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SKYE on AOL

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    The cold front that brought severe weather to parts of the South over the past two days has opened the door for an unseasonably chilly start to the workweek.

    High temperatures across much of the South will be more than 10 degrees below normal on Monday with some places being as cold as 20 degrees below normal.

    On top of the below-average temperatures, a northerly breeze will cause AccuWeather.com RealFeel(R) temperatures to be even colder.

    To calculate the RealFeel(R): temperature, AccuWeather.com uses multiple factors including the temperature, humidity, cloud cover, sun cover, sun intensity and wind to explain how hot or cold it feels outside.

    RELATED:
    Forecast Maps of Temperatures
    Midwest, East: More Snow, Cold Despite Spring Arrival
    Live Updates on the Midwest/Mid-Atlantic Snowstorm

    Not only will high temperatures during the day on Monday run below average, but so will the temperatures on Monday night. Widespread subfreezing temperatures are expected southward to Charlotte, N.C., Augusta and Columbus, Ga., Tuscaloosa, Ala., Hattiesburg, Miss., and areas just north of Baton Rouge, La., and Houston, Texas.

    Places where temperatures are set to dip below freezing should cover any plants that are already starting to grow outside.

    Temperatures will remain below normal through Tuesday and Wednesday as this cold Canadian air holds its ground across much of the eastern United States.

    During the second part of this week, temperatures will finally start to return to near normal across the South.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 22 People More Sick of Winter Weather Than You Are

     

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    Bodies of Two Missing Skydivers Found in Florida

    MIAMI (AP) - Two Icelandic skydivers who died during weekend jumps at a popular southwest Florida camp did not deploy their main parachutes, the co-owner of the facility said Sunday.

    Deputies found the bodies of the skydiving instructor and a student Saturday after the two didn't return from a jump with a group, setting off an hours-long air and ground search around the Zephyrhills facility, about 30 miles northeast of Tampa. Pasco County sheriff's authorities identified the victims as 41-year-old instructor Orvar Arnarson and 25-year-old student Andrimar Pordarson of Iceland. The men jumped separately, not in tandem.

    The fact that the men didn't deploy their main parachutes could mean that they lost altitude awareness and didn't know where they were during the dive, which is unusual, said T.K. Hayes, co-owner of Skydive City.

    Both men had backup automatic activation devices, which deploy if the main parachutes are not deployed in time.

    "Those devices activated on both of them ... but the reserves did not have time to deploy fully," Hayes said. "They were out of the containers but not inflated in time before they impacted."

    Hayes was at the scene with officials Saturday, sorting through the men's gear to determine whether all parts had been functioning properly.

    "Like most accidents, most of the time it's human error," he said. "I doubt there's an equipment problem here, to be honest." But he stressed that authorities are still investigating.

    The two men had successfully completed two other jumps Saturday morning with 20 other people. But when they didn't return from their third jump, their disappearance tipped off a search, Pasco County sheriff's spokeswoman Melanie Snow said.

    The bodies were discovered by spotters from the air early Saturday evening in woods south of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, Snow said.

    The victims were part of a group of about 12 who travel from Iceland to Florida every year to jump, Hayes said.

    Arnarson, the instructor, had been to the facility before, but Pordarson had not, Hayes said.

    The area is a popular destination for skydivers. Skydive City is a 14-acre property that includes RV campgrounds, a tiki bar, cafe and regular shows by a reggae band, according to its website.

    Hundreds of skydivers jump each day at the site this time of year. Hayes estimates that overall, the facility assists about 75,000 jumps a year. Accidents are rare, but they happen, he said.

    Last year, Dr. T. Elaine McLaughlin died on a jump at Skydive City on New Year's Day after her chute failed to open properly. She was a resident of the Tampa Bay area and practiced family medicine in St. Petersburg.

    Last year across the U.S., 19 skydivers died out of 3.1 million jumps, according to the United States Parachute Association.

    "As an industry, the safety record continues to improve as the decades go on as we improve training and equipment ... but it's not a fail-safe sport," Hayes said.

    Last month, near Seattle, dozens of volunteers spent four days searching through snowy weather and fog after a 29-year-old Florida man didn't return from a skydiving jump above Washington's Cascade foothills. Kurt Ruppert, of Lake City, was wearing a special wing suit with fabric under the arms to allow him to glide like a flying squirrel.

    "With skydiving of course the consequences of small mistakes are going to be pretty grave," Hayes said.

    The Federal Aviation Administration does not regulate the United States Parachute Association. The group is a self-regulated, but the FAA may get involved in accident investigations to determine whether the pilot or the plane were to blame. Hayes said that was not the case in Saturday's incident.

    Meanwhile, Icelandic officials said Sunday that they were still contacting family and friends of the men who died.

    "We will assist the families if they request our assistance. I'm not aware of them contacting us," said Urdur Gunnarsdottir, press officer for the Foreign Ministry of Iceland.

     

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    Astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted this photo on March 20, writing, "Tonight's Finale: The Nile and the Sinai, to Israel and beyond. One sweeping glance of human history. pic.twitter.com/nFjMp4lj14."

