicholas Mallos, an ocean debris specialist at the non-profit Ocean Conservancy.

    "Styrofoam has shown up in some places in quantities 30 times historical abundances," Mallos told LiveScience.

    Tracking the debris

    The debris slowly making its way across the Pacific to North America is only a fraction of the estimated 5 million tons of rubble and other materials swept into the sea by the tsunami, according to Japanese government estimates. Approximately 70 percent of the debris sunk off of Japan's coast, leaving 1.5 million tons to float across the ocean. How much of that is still floating is anybody's guess. [Tracking Tsunami Debris (Infographic)]

    NOAA works with fishing vessels and commercial shippers, relying on eyewitness reports of debris in the open ocean. Early on, Wallace said, the agency tried to monitor the debris by satellite, but soon found that the material wasn't visible for very long. As the debris fields dispersed and some of it sank, the remaining pieces were too small to see from orbit.

    Models of debris flow have proved more useful, though the motion of the matter depends heavily on wind and water currents. Using historical climate data, scientists can make an approximation, Wallace said, but the models were greatly improved when researchers put the real-world current and wind conditions into the system. Unfortunately, that means that while researchers are good at telling where the debris is likely located now, they're not as clear on where it's going.

    "There's a large amount of uncertainty," Wallace said.

    Humans dump massive amounts of debris into the ocean on a regular basis, the Ocean Conservancy's Mallos said. There are no good numbers on what percentage of the debris currently in the sea comes from the tsunami versus from everyday garbage and abandoned fishing gear. Working to reduce this everyday junk, by decreasing consumer waste, for example, will make the oceans more resilient in the face of unavoidable debris disasters like tsunamis, Mallos said.

    Another thing researchers don't know: the impact of all that debris that may never reach shore.

    "Very little research has been done at mid-water depths, and particularly on the seafloor, as to what extent of debris abundance is there and what particular ecological impacts debris has on those marine environments," Mallos said.

    Meanwhile, experts expect trickles of tsunami debris to continue to wash onto American shores for the next few years.

    "Things can get caught up in eddies and gyres for awhile and then get spit out, so it could really be years that the debris is out there," Wallace said. "We hope that we've seen most of it, but it's just so hard to tell."

    Follow Stephanie Pappas @sipappas. Follow us on Twitter @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

    Photos: Tsunami Debris & Trash on Hawaii's Beaches
    Waves of Destruction: History's Biggest Tsunamis
    In Pictures: Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    April-like temperatures have invaded the East and will persist through Tuesday, before being erased by a cooler airmass for the middle of the week.

    A typical March is like a roller coaster across the East with several warm spells only to be erased by brief shots of cold air.

    It should be no surprise that the warmth across the East currently going on will not last all that long.

    However, through Tuesday, AccuWeather.com meteorologists are expecting widespread 60-degree temperatures from Buffalo, N.Y., to Philadelphia, Pa., southward into the Carolinas.

    The 70-degree temperatures will be common from Columbia, S.C., through the remainder of the Southeast.

    Residents of the Northeast, however, will not be quite as lucky as points farther to the south.
    A wind off the ocean combined with deep snowpack in many areas inland will keep temperatures from Long Island and NYC through Boston and Portland on the chilly side. Highs through Tuesday will make it into the lower to mid-50s in New York City, while Boston and Portland remain stuck in the 40s.

    Though it will remain mild to warm across the East on Monday, springtime warmups are often followed by rain.

    In this case, a storm currently producing snow from Omaha to Marquette, will track eastward on Monday.

    This system will bring a period of rain to the mid-Atlantic and thunderstorms to the Southeast Monday afternoon into Monday night, effectively beginning to erase the mild temperatures.

    It will take until Tuesday for the rain to move into Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Richmond and Norfolk, which will allow for one more day of mild temperatures.

    Behind this system, Tuesday night into Wednesday, temperatures will drop as a northwest wind ushers in the cooler air.

    By Wednesday, areas that were in the 60s, like Buffalo and Pittsburgh, will struggle to get out of the mid-30s.

    Highs even over to Philadelphia and D.C. on Wednesday will struggle to reach the lower 50s as a chilly northeast wind blows. Temperatures on Thursday will be even colder.

