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SKYE on AOL

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    A band of slow-moving, drenching rain will cross eastern New England on Tuesday and Tuesday evening, bringing a risk of flooding to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont.

    Some of the locations most at risk include Boston, Worcester, Brockton, Foxboro, Fitchburg, Lowell, Taunton, Hartford, Danielson and Nashua.

    With 10 to as much as 20 inches of snow on the ground in many areas, the danger of flooding will come not only from the rain itself, but also snowmelt.

    Recent analysis from a NOAA satellite indicated that, if melted, the snowpack held the equivalent of 1.00-2.00 inches of rain from western and central Massachusetts into southern New Hampshire.

    Here is an example of how snowpack acts to store water, and then unleash it as additional runoff.

    Soaking downpours expected on Tuesday into Tuesday evening will bring up to another inch of rain on top of this, and the result will be rather widespread urban and poor drainage flooding in the I-95 corridor from Providence, R.I., to Portsmouth, N.H.

    This will have a large impact on the evening commute as heavy traffic delays are likely.
    Additionally, excessive runoff from the rain and melting snow will lead to large standing pools of water in fields and around homes, ranging anywhere from a few inches to a few feet deep in spots.

    Areas that don't normally have flooding could briefly be flooded in this type of situation.
    There is also potential that some rivers, creeks and streams will go into flood stage during the afternoon and evening hours on Tuesday, especially in the most flood-prone areas. Any flooding of rivers, creeks and streams will be minor, however.

    Farther to the north, in central and northern New England, the snowmelt and rainfall will also combine with river ice to cause flooding.

    Large chunks of melting ice in rivers can easily become stuck on debris, or lodged around bends on rivers and streams. As the flow of the water carries more large chunks into the same spots, a natural, temporary dam can develop. The water will eventually back up behind the dam, and severe flooding can occur. This is known as ice jam flooding.

    This natural dam can also break easily and quickly, and when it does, water backed up behind the jam will rush down the river or stream, flooding locations that were initially safe.

    To be prepared, and if you can safely do so, remove any snow or ice from drainage areas near your home. If you will be traveling on Tuesday and Tuesday evening, be sure to allow plenty of time to reach your destination. Remember: Never drive around barricades or flooded roadways, as the water may be much deeper than you think.

    The rain will come to an end Tuesday night, and much colder air will be ushered into the region for Wednesday and much of the remainder of the week.

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield made history last month when he performed an original song, "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing?)," from the International Space Station with the Barenaked Ladies.

    Since then, he's been holding court - from space - with the likes of Peter Gabriel. He's been tweeting up a storm, sharing incredible photos of Earth, and more than a few poetic musings, with his half a million Twitter followers.

    And now, with the Chieftains, he's just performed yet another song, "Moondance." His stage? As before, it's the International Space Station's cupola, with its windows looking out at Earth and the blackness of space - surely the most incredible concert venue ever.

    As Hadfield says in the video, "I've had a chance to play a lot of different places, but to be able to play music in a place like this beats all. It's phenomenal."

     

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    Labyrinth. (Brad Goldpaint)

    You may not know the name Brad Goldpaint, but there's a good chance you've seen his work. His stunning time-lapse video of clouds and stars sweeping over a glowing lake went viral last year, racking up more than half a million plays while getting rave reviews from sites like Wired.com.

    Goldpaint, 31, specializes in the art of landscape astrophotography, meaning images that combine the night sky and the terrestrial world. It's a pursuit that often leads him into the Oregon wilderness. Over the years, Goldpaint has come back with breathtaking shots that evoke a wild, luminous, star-filled world that city dwellers rarely encounter.

    SKYE recently caught up with Goldpaint, who's based in Bend, Ore., to ask him about his craft.

    SKYE: What led you to this kind of photography?

    Shortly after my mother passed away, I decided to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010. I wanted to find an escape from the concrete jungle and rediscover myself and grieve. There, high above city light pollution, I rediscovered the night sky. I hiked the PCT for six months, and each night I spent a few hours watching stars dance above me from my tent. When I returned from the trip, I wanted to give others the chance to experience that magic like I did. That's when I started experimenting with landscape astrophotography.

    What's the secret to taking long-exposure night-sky photos like these?

    A lot of it has to do with patience and knowing your gear. Sometimes I prepare for a single shot for a long time -- how I want to take it and how it's going to be produced. Sometimes it takes me a year to get there and complete it. It depends on what the Milky Way is doing, what orientation the landscape is facing, and how can I mesh the landscape and night sky together. And here in the Northwest, you don't get a lot of clear days. Weather is a huge factor. Sixty or 70 percent of the time I don't come back with anything because it's cloudy or humid.

    Do you have to hike into the wilderness to get these photos? Or can you set up a tripod next to your car?

    I wish it was that easy. (Laughs.) There's a lot of hiking involved in getting these pictures. Here in the Cascades, we get a lot of snow throughout the year. I like to snowshoe in early in the year, in May or June, so I don't have a lot of interference from other people's flashlights. And I like the solitude and peacefulness.

    Take, for instance, the photo of Crater Lake with the bright meteor. That was taken in April during the Lyrids meteor shower. Crater Lake gets sometimes 30 feet of snow throughout the year. To get that shot, I snowshoed in about four miles. I had about 40 pounds of equipment on me, from camping gear to photo equipment. I started snowshoeing at 1 p.m. It was slushy and a brutal walk. It took me about three hours to hike four miles. I set up camp and relaxed. Then once the sun dipped past the horizon and stars began to come out, I just got energized. I was on the edge of the rim. For safety purposes, because there are big snow banks there, I roped myself to a tree. That way, in case a snowbank were to give way, I wouldn't fall 1,100 feet into the lake.