    Dear Commander Hadfield,

    I click through every photo you post to Twitter while I'm working at my desk - it's a welcome distraction from day job kinds of things. (Now I hear Elton John's voice in my head, s
    inging, "It's just my job five days a week.")

    I don't always know what I'm looking at in those photos of Earth you take from the International Space Station, even though I've had the good fortune to travel to many faraway places. Your descriptions tell me the name of a city that's otherwise a blur of lights, or that the mottled brown earth is a mountain range I know by name. But I had a shock of recognition while looking at the recent photo you posted of the Sinai Peninsula, that distinctive triangle of sand sitting in a fork of blue water. There's Sinai, the Middle East, the arc of the planet so sharp and the blackness of space beyond.

    From the ISS, borders are invisible, and all we see is a pale, sand-colored heart resting in a cradle of dark blue water. The Nile snakes away from Cairo, a city I visited once, and there is the Sea of Galilee, an oblong blue saucer. To the south, the color of the earth turns reddish, like the Nabatean city of Petra. Is that a smudge of snow on the Golan Heights at the Syrian border?

    RELATED: Dear Commander Hadfield: What's it Like to Have 16 Sunrises a Day?

    Studying the geography, I can picture the contentious borders, the lines drawn and redrawn through the centuries, empires rising and falling, territories on the map filled in with pale washes of yellow or pink or blue. I love this photo for how easy it is for me to place it, for how I can imagine my younger self standing in the waters of the Red Sea, looking across at the shores of Jordan, with bright little fish swimming in the shallow reef around my ankles. It's the first photo I've seen in which I've been able to imagine myself - a microscopic dot on the planet below.

    It looks so peaceful from above, doesn't it? This is just one more part of the magic of the ISS: Sixteen nations work together up there. If only there could be more. I'm old enough to remember the Cold War and the Russians as our enemies. Now, I imagine you're missing the company of the cosmonauts, who just left the station and returned to Earth via Kazakhstan. You spent so much time together in such a small space with such limited resources. We have more than science to learn from your work, don't we?

    Wishing you much peace from the surface,
    Pam Mandel
    Seattle, WA, Earth

     

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    March 25, 2013

    A person walks through the fallen snow across the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Monday, March, 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

    HAMBURG, Pa. (AP) - Five days into spring, warm weather and budding flowers were just a rumor Monday as the East Coast endured another blast of winter.

    A wide-ranging storm that buried parts of the Midwest weakened as it moved east but still managed to carpet lawns and fields in a fresh layer of white. Many schools opened late or closed early, and hundreds of flights were canceled.

    The cold temperatures and miserable mixture of snow and rain had people longing for more agreeable weather.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 22 People More Sick of Winter Than You Are
    Wan Slips on Ice on Live TV "I'm ready for flip flops," said Jessica Cunitz, 24 of Westchester County, N.Y., who stopped at a gas station along Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania to fill her overheating car with antifreeze. "It's supposed to be spring."

    In Maryland, Michael Pugh donned a wool coat, knit cap, waterproof pants and heavy boots to trudge more than a mile through four inches of wet snow to his bank in downtown Hagerstown, about 70 miles west of Baltimore. He pronounced the weather "dreadful."

    By this time of year, "I was hoping it'd be sunny and the weather breaking," said Pugh, a warehouse worker who turned 38 Monday. "Every day I think I can pack up the winter coat, and break out the spring clothes, and I can't."

    Earlier, the storm walloped the Midwest, dumping a record 17 inches in Springfield, Ill., and a foot or more elsewhere in the state. Travel remained treacherous Monday afternoon, with Interstate 55 and 57 still covered in snow and ice, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Numerous vehicles were reported to be off roads, according to Illinois state police.

    In downtown Springfield, coffee-shop manager Mike Zengilani said food-delivery trucks were hours late. But he didn't think about closing.

    "Everyone else closes, so it's good for us to be open," Zengilani said. "It's Monday, it's definitely slower, but we all made the effort to come in."

    The system was little more than a nuisance by the time it reached the East Coast. Air travel saw the biggest impact, with nearly 600 flights canceled as of Monday afternoon, according to the FlightAware tracking service. Hardest-hit airports included those in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

    Roadways, meanwhile, were mostly wet.

    In Hamburg, Pa. - which has seen three here-and-gone snowfalls in little more than a week - carpet installer Seth Hanna drank coffee and surveyed the slush from a covered front porch.

    "We got these warm days a few weeks ago, and everybody got their hopes up. March is supposed to be out like a lamb but it's not doing it," said Hanna, 30. "I love the snow, but I'm ready for some warm spring weather."

    Robert Fink, 25, of Magnolia, N.J. said the worst part about yet another snow storm was having to shovel. Fink - shovel in hand outside a truck stop in Bordentown - said he longed for Florida, where he used to live.

    "I'm a wimp when it comes to the cold," he said.

    At the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, people waiting in line for tickets to this week's arguments on gay marriage held umbrellas or put tarps over their belongings as the snow fell. Darienn Powers wore a trash bag from the waist down to keep dry, but said the snow still made everything "a little wet and uncomfortable."

    The spring snow was not expected to affect Washington's famous cherry blossoms. National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the flowering trees are still expected to reach peak bloom between April 3 and April 6.