    There may even be a few snow showers over the Great Lakes and central Appalachians as this cold air makes headway through the east.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists will continue to monitor the warmth and impending cool spell over the next few days.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Steady rain will return to parts of the Pacific Northwest early this week, along with mild temperatures. These temperatures will lead to snowmelt in the mountains and foothills. The combination of the rain and snowmelt could then cause local flooding problems.

    Parts of the Pacific Northwest have been relatively dry over the past two months. In fact, Seattle has only received 55 percent of its average rainfall since February 1st.

    A similar story is found in Portland where there has only been 36 percent of normal rainfall since February 1st.

    Things will change across parts of the region early this week as a stream of moisture moves onshore into western Washington and southwest British Columbia.

    Steady rain will fall Monday afternoon through at least the day on Wednesday, bringing upwards of 1-2 inches of rain to Seattle metro area and 3-5 inches along the coast.

    Across the foothills, rising snow levels to above 6,000 feet by late Tuesday combined with an expected 4-6 inches of rainfall through Wednesday will lead to substantial melting of the snow pack.

    This increased melting combined with the heavy rain has the potential to cause rapid rises in streams and creeks. Roadside ditches may also become filled with melting snow and slush.

    Some larger scale river flooding is even possible, especially beginning late in the day Tuesday and running through midweek but with rainfall amounts still uncertain at the moment, more details will come on this over the next day or two.

    This wet weather pattern will continue through the end of the week before drier air moves into the Northwest this weekend.

    Residents, especially those living near flood-prone areas, will want to keep an eye on the changing weather situation.

    Heed all flood watches and warnings, all of which can be found at the AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center.

    Keep checking back with AccuWeather.com as it continues to monitor a potentially dangerous flooding situation.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    During the first few days of March 1993, meteorologists at AccuWeather stared in awe of weather patterns that seemed to be pointing toward the potential for a monster storm for the eastern third of the nation a week later.

    Map discussions (gatherings of dozens of meteorologists at multiple shifts) in the following days focused on the potential storm, and the discussions were lively to say the least.

    By the end of the week, the meteorologists were looking at the jaw-dropping likelihood of a worst case scenario unfolding.

    blizzard of 1993Multiple branches of the jet stream (high velocity winds high in the atmosphere) were coming together near the Gulf of Mexico. Next, the phasing of the jet stream would swing a giant storm northeastward across the Appalachians and the Atlantic Seaboard.

    The storm spanning March 12-14, 1993, would unfold as arguably the worst winter storm and blizzard of the 20th century for the Eastern states. While at a smaller regional level, storms such the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 and the New England Blizzard of 1978 may have been worse, this one, for its size and strength, may truly sit on the top of the heap in terms of population affected (over 140 million).

    The "Storm of the Century" and "Blizzard of '93," as it is often referred to, took the lives of over 300 people from Cuba to the U.S. and Canada and included four dozen lives lost at sea due to massive waves and squalls. Waves as high as 65 feet occurred in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada.

    In today's dollars, losses from the storm would cost around $7 billion. In the U.S., over two dozen states were touched by the storm. The storm directly or indirectly impacted approximately 40 percent of the population of the U.S. Hundreds of schools were closed for days (some for a week), and millions of people couldn't get to work in the wake of the storm.

    The storm produced an extremely rare, massive swath of 1- to 3-foot snowfall. When combined with wind gusts of tropical storm to hurricane force, it brought drifts as high as single-story homes in the Appalachians.

    In a dozen states, emergencies were declared. Unnecessary travel was banned for days in some states and communities. Every major airport on the East Coast was closed at one time or another by the storm's snow, wind or severe thunderstorms. Hundreds of roofs failed under the weight of the snow.

    Strong winds and in some areas wet snow from the storm disrupted electrical power for varying durations to millions of homes and businesses. Over most of the central and northern Appalachians, the snow was more powdery in nature and did not adhere to trees and power lines. Power restoration in some areas was hindered by massive drifts and strong winds in the wake of the storm.

    Peak gusts included 71 mph at La Guardia Airport, N.Y.; 81 mph at Boston, Mass.; 90 mph at Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and 101 mph at Flattop Mountain, N.C. A sampling of snowfall amounts included 10 inches at New York City; 13 inches at Washington, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia; 20 inches at Chattanooga, Tenn.; 25 inches at Pittsburgh, Pa.; 27 inches at Albany, N.Y.; 35 inches at Lincoln, N.H.; 44 inches at Snowshoe, W.Va.; and 50 inches on Mount Mitchell, N.C.