    Then I inched my way to the ledge and set up my tripod and that night I was shooting time-lapse. I was capturing constant images. I saw the rising Milky Way from the east and perfect conditions. That night I took roughly 600 images. Each frame was 35 seconds of exposure.

    So you're up all night shooting? How do you stay awake?

    When the night sky is out I just get amped. There are so many things, from satellites to meteors, that intrigue me about it. I'm not a big coffee drinker until morning. Usually in the morning on the drive home, the adrenaline has worn off, the sun is out. Then I need caffeine to keep me going.

    So much of this is related to my mother, too. When I see the night sky I think about her and feel closer to her and relate to her.

    You usually go out for a night at a time?

    Yeah. Typically, I go out in one night because I have a job to get back to. I have my business teaching workshops and selling fine-art prints through my website. That's been taking a lot of time, plus I have a full-time job as an architectural designer.

    What is it about a long-exposure photos that captures peoples' imagination?

    Because technology has come so far in such a short amount of time, photographers can go out and capture things that the human eye can't even detect. Another factor is that people are so disconnected from the night sky. When I'm out there, I see the Milky Way stretch from one horizon to the other.

    Do you have a favorite among these photos we've published?

    I really like the one with the lit juniper tree on the left side and the Milky Way and Crater Lake. You're seeing Wizard Island at Crater Lake. The photo has three different elements. One being the landscape. It's really hard to beat the composition of Crater Lake. It's so powerful. I'm always trying to put some sort of earthy element into my images and having that ancient juniper tree framing the image was a great addition. It's difficult to bring out the texture, but using a technique called light painting, you can bring out those details and colors. That time of year it was a perfect time for the Milky Way. Having the night sky balanced over the two elements made for a great composition, I thought.

    Are there other places where you hope to photograph?

    One of my main goals is to get to Iceland, just to experience that surreal landscape of auroras, night skies, gorgeous mountain ranges, waterfalls. You name it, they got it.

    Thanks, Brad.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 of Brad Goldpaint's Photos of Earth and Starry Night Skies

    Astrophotography, Brad Goldpaint

     

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    Snow covers the Place de la Concorde around the Obelisk in Paris, France. Tuesday, March 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

    PARIS (AP) - Snow-choked European cities are struggling to get planes, trains and roads moving again after a surprisingly intense, late-season storm.

    A few flights were canceled Wednesday and many were facing long delays at Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports and the Frankfurt Airport.

    Eurostar train service under the English Channel resumed Wednesday after being suspended most of Tuesday, but trains were running much more slowly than usual because of the icy tracks, causing delays.

    Thousands of cars were stuck or moving slowly on roads around northern France Wednesday morning as authorities - and the army - tried to clear snow. Tens of thousands of homes in northern France remain without electricity, with temperatures below freezing across the region.

    Belgium was still suffering long train delays Wednesday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Firefighters monitor a wildfire burning through 3,600 acres of the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday Sept. 4, 2012 near Glendora, Calif. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Despite the slowest start to a wildfire season in a decade, the head of the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday his agency is preparing for another busy year, but with fewer firefighters.

    Late winter storms have helped bring more snow and rain to some parts of the country, but Chief Tom Tidwell told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that much of the South and Southwest are expected to dry out by May and June as drought conditions persist.

    That will give way to a season much like last year, when more than 14,500 square miles - an area bigger than the state of Maryland - were charred. A dozen lives were also lost last year and more than 2,200 homes and businesses were destroyed.

    The predicted hot spots for wildfires this year? Tidwell pointed to Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California.

    "The areas I'm talking about now are influenced by these severe and ongoing droughts, and that doesn't get changed with any few storms. So the potential is there," he said.

    The most recent forecast from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, show normal fire conditions through March, but things begin to change in April. In the Upper Midwest, for example, deficits in soil moisture are expected to lead to an increase in significant fire potential.

    NIFC meteorologist Ed Delgado cautioned that much will depend on the spring storm track as well as how fast or slow snowpack in the higher elevations melts this year.

    "Drought, it's one of the factors in determining fire season, but it's not the only one. There are a lot of other things we're looking at to gauge what's going to happen."

    The predictions are key as the Forest Service ramps up for the season. The agency, which is trying to absorb a 5 percent cut in its preparedness funding due to sequestration, plans to preposition firefighters and other resources in areas where fire activity is expected to be above normal.

    The funding cut will mean about 500 fewer fighters and 50 fewer engines with crews. The agency will also have to rely more on aircraft that are not on contract with the federal government, and Tidwell said that could ultimately lead to higher firefighting costs.

    "We will respond like we always have, whatever it takes for us to be prepared," he said.

    Last year saw record-setting fires in New Mexico and Oregon, while Colorado suffered through one of its worst fire seasons in more than a decade. At one point last summer, there were 10 fires burning across that state. Overall, several Western states had more acres burned in 2012 than the previous year, and the Forest Service spent more than $1.4 billion battling the blazes.

    Since the beginning of the year, fewer than 54 square miles have burned nationwide, according to federal statistics. Last year at this time, fires had burned three times as much land.

    Despite the slow start, Tidwell said the combination of drought, above-normal temperatures and a little bit of wind can be explosive when it comes to wildfire.

    "Communities need to be aware of that," he said, adding that prevention of human-caused fires will alleviate some of the pressure on firefighting resources.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    Mitch Seavey became the oldest winner, a two-time Iditarod champion, when he drove his dog team under the burled arch in Nome on Tuesday evening, March 12, 2013. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

    NOME, Alaska (AP) - A 53-year-old former champion has won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to become the oldest winner of Alaska's grueling test of endurance.

    Mitch Seavey and 10 dogs crossed the Nome finish line to cheering crowds at 10:39 p.m. Alaska time Tuesday.