    Mitchell Gaines, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., said colder-than-normal temperatures the past few weeks had created conditions ripe for snow.

    "It's fairly late in March to see a system like this," he said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Blankets Northeast, Mid-Atlantic

     

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    Sunnyside's red barn stands in stark contrast to the snow that blanketed much of the Spotsylvania, Va., area on Monday, March 25, 2013. (AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Dave Ellis)

    HAMBURG, Pa. (AP) - The calendar says it's spring, but the weather hardly feels like it.

    A large storm system that deposited snow, sleet and cold rain on much of the East Coast was finally expected to taper off overnight Tuesday, to be replaced by partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s by late Tuesday morning or early afternoon.

    Monday's storm forced many East Coast schools to open late or close early, and hundreds of flights were canceled. But it was mainly an annoyance - especially to anyone longing for balmy weather.

    In Hamburg, Pa., which has seen three here-and-gone snowfalls in little more than a week, carpet installer Seth Hanna said he loves to snowboard. But even he is ready for some warm spring temperatures.

    "We got these warm days a few weeks ago, and everybody got their hopes up. March is supposed to be out like a lamb, but it's not doing it," said Hanna, 30.

    The wide-ranging storm buried parts of the Midwest under more than a foot of snow, weakening as it moved east but still carpeting lawns and fields in a fresh layer of white. In New York City, pedestrians braved a stiff wind that drove an unpleasant mixture of sleet and rain. At the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, people waiting in line for tickets to this week's arguments on gay marriage held umbrellas or put tarps over their belongings as the snow fell.

    Fortunately, the spring snow was not expected to affect Washington's famous cherry blossoms. National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the flowering trees are still expected to reach peak bloom between April 3 and April 6.

    Mitchell Gaines, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., said colder-than-normal temperatures the past few weeks had created conditions ripe for snow.

    "It's fairly late in March to see a system like this," he said.

    The cold temperatures and miserable mixture of snow and rain had people longing for more agreeable weather.

    "I'm ready for flip-flops," said Jessica Cunitz, 24, of Westchester County, N.Y., who stopped at a gas station along Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania to fill her overheating car with antifreeze. "It's supposed to be spring."

    In Maryland, Michael Pugh donned a wool coat, knit cap, waterproof pants and heavy boots to trudge more than a mile through four inches of wet snow to his bank in downtown Hagerstown, about 70 miles west of Baltimore. He pronounced the weather "dreadful."

    By this time of year, "I was hoping it'd be sunny and the weather breaking," said Pugh, a warehouse worker who turned 38 Monday. "Every day, I think I can pack up the winter coat and break out the spring clothes, and I can't."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Strikes Midwest, Heads East

     

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    Handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil during the Groundhog Day ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pa., in this Feb. 2, 2013, photo. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

    PITTSBURGH (AP) - An Ohio prosecutor who lightheartedly filed a criminal indictment against the famous Pennsylvania groundhog who fraudulently "predicted" an early spring said he may consider a pardon now that the animal's handler is taking the blame.

    Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, told The Associated Press on Monday that the animal rightly predicted six more weeks of winter last month, but he mistakenly announced an early spring because he failed to correctly interpret Phil's "groundhog-ese."

    "I'm the guy that did it; I'll be the fall guy. It's not Phil's fault," Deeley said.

    Butler County, Ohio, prosecutor Mike Gmoser told the AP that he's reconsidering the charges in light of the new evidence and may issue a full pardon.

    "Frankly, he is a cute little rascal, a cute little thing," Gmoser said. "And if somebody is willing to step up to the plate and take the rap, I'm willing to listen."

    The Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, a borough about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, attracts worldwide attention each year. But the attention stretched well beyond Feb. 2 when Gmoser last week issued an indictment as winter-like weather continued across much of the nation even as spring began.

    "Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design cause the people to believe that spring would come early," Gmoser's indictment said. The penalty? Death, Smoser said, tongue firmly in cheek.

    Deeley said this is the second year in a row he's misinterpreted Phil's forecast. "Remember, last year at this time, it was 80 degrees and Phil had predicted six more weeks of winter," Deeley said.

    Under normal circumstances, Deeley's interpretation of the forecast is infallible, as long as he clings to the gnarly, magical "Arcadian" cane while the rodent whispers the forecast into his ear. Deeley still doesn't know what went wrong, but he said the borough is nonetheless pleased to still be in the news more than six weeks later - although there's more snow on the ground, and local schools were closed Monday.

    "We couldn't have generated this much publicity with a $10,000 ad campaign," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Internet Users Lash Out Against Punxsutawney Phil

     

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    Cherry blossom trees in bloom around the Tidal Basin, with the Jefferson Memorial in the background in Washington in this March 18, 2012 photo. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The spring snow is not expected to affect Washington's famous cherry blossoms.

    National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson says Monday's snow should not affect the predicted peak bloom dates for the flowering trees. The cherry blossoms are still expected to reach peak bloom between April 3 and April 6.

    Johnson says the snow itself doesn't have any effect on the trees. But the cold weather has already slowed the blossoms' growth, pushing back bloom dates to April. Johnson says Washington is lucky that the trees did not bloom early because the heavy wet snow could have knocked the flowers off the trees.