    This image was taken on March 13, 1993, at Boomer, N.C., by Jesse Ferrell.

    While some snow fell to the central Gulf Coast, in the Deep South and in part of the tropics, it was a thunderstorm squall line that caused disruptions and damage, while strong winds also brought storm surge to the west coast of Florida. Damaging storms reached as far south as Cuba and Mexico.

    Nasty cold followed the storm for several days and added to the hardship for those without power. Despite being the middle of March, snow lingered on the ground for a week or more in some areas.

    Closer to the coast, the snow became progressively more wet and changed to rain, while strong winds pushed ocean water onshore, leading to coastal flooding.

    In some states the National Guard was called in for assistance. In some rural areas, giant dump truck-sized snowblowers were brought in to clear roads in the days following the storm. In some communities, where there was too much snow to plow, pay loaders scooped up the snow to make a path and hauled it away.

    The storm occurred before widespread use of the internet, cell phones and social media.

    According to Evan Myers, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of AccuWeather, Inc., "The nature of the storm was accurately forecast days in advance. Followers of our radio, TV and newspaper affiliates, as well as special clients were well informed."

    Senior Meteorologist and Northeast Weather Expert Dave Dombek stated that AccuWeather aired days in advance that roads would be closed due to the severity of the storm.

    "It was one of the rare times that we were able to be that bold in a forecast, without hesitation and knew we would be right," Dombek said.

    Senior Vice President Joe Sobel was traveling in the days prior to the storm.

    "I recall hearing references on radio stations that broadcast our forecasts that a storm of biblical proportions was on the way," Sobel stated.

    The saga of millions during the granddaddy of snowstorms for the region will be passed down to generations.

    Many meteorologists and support staff, who are still employed at AccuWeather to this day, worked long, hard hours leading up to, during and following the storm, serving the media and special clients. Some worked nearly non-stop during the storm and chose to sleep for a few hours at work or at a nearby hotel. A number of meteorologists chose to walk home after their shift to see to their families' safety. By the evening hours that Saturday, snow drifts were chest deep in some areas surrounding State College, Pa. There were no vehicles operating. Winds were gusting to 50 mph with near zero visibility at times and RealFeel(R) temperatures near zero. Some of the walks are 30 minutes or more on a sunny, calm day.

    One of the Accuites who chose to walk (a couple of miles) home was Expert Senior Meteorologist Dave Bowers. You might say, "So what? Others did this. What's the big deal?" Well you see, Dave is an amputee and has been so since early childhood. The challenge of getting around on crutches your whole life is one thing, but to do so with one leg, on crutches in a severe blizzard is off the scale. "I had to pole vault over some of the drifts leading to my home outside of town," Bowers said. That is why colleagues at AccuWeather call him "Dave Bowers, The Tower of Weather Power."

    Senior Meteorologist Dave Samuel, then a high school student, was amazed at how quickly the snow piled up in the Lake Ridge, Va., area. "The storm marked an end of a huge snow drought in the Washington, D.C., area that reached back to 1988," Samuel said, "I was also upset that we missed 3 feet of snow just to our west."

    Jim Rourke, a meteorologist in the AccuWeather.com Climatology Department, was a paperboy in March of 1993. "It was the only time in five years that we did not deliver the paper for one day. As a 13-year-old, I made a lot of extra money shoveling people out days after the storm had passed."

    Expert Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok, recalls being exhausted after working nearly 25 hours straight with only an hour nap at work. "The morning after the storm, Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams, who also racked up mega hours that weekend, sent me on a mission to gather food from the only restaurant open in town. I used a path for emergency vehicles and had to use a side door to get into the restaurant, since the main door was blocked by a massive drift."


    This photograph was taken a couple of days after the Blizzard of 1993 in State College, Pa. These cars weren't going anywhere anytime soon. Photo by William Rusk.

    Evan Myers, who lived only a few blocks away from AccuWeather's headquarters in State College, put people up in his home during the storm. "It seemed more like a storm in the dead of winter in our area with dry, powdery snow. In my neighborhood, I recall plows not keeping up with the storm and getting stuck in the snow accumulating at a rate of 2 to 4 inches per hour."

    Other Stories of Interest:
    Why Was it the Storm of the Century?
    More Storm of the Century Memoirs

    Sources of information for this story include AccuWeather.com Forensics, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and the Associated Press (AP).