    "This is for all of the gentlemen of a certain age," he said on a live stream posted to the Iditarod website after completing the race in temperatures just above zero. His race time in the 1,000-mile race was nine days, 7 hours and 39 minutes.

    Seavey's victory came after a dueling sprint against Aliy Zirkle, last year's runner-up, along the frozen, wind-whipped Bering Sea coast. Zirkle crossed the finish line 24 minutes after her rival, who greeted her after a while.

    "You did a good job," Seavey told Zirkle as a camera crew filmed them. "You're going to win this thing, probably more than once."

    At a news conference after the race Zirkle gave credit to her rival's strategy.

    "Mitch has this ability to sit on the sidelines and refuel because he knows he needs to refuel, while everyone else is zooming by," she said. "It's smart, and that's probably why you won."

    Immediately after finishing, both mushers rushed to pet their dogs, with Seavey singling out his main leader, 6-year-old Tanner, posing for photos with the dog and another leader, Taurus, wearing yellow garlands.

    Zirkle's dogs wagged their tails as she praised them. "My dog team is my heart," she said.

    The pair jostled for the lead, with Zirkle never more than a few miles behind, in the final stretch.

    "I just now stopped looking over my shoulder," Seavey said after winning.

    Also trailing by a dozen or so miles was four-time champion Jeff King, who was followed by a cluster of contenders, including Seavey's son, Dallas Seavey. The younger Seavey at age 25 last year became the youngest Iditarod winner ever, beating Zirkle to the finish line by one hour.

    Mitch Seavey first won the Iditarod in 2004. Before his Tuesday night win, King had been the oldest Iditarod champion, winning his fourth race at age 50 in 2006.

    The oldies were still stellar performers in a race that ended last year with a top field featuring many finishers in their 20s and 30, noted Iditarod race spokeswoman Erin McLarnon.

    "Last year, we saw a lot of those youngsters in the top 10," McLarnon said. "Some of those 45-plussers are taking back the lead this year. They are showing the young 'uns what they can really do out there on that trail."

    Zirkle, 43, had hoped to be only the third woman to win the race and the first since Susan Butcher won her fourth Iditarod in 1990. Before this year's race, Zirkle noted the long time that had passed since a woman won.

    "This is my 13th year, and I've wanted to win every year," she said before the race, which began March 2 with 66 teams at a ceremonial start in Anchorage.

    The competitive part of the race began the following day in Willow 50 miles to the north. Since then, the race changed leaders several times. Those at the front of the field included four-time champions Lance Mackey and Martin Buser, who later fell behind.

    En route to Nome, the race turned into an aggressively contested run among veterans along an often punishing trail.

    Conditions on the Yukon River required dogs to go through deep snow and navigate glare ice. Above-freezing temperatures also 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.

    For reaching Nome first, Seavey wins $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 under the famed burled arch on Front Street, a block from the sea.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Iconic Widescreen Images of the Iditarod

     

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    Deadly Red Tide Algae Killing Manatees by the Dozens

    An algae known as the red tide is killing endangered manatees by the dozens in Florida. Officials are calling this a catastrophe. "TODAY" reports that in just two months, they're approaching the record killed in an entire year. When a manatee eats the toxic algae, their breathing stops and they can drown. WAWS reports the only silver lining is that if the manatees can be reached in time, they have a good chance of surviving.

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

     

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    Another storm currently over the northern Pacific may cause cross-country trouble next week, from the northern Rockies to the Midwest and Northeast.

    Early indications are that the storm will grow large and strong after negotiating the Rockies this weekend.

    It will have an opportunity to tap into Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic moisture as it progresses eastward during the first part of next week.

    A storm of this nature has the potential to bring strong wind as well as areas of heavy snow on its northern flank, strong thunderstorms on its southern flank and drenching rain in the middle.

    Like many storms a week or so away, the track is key to determining where the boundary of rain and snow will set up and how quickly any places would change from rain to snow or vice versa.

    At this early stage, odds favor big snow from the storm to run north of Denver. A heavy amount of snow could fall over portions of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas with wind, poor visibility and perhaps whiteout conditions for a time later Sunday into Monday.

    However, whether the rain/snow line ends up north of particular major cities in the Midwest early next week is uncertain as how quickly the storm matures holds the key.

    RELATED:
    Winter Chill Returns: Philadelphia, New York, Boston
    Winter Weather Center
    Blizzard of '93: Hundreds Killed, Two Dozen States Impacted

    At this point, we can say that there is the potential for travel disruptions and foiled plans over a heavily populated area of the nation beginning later this weekend and continuing into early next week over the Midwest and then the Northeast toward the middle of the week. If you have flights into or out of these areas, you will want to keep an eye on it.

    One outlying scenario to watch for is the potential for redevelopment of the storm as it nears the East Coast. Typically, a storm moving from west to east does not pose a big threat for coastal wind and storm surge flooding. However, if the storm were to rapidly reorganize and strengthen near the coast, some very vulnerable areas could be attacked from the sea once again with the risk of further damage.

    At least the timing of the storm would not coincide with the full moon and associated astronomical effects thereof. The next full moon occurs around March 27 at 5:29 a.m. EDT.

    A couple of smaller, weaker storms moving quickly along ahead of the big storm will bring pockets of snow, rain and both to portions of the Midwest through the end of the week and into the weekend.



    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    (AP Photo)

    The weather pattern over much of the nation this March is vastly different than last March and will translate to a more favorable environment during the growing season for agriculture in most areas (including Midwest corn and Northeast fruit). However, there will be some exceptions.

    Below is a breakdown of AccuWeather's spring forecast and how the weather will impact agriculture across the U.S.