    The cherry blossoms draw about 1 million visitors each spring. This year marks the 101st anniversary of the gift of trees from Japan.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Strikes Midwest, East

     

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    While April will not be as cold as March, thanks to the strengthening sun, pockets of cold air will continue their invasion from the northern Plains to the Midwest and Northeast into the first half of the month.

    As we progress through spring, warmth is highly dependent on sunshine. Through the first half of April, most of the northern tier states should bag more sunny days, compared to the first four weeks or so of March.

    However, the overall weather pattern into the first part of April will continue to run about a month or so behind schedule. March behaved a lot like a typical February, and it appears the first half of April will be what March should have been like.

    The current batch of cold air will reach its peak during the middle of this week but will back off briefly over part of the Easter Weekend, ahead of another push of cold air from the Midwest to the Northeast.

    According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, "The pattern into the first half of April or so still favors blocking to some extent."

    Anderson is referring to the configuration of strong winds high in the atmosphere, known as the jet stream. The blocking limits the general west to east movement of weather systems.

    "The jet stream appears as though it will continue its antics of large southward dips, known as troughs, and northward bulges, known as ridges, "Anderson stated, "Occasionally these dips will break off from the main jet stream forming closed-off lows."

    The March lion is not in a hurry to leave. It appears it is April that will be in like a lion and out like a lamb.

    These closed-off lows represent a large puddle of cold air high in the atmosphere. The weather produced can range from strings of chilly, unsettled days with clouds and showers or days where it starts off sunny but yields to towering clouds and thundershowers with hail.

    Once in a while, these lows can bring heavy wet snow to a small area from the Plains to the East Coast and continue to produce bouts of lake-effect snow around the Great Lakes to the central Appalachians.

    RELATED:
    More Snow, Cold Weather Despite Spring
    Growing Season 2013 Outlook: Better for Corn


    So while the weather moving through the first half of April will bring some warm, sunny days, these could still be outnumbered by days with clouds, showers and chilly conditions.
    Even in parts of the South, a few outbreaks of chilly air are possible.

    In short, spring will continue to evolve slowly. In some cases, it could be six to eight weeks behind what it was last year at this time.

    Spring is often a chaotic time of the year in terms of weather, but with the pattern remaining around this year there is the potential for very dramatic weather changes from day to day.

    Even in an average spring, the challenge of hitting temperatures on the mark a few days in advance can be challenging. This spring will be especially challenging. One thing to keep in mind is that normal temperatures trend upward markedly. What may be a mild day now may be considered chilly a couple of weeks from now in the realm of normal average temperatures.

    During the second half of April, AccuWeather.com long-range meteorologists expect the atmosphere to start to behave more like the calendar from the northern Plains to the Northeast.

    According to Long Range Weather Expert Paul Pastelok, "The number of episodes of cold air should gradually fade away during week three and four of April with temperatures and the weather pattern finally trending toward normal."

    Flooding Concerns Addressed

    The combination of the frequent chilly outbreaks, combined with strengthening sunshine will generally work against major flooding events in most areas. The pattern will allow a gradual thaw by day and a freeze-up at night.

    However, because the snow cover will not rapidly dissipate on its own, such as over the northern Plains, Upper Midwest and in northern New England, there is some risk of flooding, providing a storm with heavy rain rolls in.

    The geographical setup of the Red River (over the northern Plains/Upper Midwest) is a perennial trouble spot. It flows northward from warmer to colder climate zones.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists and National Weather Service hydrologists will be keeping an eye on the potential for this well into the spring.

    AccuWeather.com will be releasing more information on the outlook for flooding this spring during this week.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Snowstorm Strikes Midwest, East

     

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    Coronado Beach in California. (Credit: Brett Shoaf)

    Everyone wants to live near the beach, it seems.

    Nearly 11 million more Americans will move to the coasts by 2020, putting more of the population at risk from extreme coastal storms, according to a report released March 25 by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. The nation's shorelines already hold the most densely packed communities in the country, with 446 people per square mile versus the national average of 105 people per square mile (excluding Alaska), found the NOAA National Coastal Population Report. The population density is six times greater at the coast than inland.

    "The coast is substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole," report editor Kristen Crossett, of NOAA's National Ocean Service said in a statement. "And the projected growth in coastal areas will increase population density at a faster rate than the country as a whole."

    The coastal population also grew older between 1970 and 2010. During that time, there was an 89 percent increase in people older than 65 and a 4 percent drop in people younger than 18 years old, the report found. [Infographic: US Coastal Population]

    Shoreline communities include those next to oceans, major estuaries and the Great Lakes. As the planet warms, these cities, towns and villages face a double threat of rising sea levels and more severe storms. The oceans are expected to rise up to 6.6 feet by 2100 due to thermal expansion (water expands as it warms) and glacier melt, according to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body charged with assessing the future impact of climate change.

    Global warming could also result in more extreme coastal storms, such as Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, which caused severe damage last year, though the number of storms may not change, according to the IPCC and climate scientists.

    The population pressures may affect coastal areas, Holly Bamford, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service, said in a statement.