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Remembering the Epic Blizzard of 1993
    Blizzard of 1993

     

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    March 11, 2013


    Astronauts Chris Hadfield and Thomas H. Marshburn have taken the Twitterverse by storm, sharing stunning views of Earth from the International Space Station. Now, with Our World From The ISS, it's even easier to browse the incredible photos. The interactive map, created by Dave MacLean of the Center of Geographic Sciences, collects the images and arranges them by location. Go ahead and explore the far reaches of the world.

    (via io9)

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Breathtaking New Images of Earth from Space

     

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    In this Feb. 26, 2013, file photo, cattle feed in a snow covered pasture near Lecompton, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - Recent rain and snowstorms have eased the grip of the worst U.S. drought in decades in portions of the nation's midsection, swelling some major inland rivers to near flood stage and drenching some farmland enough to possibly delay fast-approaching spring planting.

    But climatologists caution that the moisture - a blessing after a disastrous, bone-dry 2012 across much of the nation's Corn Belt - doesn't signal the end of the stubborn drought still with a hold on more than half the continental U.S.

    What happens in the next couple of months, they said, could be more telling. That's when the frozen ground will thaw and water that had been running off into the Mississippi or Missouri rivers and their tributaries could sink in.

    The latest precipitation "is certainly helping, because a lot of it is falling in the heart of the worst drought areas," National Climatic Data Center scientist Mike Brewer said Monday. "It's helping to mitigate the impacts of the drought (by helping fill farm ponds and reservoirs), but it's not necessarily helping the agricultural side of things right now. It's not getting into the soil, where it needs to go."

    Right now, he said, "you have that persistent blob of exceptional drought hanging out over the Plains."

    But it appears to be a blob that's shrinking, ever so slowly. Just over half of the continental U.S. remains in some form of drought - the lowest level since last June and down 12 percentage points from the drought's peak in September.

    The Mississippi River has been rising after sinking so low that barge traffic from St. Louis south about 180 miles to Cairo, Ill., had been threatened. Two snowstorms and a drenching rain now have some stretches of the Mississippi approaching flood stage. The National Weather Service said Monday the river was at 24.3 feet in Clarksville, Mo. - less than a foot below technical flood stage - and expected to rise to nearly 2 feet above flood stage by Wednesday. Clarksville is about 70 miles north of St. Louis.

    The river at nearby Louisiana, Mo., also is expected to climb to about a foot above flood stage on Tuesday.

    Smaller rivers also are swelling. The Wabash River this week is projected to rise a foot or two above flood stage from Covington, Ill., to Terre Haute, Ind., while the Skunk River near Sigourney, Iowa, has risen 14 feet since Saturday and is now 2 feet above flood stage. The Blackwater River near Valle City, Mo., is up 21 feet since Friday and is nearly 6 feet above flood stage.

    Several roads, including a few state ones, are closed across portions of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, and thousands of acres of farmland are flooded, though no major damage is anticipated. Most of the water is expected to recede quickly because no significant rain is in the forecast over the next week or so, said Mark Fuchs, a hydrologist with the weather service near St. Louis.

    Still, he said, the precipitation has ended concern about the drought in parts of Missouri, given that "really for the last month we've been well above average precipitation and catching up in a hurry."

    Consider the Hannibal area of northeast Missouri. Snow storms a week apart dumped nearly 20 inches of snow on Mark Twain's hometown. Rain from Friday to Sunday combined with warm temperatures to melt what was left of the standing ice and snow and added up to 5 inches of precipitation into the region's waterways. The Salt, North Fabius and South Fabius rivers near Hannibal are at or near flood stage, with the nearby Mark Twain Lake also rising fast.

    The deluges, while welcomed by most farmers, have left muddy messes in some rural areas, potentially slowing the spring planting of corn and soybeans - a reversal from a year ago, when a mild spring enabled growers to get their crops in the ground weeks ahead of schedule.

    Near St. Elmo in south-central Illinois, Gary Berg generally likes to start spring sowing about April 10, "but right now it doesn't look like we'll be able to go by then" unless the temperatures rise and the wind kicks in, drying the fields.

    Berg, 61, hopes for a rebound after a "pretty pathetic" corn harvest last year, when his average ranged wildly from five bushels per acre to 60 - well below the norm. One 60-acre field wasn't worth harvesting at all, he said.