    Good News for Agriculture From Plains to East Coast

    The arrival of rain and snowstorms this winter and ongoing into March has paved the way for a more positive outlook into the early summer from parts of the Plains to the East Coast, where much of the nation's corn is grown.

    A bumper crop of corn alone later this summer could eventually reduce the pressure on grain, livestock feed and many consumer prices in general.

    Compared to last year, for the season as a whole, more moisture will be available for agriculture due to lower temperatures and lower evaporation rates from the Mississippi Valley to much of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

    Dry Weather May Hurt Agriculture in the Rockies, California, Florida

    Building heat and dryness may be a problem from portions of the High Plains to the foothills of the Rockies. Drought may build over California. Dry conditions are likely to worsen over the Florida Peninsula into the first part of the summer, before reversing later.


    More Snowcover Means More Moisture for Agriculture

    Storms in recent months have delivered near-normal snowfall from major crop-growing areas of the lower Plains through the Midwest and in parts of the Northwest.
    The magic of gradual melting snow releasing the water locked up therein through the coming weeks will seep in slowly, reaching deep into the ground. Runoff will fill streams and rivers.
    There are some concerns, however.

    Like everything with the weather and climate, there have been some sub-regional pockets where snowcover has been lean or big this winter. These cannot be displayed on a general overview map of this nature.

    According to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark, "A lack of big snowstorms over the Sierra Nevada and other ranges in the West could mean water resource limitations in California."
    Big snow during the spring last year brought snow water content close to normal in the northern Sierra Nevada. However, in central and southern parts of the Sierra Nevada both last year and this year have been below normal in snowfall and the locked up water within that snow, based on data from the California Department of Water Resources.

    RELATED:
    Winter Precipitation Helped Some in Drought, May Hurt Others
    Blizzards Bring Drought Relief to Wheat Belt
    Concerns Mount for California Water Shortage


    Senior Meteorologist and Geography Expert Jim Andrews added, "Less-than-average snowfall this winter in the central and southern Rockies and normal to abnormal dryness this summer could result in reduced water levels on the Colorado River."

    The Colorado River winds its way from Colorado and Wyoming to Arizona and supplies water to various sources from agriculture to hydroelectric along the way.

    Tipping the Scale From Drought to Flooding?

    Sudden localized heavy rainfall (with or without a large existing early spring snow pack) or the lack of average rainfall can easily tip the balance toward flooding or drought. Sub-regional variances of this nature are beyond the scope of this story.

    One area to watch for flooding over the next few weeks is southeastern New England. However, this is not considered a major crop area.

    A few rivers from the central Plains to the Upper Midwest may be running near bank full with minor lowland flooding possible into the end of the March, due to episodes of melting snow combined with rainfall.

    This is quite a turnaround from last year. Even the upper Mississippi River at St. Louis, Mo., was approaching action stage during the second week of March, after flirting with near-record lows much of the winter.

    Lower Threat for Damaging Late-Season Freezes

    According to Paul Pastelok, head of the AccuWeather.com Long Range Department, "Temperatures are likely to average above normal for much of the nation this spring and summer. However, to put things in perspective, most areas from near the Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast are likely to average cooler than last year during the two seasons combined."

    Average temperatures are significantly lower this March, when compared to last March for much of the nation. While this will translate to lower soil temperatures, it will also result in lower evaporation rates for a time.

    Overall, less long-lasting, extreme heat is forecast from the Mississippi Valley to the East during most of the spring and summer.

    Lower temperatures in the northern Plains, Midwest and Northeast during the winter and in March, when compared to last year, will mean a slower spring for budding.

    According to Agriculture Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "One negative is that generally crops are likely to be planted later this year, when compared to last spring."

    Some farmers may not get two crops in.

    "Lower temperatures and/or wet conditions would play a role in delayed soil preparation and planting," Mohler said.

    Slower budding when compared to last year around the Great Lakes and Northeast should reduce the risk of freeze damage to fruit trees, grapes and berries, to name a few.

    Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson had this to add, "As far as apples are concerned around the Great Lakes and Northeast, lower yields last year and less stress this spring and summer could result in the stored energy, to be released in the form of a bigger crop this year."

    Ongoing Storms

    "We expect ample moisture during most of the growing season, with few exceptions into this summer from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast," according to Pastelok.

    The long-range team anticipates occasional storms rolling in from the Northwest, tracking into the Midwest, where they will gather moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and deposit it liberally well into the spring.

    There is always a risk of a late-season snowstorm. However, the risk may be a bit greater this year for parts of the Great Lakes, mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

    "During the late winter, there has been an ongoing tendency for a blocking pattern with winds high in the atmosphere (the jet stream). This pattern may continue to re-appear well into the spring in some areas," Pastelok said.

    Moving into April, such a pattern can cause part of the jet stream to break off, producing a colder storm with snow farther south than you might expect. Typically, these storms produce wet snow in only a small area that is often elevation dependent, and the snow rapidly melts the following day.

    From Alabama to the Carolinas, there has been enough rainfall over the winter to all but wipe out the drought that started last summer.

    According to Southern Weather Expert Dan Kottlowski, "Waters over much of the Gulf of Mexico are running cooler than last year, and it is possible that if this trend continues for a while longer it could continue to take the edge off the intensity of severe weather in the South well into the spring."

    How Do Thunderstorms Play a Role?

    A perennial key player for agriculture over the Plains and Midwest is the frequency and distribution of thunderstorm complexes, known to meteorologists as Mesoscale Convective Systems (MCS's) or Mesoscale Convective Complexes (MCC's). These systems can resemble a tropical storm over land, pull moisture from the atmosphere and deposit it in the form of drenching downpours than can travel along for hundreds of miles spanning the late spring to midsummer.