    "As more people move to the coast, county managers will see a dual challenge: protecting a growing population from coastal hazards, as well as protecting coastal ecosystems from a growing population," Bamford said.

    In 2010, 123.3 million people - 39 percent of the U.S. population - lived in shoreline counties, according to the report, which is based on data from the U.S. Census and NOAA. Since 1970, the shoreline population grew by 39 percent.

    The number of people living near the nation's watersheds is even larger, NOAA found. A watershed county is an area in which water, sediments and dissolved material drain to a common coastal outlet, like a bay or the ocean.

    From 1970 to 2010, the U.S. coastal watershed population increased by 45 percent. In 2010, 52 percent of the U.S. population lived in coastal watershed counties, although these regions account for less than 20 percent of the country's total land area (excluding Alaska).

    Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @OAPlanet, Facebook or Google +. Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

    Top 10 Surprising Results of Global Warming
    Earth in the Balance: 7 Crucial Tipping Points
    Scenic Shores: Gallery of the Top Beaches

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    March 26, 2013

    Five barges sit to the north of the Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport at dusk waiting for traffic to open along the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Miss. on Jan. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/The Vicksburg Evening Post, Melanie Thortis )

    WASHINGTON (AP) - More than half of the country's rivers and streams are in poor biological health, unable to support healthy populations of aquatic insects and other creatures, according to a new nationwide survey released Tuesday.

    The Environmental Protection Agency sampled nearly 2,000 locations in 2008 and 2009 - from rivers as large as the Mississippi River to streams small enough for wading. The study found more than 55 percent of them in poor condition, 23 percent in fair shape, and 21 percent in good biological health.

    The most widespread problem was high levels of nutrient pollution, caused by phosphorus and nitrogen washing into rivers and streams from farms, cities, and sewers. High levels of phosphorus - a common ingredient in detergents and fertilizers - were found in 40 percent of rivers and streams. Another problem detected was development. Land clearing and building along waterways increases erosion and flooding, and allows more pollutants to enter waters.

    "This new science shows that America's streams and rivers are under significant pressure," said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator of EPA's water office. "We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation's streams and rivers as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities, and play a critical role in the economy."

    Conditions are worse in the East, the report found. More than 70 percent of streams and rivers from the Texas coast to the New Jersey coast are in poor shape. Streams and rivers are healthiest in Western mountain areas, where only 26 percent were classified as in poor condition.

    The EPA also found some potential risks for human health. In 9 percent of rivers and streams, bacteria exceeded thresholds protective of human health. And mercury, which is toxic, was found in fish tissue along 13,000 miles of streams at levels exceeding health-based standards. Mercury, which is naturally occurring, also can enter the environment from coal-burning power plants and from burning hazardous wastes. The Obama administration finalized regulations to control mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants for the first time in late 2011.

     

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    March 26, 2013

    This image shows snow covering nearly half of the U.S. and most of Canada on March 26, 2013. (NOAA)

    Springtime: the time for flowers, newborn animals ... and snow. Nearly half of the United States is currently covered in snow, including most of Canada, as can be seen in this image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    That's the largest extent of snow cover at this point in the season in at least 10 years, according to NOAA. Much of the snow came from a massive spring blizzard that dropped snow throughout the Midwest and East Coast, breaking records in many cities.

    The town of Lincoln, Ill., broke its daily snow total of 4 inches (10 centimeters), which was set in 1947, with 10.8 inches (27 cm) of snow on Sunday (March 24), according to AccuWeather. The weather system also dropped 2.9 inches (7.4 cm) of snow in Columbus, Ohio, breaking the old record of 1.8 inches (4.6 cm) set in 1965.

    Currently, 44 of 50 states have some snow on the ground. The only states without any of the fluffy stuff are Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Rhode Island.

    So far in March, more than 1,741 daily snowfall records have been set or tied compared to only 616 at this time last year, according to the Capitol Weather Gang.

    The image of U.S. snow cover was created from data gathered by NOAA's Interactive Multisensor Snow and Ice Mapping System, which uses satellites to measure snowfall based on the amount of light reflected from Earth's surface (snow reflects more light than bare earth).

    Email Douglas Main or follow him @Douglas_Main. Follow us @OAPlanet, Facebook or Google+. Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 22 People More Sick of Winter Than You Are
    Man Slips on Ice on Live TV

     

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    March 27, 2013

    (Peggy Gervase/Facebook)

    In the small town of Eden, N.Y., the recent appearance of mysterious circles in a frozen pond has residents baffled.

    Last Friday, during an early spring snowstorm, Eden resident Peggy Gervase was looking at the pond near her home when she noticed an unusual pattern in the snow covering the water's surface: large circles that resembled giant polka dots.

    "I've never seen this before in our pond," Gervase told local TV station WGRZ. "It's eerie in a way, but cool in a way."

    After Gervase posted a photograph of the pond circles to the station's Facebook page, respondents offered a number of explanations for the strange circles, including elephant footprints, fish flatulence and aliens.

    Though aliens sometimes get the blame for crop circles and other unusual phenomenon, with no real evidence, Gervase isn't buying it. "I'm not that far gone yet," she told WGRZ.