    "Corn in our area was pretty much a disaster," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    This image provided by NASA shoaws the comet PANSTARRS as seen from Mount Dale, Western Australia, on March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/NASA)

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Now's your chance to see the comet that passed within 100 million miles of Earth last week.

    Twilight on Tuesday will provide the best photo op for the comet called Pan-STARRS. It will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere just above the western horizon - right next to a crescent moon.

    California astronomer Tony Phillips said the glare of the setting sun may make it difficult to see the comet with the naked eye. But he encourages casual sky gazers to give it a shot. The moon will provide an easy point of reference.

    "All by itself, the slender moon will be super-beautiful. If you can see a comet right beside it ... what a bonus!" he wrote in an email from his home and observatory in the Sierra Nevada.

    Remember your binoculars, but be certain not to point them at the setting sun, he warned.

    Next week, the comet should be easier to spot. It will be higher in the western sky and therefore visible for longer once the sun sets. The surrounding darkness, versus twilight, will make it stand out if the sky is clear.

    "Not a great comet, but still a pretty good one," Phillips noted.

    Pan-STARRS was visible for weeks from the Southern Hemisphere before popping up on the upper half of the globe in recent days.

    Although billions of year old, Pan-STARRS is making its first-ever cruise through the inner solar system. The ice ball passed within 28 million miles of the sun Sunday, its closest approach to our star and within the orbit of Mercury.

    Phillips said the comet did not appear to decay during its brush with the sun, even though it encountered 10 times more intense solar rays than what we're used to here on Earth.

    Last Tuesday, Pan-STARRS made its closest approach ever of Earth.

    The comet's name is actually an acronym for the telescope in Hawaii used to discover it two years ago: the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System.

    Astronomers believe Pan-STARRS somehow got kicked out of the Oort Cloud that is full of icy bodies beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, and propelled into the inner solar system.

    It will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere for weeks to come.

    Have no fear: Pan-STARRS poses no threat to Earth. Neither does comet ISON, which promises to outdo Pan-STARRS.

    Astronomers believe ISON will rival the moon in brightness, come November.

     

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    As the tides starts to come in, a man uses a bulldozer to push sand while rebuilding a breached dune in Mantoloking, N.J., Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie on Monday defended the delay in disbursing $32 million in donations to victims of Superstorm Sandy from a charity run by his wife.

    The Asbury Park Press newspaper of Neptune reported Sunday that none of the relief money that came pouring in after the late October storm had reached victims; the first $1 million in grants was approved last week.

    The Republican governor said the Sandy relief fund was never meant to provide immediate assistance to those recovering from New Jersey's worst natural disaster, which killed 40 residents, left three-quarters of the state without power and caused $37 billion in damage in the state. The storm, which was spawned when Hurricane Sandy merged with two other weather systems, killed people in 10 states, but New Jersey and New York were hit the hardest.

    The charity will provide rebuilding aid to Jersey residents whose homes and businesses were damaged by the storm and help cover gaps between repair bills and the amount covered by insurance, Christie said. Organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Red Cross provided short-term assistance to victims, while the Robin Hood Foundation has rapidly turned around most of the $67 million raised by the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief.

    Christie, after touring a site that provides services for the developmentally disabled, praised his wife's performance at the charity.

    "I'm really proud of the job she's done and the professionalism she's brought to the job," he said Monday. "The fact that they're being careful with people's money is something that's laudable."

    Christie's wife, Mary Pat Christie, a hedge fund manager who took two months off from her job to oversee the charity, told the newspaper she is being methodical to ensure the money is spent properly.

    The fund's honorary advisory board includes Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and former Sen. Bill Bradley.

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

     

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    On Friday, March 8, 2013, Chinese paramilitary policemen march across Tiananmen Square on a hazy day in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    BEIJING (AP) - Facing public outrage over smog-choked cities and filthy rivers, China's leaders are promising to clean up the country's neglected environment - a pledge that sets up a clash with political pressures to keep economic growth strong.

    An array of possible initiatives discussed by officials and state media ahead of this week's meeting of China's legislature include tightening water standards and taxing carbon emissions. No change is expected at the National People's Congress, which will be dominated by the installation of a new Cabinet under Communist Party leaders who took power in November. But the meeting offers a platform to try to appease the public by discussing possible changes.