    A thunderstorm complex over the northern Plains and the Upper Midwest on June 5, 1994. Image from NOAA. "While these complexes can damage crops, the risk is usually over a very small area when weighed with the benefits of more widespread rainfall," According to Mohler.

    A lack of these complexes last year (less the June Derecho event) caused the drought to worsen. With less moisture in the ground during the late spring, more of the sun's energy was directed to heating the ground and in turn heating the air in the lowest levels of the atmosphere.

    "We expect a near-normal number of these complexes over the Midwest and in the lower part of the Plains. However, these may be stingy farther west over the High Plains," Pastelok said.

    The long-range team feels that a more prominent low-level flow of moisture will be present from the Gulf, feeding the complexes farther north over the Plains.

    AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Senior Vice President Mike Smith is cautiously optimistic about the weather for winter wheat over the Plains.

    "A significant portion of the crop could be harvested from south to north before it would get too dry," Smith stated.

    Smith also reaffirmed the challenge of long-term forecasting of localized and regional thunderstorm complexes.

    Some wheat and grazing areas on the High Plains (just east of the Rockies) are still in exceptional drought despite recent storms or could develop serious problems very quickly this spring should thunderstorm complexes fail to show up. Wheat concerns are discussed more extensively in: "Blizzards Bring Drought Relief to Wheat Belt."

    Summer Outlook and Agriculture

    This summer, the AccuWeather long-range team expects the typical zone of high pressure at most levels of the atmosphere over the Rockies to expand eastward over the Plains and westward toward the Pacific Coast. The extent of this will determine the areas of drought, heat and ample moisture, including the extent of the Southwest Monsoon later.

    Prior to this blossoming of the high, which represents a northward bulge in the jet stream over the Rockies and High Plains, some heat and dryness may nose eastward.

    "A surge of warmth and perhaps dryness is most likely to occur in June for the Midwest and parts of the East," Pastelok stated, "prior to the development of the northward jet stream bulge."

    Once the bulge develops in the West, it is likely to allow a southward dip in the jet stream farther east in part of the Midwest and Northeast. This would favor less extreme, long-lasting warmth and an uptick in summertime showers and thunderstorms during July and August.

    In the South, high pressure at most levels of the atmosphere will inhibit rainfall into June over the Florida Peninsula. However, slight cooling is likely aloft in the Eastern states from midsummer on, due to the building high in the West. It should remove the lid from the pot of tropical thunderstorms.

    Over the South Central states, Pastelok expects a sufficient flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, combined with the ever-present heating from the sun to provide occasional showers and thunderstorms. Plus, many of these areas will be going into this season with much more moisture than they had last year at this point.

    In the Northwest, Pastelok's team expects the region to dry out faster this summer, when compared to the wet start during the season last year.

    "We are in a neutral phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) at this time and we expect this to continue moving into the summer," Pastelok said, "As a result, we expect little change overall in the temperature departure and precipitation departure pattern we are in entering the spring."

    Very Early Speculation on Hurricane Season

    Early last season, warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the nearby Atlantic helped to fuel a bumper crop of early season of tropical storms.

    "If we look at the current neutral ENSO combined with the cool waters at present and if they continue into June, we could start with lower numbers of named systems once we hit midsummer, which could weigh in for the season as a whole," Pastelok said.

    Pastelok is pondering the possibility of a tropical system popping up in June over the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

    "There is room for a system to develop on the back edge of the ridge of high pressure in the area," he added.

    By then, water temperatures may have recovered to levels sufficient to begin to favor tropical development.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Last weekend's taste of spring across the Northeast has left many wondering when warmer temperatures might make a comeback. Unfortunately, chilly weather, and the threat for snow, is here to stay through at least the weekend.

    While some warm air with temperatures near 50 degrees will linger Wednesday across the I-95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston, temperatures will reach only the 30s and lower 40s across inland areas from Pittsburgh to Albany.

    By the time Thursday rolls around, temperatures will tumble everywhere with highs only reaching the 30s and 40s even in the I-95 corridor.

    With the lower temperatures will also come the threat of some rain or snow showers, especially across interior sections of the Northeast and locations downwind of the lakes. A stray flake or sprinkle cannot be ruled out for Baltimore or Boston either.

    Snow showers and squalls will be most abundant Wednesday and Thursday for cities such as Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Syracuse, State College and Burlington.

    Snowfall accumulations will be nothing more than a coating to an inch in most areas, but 1-3 inches or more is possible in the favored lake-effect regions, such as Erie and Bradford in Pennsylvania.

    RELATED:
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    Winter Weather Center
    Blizzard of '93: Hundreds Killed, Two Dozen States Impacted


    Those traveling on interstates 80, 90 and 81, among others, will need to keep a sharp eye on the road as snow showers and squalls create dangerous driving conditions. Visibility can often plummet to near zero in snow squalls as blinding snow quickly slickens the pavement.

    A break in the snow showers and squalls is in store for the day on Friday, but temperatures will still linger a few degrees below average for most of the Northeast.

    Saturday and the first part of the weekend will arrive with the risk of more steady snow. While this will not be another powerhouse winter storm, accumulating snow is still a possibility from Buffalo eastward to Albany and Boston.

    Looking even further down the road, there are no major signs pointing to a pronounced warmup across the Northeast, even into next week, when the next major storm will threaten the region.
    Stay with AccuWeather.com for the latest on this chilly and potentially stormy pattern ahead.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield prior to the launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Dec. 19, 2012. Hadfield became commander of the International Space Station on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry)

    Dear Commander Hadfield,

    I'm crazy for you.

    Yes, I'm married. And sure, that might seem a little awkward. But my husband thinks you're pretty great, too -- he really loved that video of you making a sandwich -- so I don't think I'll get into too much trouble for writing this.