    There are more rational explanations: Natural springs often feed ponds with slightly warmer water than the water freezing at the pond's surface during cold weather. As the warmer spring water rises, it would melt the snow and ice on the pond's surface.

    Additionally, decaying vegetation on the bottom of the pond could release gases that slowly rise to the surface, creating the polka-dot effect.

    Intriguing circular formations are known to occur throughout the natural world during seasonal freeze and thaw cycles.

    In areas of permafrost (like the northern Canadian tundra), the expansion of ice beneath the soil surface - a process called frost heaving - creates raised landforms called lithalsas. Lithalsas often form circular or ring-shaped patterns on the surface.

    Frost heaving also creates a related landform called a pingo. Over many years, pingos can grow into small, circular hills: The tallest known pingo is the Kadleroshilik Pingo in Alaska, which reaches 178 feet in height.

    Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

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

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    Recent and ongoing cold weather is putting some fruit and other early-planted crops at risk from northern Florida to South Carolina. Drought remains a concern in southern Florida.

    An odd winter has agricultural interests concerned in the Southeastern states.

    Warm weather early in the winter followed by late-season chill is causing some problems.

    According to Amy London, executive director of the South Carolina Peach Council, "We have seen some varieties of peaches bloom early, while other varieties are on schedule."

    For most varieties, damage occurs to buds when temperatures drop below 24 degrees. While the trees are blossoming, damage occurs when temperatures drop below 27 degrees.

    "We have not had temperatures quite low enough for extensive damage, so far, but we have seen damage to some of the flower pedals," London said.

    The cold will linger through the middle of the week in the South.

    Temperatures could dip into the middle 20s in some of the orchards from Georgia to central and upstate South Carolina.

    The risk of a damaging frost or freeze Tuesday night/Wednesday morning extends from northern Mississippi to much of Alabama, northern Florida, much of Georgia and South Carolina.

    How low temperatures dip will depend on the wind. If a breeze stays up, the coldest air will not be able to collect near the ground and at tree level. Often these conditions are determined by local geography such as hillsides and proximity to large water bodies.

    "Our heart goes out to blueberry farmers in southern Georgia who were hit hard by hail and have been battling freezing temperatures recently," London added.

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    London remained optimistic about this year's peach crop, since there has been generally double the amount of rainfall over this winter when compared to the winter of 2011-2012 over much of Georgia and South Carolina. More is needed into the summer.

    The risk of a frost and freeze extends into northern Florida.

    According to Karl Schmidt, Florida agricultural statistician, "Some corn, peanuts, potatoes and watermelons have been planted during the past couple of weeks."

    Drought is a major concern in central and southern counties of the Florida Peninsula.

    The ongoing and building drought is a concern for livestock and the citrus industry.

    "Long-running dryness is impacting grazing lands," Schmidt stated.

    The Orlando area, for example, has only received about 3.50 inches of rain since Dec. 1, 2012, compared to a normal of around 10.30 inches.

    According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "While this is the dry season in much of the citrus areas of Florida, it has been drier longer than normal and could be placing extra stress on the trees."

    Rain has helped of late over the central and northern counties of Sunshine State.

    There is a chance of one to two additional rounds of rain next week for Florida in general, but the distribution and exact timing of the rainfall is uncertain at this early stage.

    Based on evolving weather patterns, it appears that this week may be the last widespread risk of frost/freeze damage to the southern Atlantic Seaboard states. However, some abnormal chill is still possible over the mid-South on to the north through at least the middle of April.

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    In this March 16, 2013, photo, Camila Fuchs, right, is accompanied by an AdaptSurf volunteer as they head out to sea to catch some waves, at Barra da Tijuca beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - One minute, Renata Glasner is watching the waves crash on Leblon beach from her wheelchair. The next, she's plowing through the turbulent waters, riding the choppy waves on a specially adapted surfboard.

    Glasner, a 35-year-old graphic designer who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago, is one of dozens of disabled people on this special strip of Rio de Janeiro beach who are conquering the waves. Men and women with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, people missing a limb, the blind, the deaf and even the paralyzed all hit the waves here.

    They all require a different kind of assistance depending on their disabilities and maneuver their boards in different ways - some standing, some on their knees and others, like Glasner, flat on their bellies, using their body weight to steer the boards. But every one of them emerges from the ocean beaming.

    "The taste of saltwater has no price," said Glasner, who began to lose control over her legs shortly after the birth of her first child and now requires a helper to hoist her from her amphibious wheelchair onto the surfboard. "It's the taste of freedom. After you're diagnosed with a disease like mine, you can't even imagine you're ever again going to experience that taste."

    Glasner is able to savor that experience on a weekly basis thanks to AdaptSurf, a Rio-based non-governmental organization that aims to make beaches accessible to the disabled and encourage them to practice water sports.

    In a country where the lack of ramps and working elevators, the shoddy state of sidewalks and the shortage of pedestrian crossings make just leaving home risky for many disabled people, lobbying for their beach accessibility may seem like something of a frivolity.

    But in Brazil, with its nearly 4,660 mile-long coastline, the beach is center stage for social interactions of all sorts: It's largely there that families reunite, that friendships are forged, that couples come together or dissolve and deals are struck. For the disabled to be deprived of the physical benefits of the beach and also all the socializing that goes on there is doubly isolating, says AdaptSurf co-founder Henrique Saraiva.