    Pollution and public frustration about it are hardly new to China. But now, the ruling party is under pressure from entrepreneurs and professionals who are crucial to its development plans and want cleaner living conditions. Pressure intensified after this winter's record-shattering smog in Beijing and other cities left office workers wheezing.

    For industry, pollution controls could cause a costly upheaval after three decades of breakneck growth with little official concern about damage to China's air, water and soil. Party leaders have given no timetable and have yet to make clear how far they are willing to go if such measures wipe out jobs or force factories and power plants to close.

    "Economic interests are one of the biggest stumbling blocks to real progress on the environmental front," said Melanie Hart, a specialist in Chinese energy and climate policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, in an e-mail.

    Skepticism about Beijing's commitment rose in February when the Ministry of Environmental Protection refused to publish results of a five-year survey of soil pollution. Some consumers worry food is tainted by toxin-laced farmland, and activists questioned whether the ministry found that problems were even worse than expected.

    Party leaders have promised to balance economic needs with environmental protection but could face resistance from industry and local officials whose promotions depend on meeting growth targets.

    The party's latest five-year development plan calls for cleaner, energy-efficient growth. Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao last week promised more spending on renewable energy, pollution control and cleaning up lakes and rivers. The environment ministry is getting a 12 percent budget increase. The Cabinet's economic planning agency promised to change pricing and taxes for water, oil and other resources to curb waste and pollution.

    Some analysts suggest that if Beijing keeps its promises, environmental protection could be a core element of the legacy of Xi Jinping, who took power as the party's general secretary in November in a once-a-decade transition.

    "I see the last five years and the future five years are a turning point in China toward greener development," said Xu Jintao, director of Peking University's environmental economics program.

    The government is looking at updating laws on vehicle emissions, other air pollution and overall environmental protection, according to Fu Ying, a deputy foreign minister who is spokeswoman for the legislative meeting.

    "First, we must strengthen environmental protection legislation," said Fu. She gave no timeframe or other details but said new party leaders who took power in November "will definitely put this issue in a priority position to consider."

    A cleaner environment is in line with the party's ambition to transform China into a creator of technology and reduce reliance on manufacturing and heavy industry. The World Bank and other advisers have urged Beijing to develop service industries, which could create more jobs and wealth with smaller inputs of fuel and raw materials.

    China's first environmental law, a clean air act, was passed in 1987 but activists complain local authorities ignore controls if they conflict with business goals. They say filters on power plant smokestacks and other environmental technology that might reduce output is turned on only when inspectors from Beijing visit.

    Rising incomes have given city dwellers higher expectations for quality of life and the confidence to make demands, even as they add to emissions by purchasing more cars and using more coal-fired electric power.

    Smog reached a peak in January, when the Beijing city government reported levels of particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter - one of the most damaging pollutants - were as high as 700 micrograms per cubic meter. That was 28 times the World Health Organization's recommended safe level of 25 and the highest since the government began reporting PM2.5 numbers last year.

    Chinese smog is so bad that officials in South Korean and Japan say pollutants are spreading to their countries. Last week, residents of Japan's Kumamoto prefecture were told to stay indoors or wear masks as protection against airborne particles from China.

    The bulk of the smog choking Chinese cities is belched out by commercial trucks, but authorities have put off tightening emissions standards. Upgrading to cleaner engines would cost about 20,000 yuan ($3,200) per vehicle, adding about 8 percent to a typical sticker price.

    Auto industry analysts say this winter's wave of smog is likely to prod authorities to speed up the introduction of tougher standards, at least in major cities.

    The Internet has made it easy to publicize problems, adding to pressure on Chinese leaders.

    In February, a businessman in the southeastern city of Rui'an attracted national attention when he posted pictures of a garbage-filled river online and offered an environmental official 200,000 yuan ($32,000) to swim in it. That prompted an anonymous offer of 300,000 yuan ($48,000) on a separate online forum for the environmental protection chief of the nearby county of Cangnan to swim in polluted rivers there.

    Beijing has shut down antiquated power plants, steel mills and other facilities over the past decade to improve energy efficiency. Analysts say the easy gains have been made and further improvement will be tougher and more costly.

    Some major Chinese companies have shifted with the political tide and embraced conservation.

    The chairman of Sinopec, one of China's three major state-owned oil companies, announced in February the company will spend several billion dollars in the next few years to upgrade its refineries and produce cleaner gasoline.