    Through random connections in social media -- don't you love that about social media? -- I started following you on Twitter. I loved your photos. You were showing us what it's like to be in space in near real time! How awesome is that? There's Italy and Florida and Vancouver!

    Then you had that exchange with William Shatner. As a member of the "Star Trek" generation (that's a demographic, right?), I was enchanted. That simple, funny exchange made me realize that you're a real person with a sense of humor and my kind of cultural vocabulary. It was as though a guy I could know was up there in space. I was charmed. But what really tipped the scales -- can scales be tipped in zero G? -- was watching the video of you with the Barenaked Ladies, playing "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing?)"

    I cried.

    You sang to us. From SPACE. What times we live in, that this is possible. All of the magic of space travel and technology and social media and music merged into a perfect moment of joy and exploration and possibility and a little bit of homesickness, even. You've made space the most unlikely of things. You've made it ... human.

    I remember watching the first moon landing on TV when I was a kid. I remember being really mad when my dad left me home from the boys' outing to the "Star Trek" convention, as though space couldn't be for girls. (Times were different then.) I remember ducking behind the seats while watching "Alien," a movie about a scary, forbidding space, and I remember "Star Wars" on the big screen for the first time -- a different space, populated by heroes out of spaghetti westerns.

    More recently, I remember sitting in a crowded, noisy hall that dropped to absolute stillness as Scott Maxwell (@marsroverdriver) showed a photo of the Earth taken from Mars. I felt as though several hundred people were holding their breath all at once before bursting into applause. At the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore., I was overcome upon seeing a space suit suspended in the middle of the vast building. In the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the docent mentioned stardust in the mineral collection and I broke out into goosebumps right then and there. The mere idea of space makes me feel the boundlessness of the universe.

    I see that the Queen of England wrote to you, as well. I lack her gift for formality, but I share her well wishes as you take the keys to the car today. I hear you're up there until May, making sandwiches and taking pictures and playing your guitar and singing to us from space. I'm captivated by all of it.

    Once, I stuck glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of my roommate's bedroom. He burst out laughing in the middle of the night. This is how your work makes me feel: like I have opened my eyes in the darkness to see stars that were not there before.

    Yours from Earth,
    Pam Mandel
    Seattle, Wa.

    P.S. I hope you don't mind if I write to you here once in a while.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Breathtaking Photos of Earth from Space

     

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    The Pan-STARRS comet, visible to the naked eye this week, has captured the attention of astronomers and stargazers alike.

    The video below was shot in a time-lapse photo sequence over the Dos Cabezas Mountains in San Simon, Ariz., Monday evening by photographer Fred Espenak.

    Comet PanSTARRS and the Moon from Fred Espenak on Vimeo.

    RELATED:
    6 Surprising Facts About Comet Pan-STARRS in Night Sky
    Comet Pan-STARRS or PANSTARRS: What's In a Celestial Name?

    The elusive comet will be prominent in the sky again tonight above many parts of the United States, before disappearing for another 100 million years.

    Check out the AccuWeather.com forecast conditions map, for the best days and locations for viewing the celestial show.

    Comet PanSTARRS - The Movie from Fred Espenak on Vimeo.

     

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    (AP Photo)

    MEXICO CITY (AP) - The number of Monarch butterflies making it to their winter refuge in Mexico dropped 59 percent this year, falling to the lowest level since comparable record-keeping began 20 years ago, scientists reported Wednesday.

    It was the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter sheltering in mountaintop fir forests in central Mexico. Six of the last seven years have shown drops, and there are now only one-fifteenth as many butterflies as there were in 1997.

    The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, the experts said.

    But they differed on the possible causes.

    Illegal logging in the reserve established in the Monarch wintering grounds was long thought to contribute, but such logging has been vastly reduced by increased protection, enforcement and alternative development programs in Mexico.

    The World Wildlife Fund, one of the groups that sponsored the butterfly census, blamed climate conditions and agricultural practices, especially the use of pesticides that kill off the Monarchs' main food source, milkweed. The butterflies breed and live in the north in the summer, and migrate to Mexico in the winter.

    "The decrease of Monarch butterflies ... probably is due to the negative effects of reduction in milkweed and extreme variation in the United States and Canada," the fund and its partner organizations said in a statement.

    Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico, said: "The conservation of the Monarch butterfly is a shared responsibility between Mexico, the United States and Canada. By protecting the reserves and having practically eliminated large-scale illegal logging, Mexico has done its part."

    "It is now necessary for the United States and Canada to do their part and protect the butterflies' habitat in their territories," Vidal said.

    Logging was once considered the main threat to the reserve, located west of Mexico City. At its peak in 2005, logging devastated as many as 1,140 acres annually in the reserve, which covers 193,000 acres. But a 2012 aerial survey showed almost no detectable logging, the first time that logging had not been found in detectable amounts since the mountaintop forests were declared a nature reserve in 2000.

    The loss of milkweed in the Monarchs' summering areas in the north can make it hard for the butterflies to lay eggs, and for the offspring that do hatch to find enough food to grow to maturity. In addition, unusually hot or dry weather can kill eggs, meaning fewer adult butterflies. For butterflies that reach adulthood, unusual cold, lack of water or tree cover in Mexico can mean they're less likely to survive the winter.

    Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, said in a statement that "the report of the dwindling Monarch butterfly winter residence in Mexico is ominous."

    "This is not just the lowest population recorded in the 20 years for which we have records," Brower said. "It is the continuation of a statistically significant decrease in the Monarch population that began at least a decade ago."

    However, Brower differed on whether small-scale logging, the diversion of water resources and other disruptive activity in the reserves in Mexico are playing a role in the decline.