    "Imagine, you're in a country that's surrounded by beaches, where the beach is an almost mystical place. But when you're confined to a chair, the farthest you can get is the sidewalk, and you sit there sweating under the sun and watching everyone play in the water," said Saraiva. "It's the most supremely frustrating experience."

    He and two friends created the organization in 2007, some 10 years after a mugging left him partially paralyzed.

    The then-18-year-old Saraiva was cycling near his home in an upscale Rio neighborhood when he was set upon by several young men who were after his bike. One of them pulled a gun.

    "I saw it and kind of froze and he fired. A single shot went in through my stomach and lodged in my spinal column," he said. "Lying there on the street, I felt right away that I wasn't able to move my legs."

    An extended hospitalization, a series of surgeries and months of uncertainty followed, with doctors unable to predict whether Saraiva would ever walk again. But the intense physical therapy sessions paid off and Saraiva eventually traded his wheelchair for the crutches that he still uses to get around.

    Despite his badly atrophied right leg, Saraiva pulled out his old board and tried to surf again.

    "It was magical. The water is the one place where I can forget about my handicap," said Saraiva. "It's the one place where I can feel like I'm just one of the guys, just like everybody else."

    In a bid to share that experience with others, Saraiva founded AdaptSurf with the help of two friends. Similar organizations already existed in other places with vibrant beach cultures, such as California and Australia, but Saraiva says AdaptSurf was the first of its kind in Brazil. And it convenes every Saturday and Sunday of the year, weather permitting, he added.

    "It was really touch and go at first," Saraiva said. The group would show up at a designated spot on Rio's upscale Leblon beach with one used surfboard and a couple of parasols. At first, there were just three participants, but AdaptSurf has steadily grown and recently received a generous donation to buy new mesh ramps and runways to help people cross the fine white sand and a fleet of special wheelchairs made from a fast-drying mesh and all-terrain monster tires.

    "People who spend their whole lives in a wheelchair get on a board and manage to catch a wave and their self-esteem goes through the roof," Saraiva said, adding that even for those participants with disabilities so severe they can't do more than be wheeled, knee-deep, into the water, just being on the beach does a world of good.

    Now several dozen disabled people come from across this metropolis of 6 million to attend AdaptSurf, some braving hours-long bus rides to be there every weekend. The group has even had people come from as far as the capital, Brasilia, some 725 miles (1,170 kilometers) away.

    Though they set up their parasols directly in front of a lifeguard station, AdaptSurf has never required its services - a fact Saraiva attributes to the care the group takes. When the ocean's too choppy or the undertow too threatening, they forgo the water and practice their moves on land. Even when the water's at its calmest, participants generally surf one at a time, with at least one able-bodied helper.

    Andre Souza, a 33-year-old who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 2001 motorcycle accident, had never surfed before he chanced upon AdaptSurf. Now, he hopes to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the disabled surfer who's spent the most time on a wave. While the typical disabled surfer spends an average of about 10 to 15 seconds on any given wave, Souza last year spent slightly over three minutes riding an "apororoca," a giant wave that sweeps up rivers in the Amazon region at certain times a year. He hopes to surf another "apororoca" later this year.

    "The first time I caught a wave I can only describe as the happiest moment in my life," said Souza, a lean, strong man with a quick smile and dark, sparkling eyes. "It's the place where I feel the most freedom I've experienced since my accident. All day long, all night long, you are literally a prisoner in your chair, in your bed, in your body. I don't have words to describe the sensation of liberty I feel on my surfboard."

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    Fish swim past a portion of an exhibit that was flooded to the ceiling during Superstorm Sandy at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, New York, Monday, March 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Aquarium has cherished its big-city setting by the sea for half a century. But the ocean that is the aquarium's lifeblood dealt it a shattering blow last fall.

    Superstorm Sandy's surge overran carefully calibrated tanks with oily, debris-filled water, knocked out even backup power to all the exhibits and made it impossible to check on some of them for days. Managers contemplated shipping animals away and wondered whether the institution itself could survive in its spot on Coney Island.

    Five months later, more than 80 percent of the collection is intact, and visitors should be able to see walruses, angelfish, otters and others when about half the aquarium reopens late spring. A planned expansion remains on track, now coupled with rebuilding and floodproofing an institution that aims to be an object lesson in enduring on the shore.

    "I don't think we could abandon this facility. Not that we didn't think about it - we thought through everything," aquarium Director Jon Forrest Dohlin said this week as he stood amid pipes and cables in a now-empty jellyfish exhibit.

    "We want to be here, and we also want to be able to talk to the community about what we did, how we handled this, and how the city of New York can start to look toward the future of living in this coastal environment."

    As he walked through the 14-acre grounds, penguins watched like squat sentries from their outdoor habitat. Walruses snoozed as sea lions arced through the air on their trainers' cues, staying in practice for shows to resume in a few months. Angelfish and other tropical species shimmered around a coral reef and hefty pacu, a fruit-eating piranha relative, hovered in an Amazonian display in the one building where exhibit space wasn't flooded.