    At lower levels, though, communist leaders need to restructure a tangle of economic and political incentives if they want their orders to be obeyed.

    They are likely to face resistance from local leaders who will be required to enforce rules but whose careers depend on meeting economic growth targets, said Peking University's Xu. He said mayors who change jobs as often as once a year are forced to aim for short-term gains and ignore the environment.

    "There is still a lot of pressure not to do much about the environment," he said. "They need a change of incentive for local government."

    The ministries of finance and environmental protection are looking at a possible shift to using taxes on fuel, carbon output or other pollution instead of administrative controls, according to Xu. He said that income could help offset losses to local governments from reduced business activity.

    "That gives local governments an incentive to cooperate," he said.

    The head of the Finance Ministry's tax division said in February on the ministry website that Beijing might introduce a carbon tax. The official, Jia Chen, gave no details and the ministry did not respond to a request for further information.

    Still, environmentalists are alarmed by one proposed amendment to the environmental law that would require plans to be reviewed by economic officials before they could be considered for Cabinet approval, according to Hart.

    "That language would certainly send the signal that central leaders are still prioritizing growth over the environment," she said. "I hope that is not the case."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    A cyclist holds an umbrella as he crosses tracks during snowfalls in Cologne, Germany, Tuesday, March 12, 2013. (AP Photo/dpa, Oliver Berg)

    PARIS (AP) - Frankfurt's airport closed, trains under the English Channel were suspended, and Belgium's prince was among thousands of people stuck at home - all because of a sudden dump of oddly late snowfall on Western Europe.

    Less prepared for the kind of heavy snow that regularly hits northern and eastern neighbors, France, Britain and Belgium struggled Tuesday to keep moving amid the frosty, blustery conditions.

    Instead of enjoying the onset of spring, travelers shivered in stranded cars, packed onto icy train platforms or languished in airport waiting halls. Thousands of schoolchildren stayed home. Thousands of homes were without electricity.

    Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, closed at midday after recording about 5 inches of snow. More than 200 flights had already been canceled and many others were delayed.

    FFM airport spokesman Dieter Hulick said the busiest airport would be closed until 1:30 p.m. because snowfall in the Frankfurt area was so heavy that by the time snow ploughs had cleared the runways a fresh layer of snow had already fallen.

    The 6,000 flights operated in Europe's skies early Tuesday had already amassed a combined delay of 85,000 minutes by mid-morning, with about 70 percent of the delays weather-related, according to European flight control center Eurocontrol.

    Paris airport screens flashed with red warnings after the French civil aviation authority ordered about 300 flights - a quarter of the day's total - canceled out of Charles de Gaulle Airport. Orly Airport temporarily suspended all takeoffs and landings to clear away incessant snow.

    Brussels airport was forced to operate on a single runway, Eurocontrol said.

    Service on the Eurostar trains that go under the English Channel was suspended mid-morning because severe weather in northern France and Belgium forced operators to close sections of the railway, said Eurostar spokeswoman Lucy Drake. Service was suspended for the rest of the day, Eurostar later confirmed on its website.

    Office buildings in the French capital - like those in the European Union's capital, Brussels - were only partly full. The French train network SNCF urged commuters in the Paris region to stay home Tuesday instead of trying to reach downtown "because of the unfavorable evolution of weather conditions."

    In southeastern England, snow and ice stranded hundreds of motorists as temperatures plunged to as low as minus 27 Fahrenheit, and many motorists abandoned their cars. Traffic backed up for 30 miles in some spots, with reports of people being stranded for 10 hours or more.

    Among those stuck was a group of 120 German students who had to stay overnight in the town hall at Hastings on the south coast of England when families set to pick them up could not reach them.

    Police in Sussex reported responding to more than 300 auto collisions in 24 hours because of slippery roads but no serious injuries were reported.

    Belgium had a record 1,600 kilometers of traffic jams during morning rush hour as snowdrifts turned roads slippery and reduced vision. A strong wind made conditions even tougher. Thousands of commuters were left stranded on snowed-in platforms after many trains around the region were canceled.

    Snow affected even the workings of government and the royal palace: The start of budgetary negotiations within Belgium's governing coalition was delayed, and Prince Lorenz was unable to travel to Maastricht, the Netherlands, to visit a historical exhibition.

    Even the U.S. Embassy in Brussels closed for the day "due to the continued weather conditions."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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