    "To blame the low numbers of monarchs solely on what is happening north of Mexico is misleading," Brower said. "Herbiciding of soybean and corn fields that kills milkweed is a serious problem, but the historical decline over the past 19 years has multiple causes."

    "All three countries need to face up to the fact that it is our collective activities that are killing the migratory phenomenon of the Monarch butterfly," he said.

    Homero Aridjis, a writer and environmentalist, said, "The decline in butterflies in the Mexico reserve is truly alarming."

    Aridjis is from Contepec, a town in Michoacan state where Monarchs used to appear in the fall but don't show up anymore. Six other communities in and around the reserve that once had butterflies saw no detectable numbers this year. Aridjis cited a lack of control on tourists, crime in the area and small-scale logging as threats to the reserve.

    The head of Mexico's nature reserves, Luis Fueyo, said there are still some problem to be solved at the wintering grounds in Mexico, including some scale-logging and water availability. The Monarchs don't drink any water throughout their long migration until the reach Mexico, and the mountain streams in the area have been affected by drought and human use.

    The migration is an inherited trait. No butterfly lives to make the round-trip. The millions of Monarchs cluster so densely on tree boughs in the reserve that researchers don't count their individual numbers but rather measure the amount of forest they cover.

    This winter, the butterflies covered just 2.93 acres, down from 7.14 acres last year.

     

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    In this March 11, 2013, photo, seats sit vacant during a spring training exhibition baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Fresh from pitching against solid Atlanta hitters, Jake Westbrook faced a far trickier test: Guess how much fans paid for box seats to watch the exhibition game?

    "Hmmm, I have no idea," the St. Louis starter ventured. "Twenty bucks?"

    Gotcha! $54 for top tickets sold Tuesday at the Braves' ballpark at Walt Disney World Resort.

    "Wow," Westbrook said.

    All over Florida and Arizona, teams are paying the price. Spring training attendance is off and several things are to blame, aside from pricey tickets - early start, cold weather and lineups depleted by injured stars and players dispatched to the World Baseball Classic.

    The dip is nearly 14 percent lower than it was on this date last year, STATS said.

    Games started about a week earlier this season because players wanted to get in shape for the World Baseball Classic. That meant games were scheduled before many fans arrived for vacation and spring break. By the end of February, several teams had already played for a week.

    "I think we started about eight or nine days too early. That means a whole lot," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said.

    The weather hasn't been ideal, either - a freak winter storm out West and a cold snap down South.

    Normally a big draw wherever they go, the Yankees played to a crowd of 3,213 when they visited the Houston Astros. Then again, the glitziest name in New York's split-squad lineup that day was Matt Diaz.

    The Orioles often sold out home games versus the likes of the Yankees, Boston and Philadelphia. Not this year in Sarasota, Fla.

    "With the WBC and a whole different start, people plan spring training according to spring break. People have other things going on in their life," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.

    Big league exhibitions began on Feb. 22 and averaged 5,789 fans through March 12. They started on March 2 last year and averaged 6,703 by that same date, with several teams on their way to setting attendance records.

    Major League Baseball drew 30,895 per game during the regular season last year, its best mark since 2008.

    Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin noticed the empty seats in Phoenix.

    "It seems like it's down some," he said last weekend. "The schedule seems more spread out this year. A lot of people come to games with certain dates in mind."

    Better be ready to spend money, too.

    It costs more than $25 for a good seat at most spring parks. Several teams vary their prices depending on the opponent or the day - a ticket behind the third base dugout to see the World Series champion Giants host Colorado this Sunday sold for $68.75 on San Francisco's online site.

    The Cardinals are among the most popular teams every spring. Like other clubs, they expect bigger crowds throughout March.

    "I think in general we were kind of chalking it up to, it's kind of cool, we started so early. You are not going to get a whole lot of people showing up in February," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

    The Cardinals share Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., with the Miami Marlins. Mike Bauer, who runs the ballpark, said the attendance pattern is predictable.

    "Anytime we start in February, we start off a little slower than usual," said Bauer, the stadium's general manager.

    "If you compare this year to last year, it's going to be a decrease because they had the World Series championship on the Cardinals side and a new facility on the Marlins side. But it's been right about where we expected," he said.

    The Braves aren't too concerned, either.

    "We got a bump with the Daytona 500 falling the weekend we opened. Then attendance fell off, as you would expect with the first games so early," Atlanta general manager Frank Wren said. "Crowds always pick up with the start of spring break in March, especially here at Disney."

    Among those at the Braves' park on Tuesday were Bill Heuvelman and son Patrick, who drove from St. Louis to see their team. For a week at spring training, they didn't mind the prices, even with Cardinals stars Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina away at the WBC.

    "This is something we do. It's worth it," Bill said.

    A sign outside the box office that listed lower level reserved seats for $54 - tickets cost $5 more on game days - caught the attention of four college-age friends from Auburn, Ala.

    "I noticed it right away. Seemed pretty steep to me," Nick Goudreau told buddy Chase Hoyle.

    But Brett Frizzell said he'd already warned pal Brooks Cowing.

    "I sent him a picture on Instagram that showed it," Frizzell said. "October prices for spring training baseball."

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    Boreas, an injured boreal owl, sits on a handler's hand, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at the Raptor Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

    MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - It's been a tough winter for owls in parts of North America, and the evidence is turning up on roadsides, at bird feeders and at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Minnesota.

    The dead, injured and sick owls are symptoms of what ornithologists call an "irruption," a natural, cyclical phenomenon that happens when hungry owls that normally winter in northern Canada head south in search of food - either because their normal food of mice, voles and lemmings are in short supply or heavy snow cover makes it difficult to hunt for small rodents. Other irruptions have been reported recently in New England, as well as southern Ontario and Quebec, and parts of British Columbia.