    But the effects of the Oct. 29 storm were still starkly visible elsewhere.

    The floor was torn out of a building that houses jellyfish, seahorses, lungfish and other unusual creatures. Many were still there but set to start moving next month to other aquariums while their facility is rebuilt. The open pool in front of it was drained dry; it housed hundreds of freshwater koi that died in the saltwater surge.

    Sharks, sea turtles and rays circled serenely in a tank in the aquarium's veterinary hospital. They're healthy but were shuttled there after the storm put an exclamation point on plans to reinvent their exhibit. Nearby, the gutted cafeteria still has "Happy Halloween!" signs on its windows.

    There's no firm date yet for this spring's partial reopening. The rest of the exhibits, including the new $120 million shark display, are slated to open in 2016.

    Meanwhile, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the aquarium, is determining how much insurance and government aid may pay toward fixing roughly $65 million in estimated damage.

    The aquarium was founded in 1896 in lower Manhattan. It moved in 1957 to Coney Island, a faded seaside playground now striving for rebirth. Drawing more than 750,000 visitors a year, it's "the economic engine for Coney Island," says City Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr., who represents the area.

    Aquariums are often built by the water and have proven vulnerable to hurricanes. New Orleans' Audubon Aquarium of the Americas lost thousands of fish when generators failed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It reopened about five months later.

    In Galveston, Texas, Hurricane Ike's storm surge in 2008 killed about three-quarters of the fish in Moody Gardens' rainforest exhibit, General Manager Robert Callies said. The exhibit reopened in 2011 after bringing back hundreds of birds, reptiles and mammals sent to other zoos after the storm.

    At the New York Aquarium, Sandy's surge coursed through air-intake vents in flood doors under the Coney Island boardwalk, punched through sand into the parking lot and rushed in from the parking lot after a creek overflowed blocks away.

    As the water rose three feet high in Dohlin's ground-floor office, he watched it pour down a stairwell into a basement that housed exhibits and the equipment that keeps them alive.

    "'We lost the aquarium,'" he thought.

    Basements were under up to 15 feet of water. Generators were either damaged or useless because equipment needed to distribute their power was fried. The pump house that draws from the ocean to refresh the 1.5 million-gallon exhibits was out of commission, as were systems that treat the seawater, tailor it to different environments and maintain the oxygen levels, temperatures and water chemistry the aquarium's 12,000 animals need.

    None had been evacuated. That would have been very difficult to arrange in the few days the aquarium had to prepare, Dohlin said.

    Scrambling to save the collection, 18 staffers used hospital-style canisters to get crucial oxygen into the water, rebuilt filters and pumps on the fly and called in equipment from the Wildlife Conservation Society's four zoos. They mixed artificial seawater in garbage cans and warmed rooms with space heaters to keep water temperatures up, animal operations director David DeNardo said.

    At the same time, managers weighed how much longer they had to get systems going before having to ship animals away, an unwelcome prospect for already stressed creatures. On Nov. 1, the wildlife society announced that a decision would probably have to be made in 24 hours. But key systems were at least partially running in all the exhibits two days later, and the animals stayed.

    The koi and some other fish were dead. But many other fish and all the mammals were fine - including Mitik, an orphaned walrus calf that arrived only weeks before. He seemed to enjoy splashing in a couple of feet of surge water, Dohlin said.

    A 3-foot-long American eel disappeared from its tank but turned up, unharmed, in a staff shower stall. Seahorses held on to life despite the cold, dirty surge water that flowed into their tropical tanks.

    Now, plans call for raising the new shark building several feet higher to meet new flood-zone predictions, moving air intake vents from the flood doors to the roof, moving electrical panels out of basements and installing full-height storm doors on some glass doors that were only partly protected.

    It's an unexpected chance, Dohlin says, to improve both the aquarium's exhibits and endurance at once.

    "Not to let any crisis go to waste," he said. "That's the real opportunity here."

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    Taipei, Taiwan. (AP Photo)

    TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - A strong earthquake struck central Taiwan on Wednesday, killing at one person and injuring 19 as it damaged buildings on the quake-prone island.

    The Central Weather Bureau said the magnitude-6.1 earthquake was felt throughout the island. Buildings swayed in the capital Taipei, and sections of the high-speed rail were suspended from service to be inspected for damage.

    The U.S. Geological Survey placed the magnitude at 6.0. The quake's depth was a relatively shallow 9 miles.

    Emergency officials said a 72-year-old woman became the first known fatality from the quake. They said she died when a temple wall she was standing next to collapsed and crushed her in the mostly rural county of Nantou.

    Near the Nantou epicenter, a section of a ceiling fell from a government office and injured one worker, officials said. All-together, at least 19 people were injured, mostly by falling objects, the fire department said. A house fire caused by leaking gas was quickly put out, it added.

    Nantou government official Chen Min-hui said tiles fell from a few school buildings and minor cracks appeared on walls, but all structures remained intact.

    Nantou is a rural county about about 155 miles south of Taipei. It is near the epicenter of a magnitude-7.6 earthquake that killed more than 2,300 people in 1999.

    Earthquakes frequently rattle Taiwan, but most are minor and cause little or no damage.

     

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