    This year it happens to be northern Minnesota that's seeing much of the action and it's mostly tiny boreal owls.

    "They're excruciatingly cute," said Geoff LeBaron, director of the Christmas Bird Count program at the National Audubon Society.

    As the owls flock to Minnesota, so do bird watchers. The prime owl habitat of the Sax-Zim Bog is about 45 miles northwest of Duluth, and it has an annual birding festival in February.

    Frank Nicoletti, director of banding at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, said he's been guiding owl watchers nonstop for the last couple of months.

    They've been traveling to northern Minnesota from all over for the chance to spot visiting boreal owls, which are normally tough to see because of their size, and because they don't usually come out during daylight. They also sit very still when they perch.

    Irruptions tend to involve young owls because older owls are more experienced hunters and know their territories better and so are better at finding food. Younger northern owls also don't know about dangers from humans - like cars - so they're more likely to end up as roadkill. They're often weak by the time they make it south, and some species might not recognize the local small mammals as food.

    Nicoletti picked up three dead boreal owls on Tuesday alone, and evidence is also turning up at the Raptor Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. It was treating about 30 owls out of about 58 avian patients this week. With the help of volunteers to hold the birds still, veterinary technicians on Wednesday checked the wings, ears, eyes and weights of sick and injured owls as they tried to nurse them back to health.

    "They definitely are not having a, quote, normal year," said the Raptor Center's executive director, Dr. Julia Ponder. She said nine of the 10 owl species commonly seen in Minnesota are represented there now for the first time in anyone's memory.

    As thrilling as it might be to spot an owl in the wild, and as disappointing as it might be to find a dead one, experts stress that what's happening now happens regularly across the northern latitudes, and to a varying mix of owl species.

    "It's definitely a natural cycle," LeBaron said. "The food sources for owls and other raptors are highly cyclical. It's a boom and bust thing for predators."

    LeBaron said northern owls also started turning up last fall in New England, while central and southern British Columbia east of the mountains are seeing higher-than-usual numbers of snowy owls.

    Barred owls have been seen widely in New England along with a lot of northern saw-whet owls, said Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird tracking program at Cornell University. He added that lots of great gray owls and a few northern hawk owls reached southern Ontario and southern Quebec this winter.

    Nicoletti rates the irruption that has brought the boreal to Minnesota as "mild." Nicoletti noted that in 2004-05, northern owls turned up south of Minneapolis, which is in the southern part of the state.

    Experts say the weather may be one reason why people in Minnesota are seeing more dead or starving birds in recent weeks. The winter started out relatively mild but turned snowy in February and the snow has turned crusty, making it harder for owls to catch the mice underneath. Starving owls are drawn to homes, where they try to prey on mice that gather spilled seed from bird feeders or that hole up in garages and woodpiles.

    Now that spring is approaching, the owls seem to have started heading back north, Nicoletti said.

    But people's fascination with the birds will remain.

    "They capture the imagination," LeBaron said. "There's so much lore around owls, it's hard not to become captivated by them."

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Arctic Fox and More Amazing Cold Weather Creatures

     

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    Just as portions of the Midwest will deal with rounds of snow and rain into the weekend, so will areas in the East. Depending on the time of day storms hit, there could be slippery travel.
    Flurries and snow squalls rolled through part of the Appalachians during Wednesday. The heaviest of these brought ten minutes of very low visibility and a quick coating of snow.

    As many as three fast-moving storm systems will swing through the region Friday through the end of the weekend. The storms will bring a taste of spring to some areas, but also a remainder that winter is not quite done yet in others.

    These storms will each spread swaths of snow on different tracks, which will make for some rather challenging forecasts.

    Areas near and just north of the storm track will have snow or a wintry mix with surprisingly low daytime temperatures for the middle of March. Areas to the south of the storm track will have rain or spotty showers. However, where the sun breaks out just south of the storm, temperatures can surge to amazingly warm levels (60s or higher). A matter of 100 miles south to north could mean a temperature difference of more than 40 degrees.

    While these are not likely to bring much, if any, accumulation of snow to the coastal areas, this time of year it is a matter of timing of snow when it comes to accumulating on roads and sidewalks, whether at the coast, in the mountains or the interior valleys. The strengthening sun, even when not visible, plays a major role.

    RELATED:
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    Winter Chill Returns: Philadelphia to New York City and Boston


    Snows during the night time or first thing in the morning will be the most troublesome. Your local AccuWeather.com forecast will have the details on the timing and nature of each of the precipitation events.

    The first round will be the weakest of all and may be a non-event by the time it crosses the Appalachians. However, a few places in West Virginia, western Virginia, eastern Tennessee and northwestern North Carolina late Thursday night into Friday morning have the best chance of a small, slushy accumulation of snow or a rain/snow mix.

    The second round will be farther north and will have more substantial precipitation than the first.

    This system would affect the eastern Great Lakes and central Appalachians region Friday night and then New England and part of the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday. Snow accumulation is possible north of I-80, with the exception around New York City will it will be too warm for accumulating snow.

    The third round is likely to track farther than the second round, but could be rather heavy with a narrow band of accumulating snow.

    A shift in track with this would mean the difference between, say, I-80 accumulating snow, verses heavy snow over the New York Thruway or areas of rain and snow along I-68/I-70 farther south.

    Beyond the three mini storms lining up on the street corners for St. Patrick's Day Weekend, a larger storm could take aim at the region during the middle of next week. While the same March rules apply to that storm in terms of time of day snow and snow versus rain, there are concerns for rising seas along part of the coast and a chance of rising rivers on a sub-regional basis.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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