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SKYE on AOL

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    While spring is officially here, many parts of the United States still feel like they are stuck in winter's grasp. Snow has continued to fall across parts of the Plains, Midwest, mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. However, as temperatures rise in the coming weeks, that snow will turn to water, and that will cause problems for rivers and streams across the country.

    These late-winter snowstorms contain more water than storms a few months prior. Wet snow, which holds more water, is more likely to form during end-of-season storms. On average, for every 5 inches of wet snow you get 1 inch of water, compared to an average of half an inch of water for 5 inches of powdery snow. For some areas in the Northeast and the Plains, there are over 6 inches of water stored in snowpack.

    "If you get a warm rain to come through in the spring bringing 2 inches of water, and it melts the snowpack and releases 6 inches of water there, you could see 8 extra inches of water that rivers and streams have to handle," said AccuWeather expert senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "You also have to worry about the impacts of ice jams on those waterways."

    Another factor in spring flooding is the ground temperature. If some ground areas are still frozen, it won't be able to soak up flood waters. Sosnowski warns that this time of year it's possible to see a snowstorm come in and pile on more wet snow, then a warmer storm come through right after to cause rapid melting.

    AccuWeather meteorologist Jim Andrews cites January of 1996 as an example of this kind of flooding. About 2 to 3 feet of snow quickly turned into 2 to 4 inches of water from a rain storm.

    In the spring, he says, conditions are even more troublesome, as higher dew points add to moisture.

    Related:
    Flood Damage Cleanup
    Flood Cleanup Requires Extra Care for Those With Allergies
    Flood Advisories for Your Area


    Andrews says that the Red River Valley in the Dakotas should be particularly watched. The low-gradient river, which has the rare quality of flowing north, will take time to flood. While this can be good news for people who may need to move out of its way, it also means that it will take a long time to recede. The flat landscape leaves nothing to try to stop the water once it crests over the river banks. New England's Connecticut River is another area Andrews warns may see some high flooding this spring, as there are high water levels in Northeastern snow.

    This information is generally agreed upon by NOAA, which held a conference to discuss spring flooding last week. NOAA meteorologists predict that spring flooding will be worse for the northern Plains than it was last year. Specifically, they report that Devils and Stump lakes in North Dakota have a 50 percent chance of rising 2 feet. If that were the case, 20,000 acres of farmland and roads would be flooded.

    They are not optimistic about any flooding having positive impacts on drought-stricken areas, however, especially in the Southwest, Great Plains and Florida. They predict drier-than-normal conditions in the West, but a wetter-than-normal spring for the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions. Above-average temperatures that are expected for most of the country can also lead to rapid snow melt. Areas along the middle of the Mississippi River have already seen, and will continue to see, minor flooding.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    March 27, 2013

    Photo by Bertrand Kulik / Facebook

    How does Paris' already stunning skyline become even more spectacular?

    One way, it turns out, is with the addition of a rare, rainbow-like prism forming across the sky.

    Bertrand Kulik spotted the usual sight from his apartment earlier this month and grabbed his camera.

    "I have never seen a rainbow like that before," the 33-year-old Parisian told The Daily Mail. "This light phenomenon looked like a rising aurora over Paris."

    It didn't last long, he said, but his photo, which he posted to Facebook on March 18, has captured peoples' imagination. The image has gone viral, appearing in newspapers and on websites around the world.

    Many are calling it a rainbow, but technically, that's not the term for it.

    RELATED ON SKYE: How Do Rainbows Form

    "It's known as a circumhorizontal arc," said meteorologist and Ask SKYE columnist Renny Vandewege. "It's basically a halo that runs parallel to the horizon. It only forms when the sun is very high in the sky. It occurs when the sun hits ice crystals in the clouds."

    Vandewege has spent more time than most studying the sky, but he'd never seen such a long circumhorizontal arc before, at least not in person.

    "This one is rare because it's so long," he said. "Usually they're fairly small, like little fragments, broken up because of the clouds. The unique sun angle combined with the length of the cloud is what makes for such a long arc."

    The prism includes the same colors as a rainbow, and it forms in a similar way, he says, requiring the refraction of light.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Stunning Rainbows Around the World
    Rainbow

     

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    An aerial photo shows a landslide near Coupeville, Wash., on Whidbey Island, Wednesday, March 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

    SEATTLE (AP) - Geologists and engineers are assessing the stability of a scenic Puget Sound area after a large landside thundered down a hillside, knocking one house off its foundation and threatening others.

    That heavily damaged home and 33 others were ordered evacuated after the slide broke loose early Wednesday in the Ledgewood community on Whidbey Island, about 50 miles north of Seattle.

    No one was injured.

    After geologists took an initial look, residents of about 15 homes higher up the hillside were told Wednesday evening that they could return, said Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin. Seventeen homes were evacuated along that road and officials were still concerned about two, Hartin said.

    Eleven people from 16 homes along a road close to the water were evacuated by boat because the road was blocked by the landslide, Hartin said.

    Officials remain concerned about two houses in that area in addition to the one knocked off its foundation. Those 16 homes remained evacuated late Wednesday.

    An older man who escaped from the damaged home was evacuated by rescuers in an all-terrain vehicle, Hartin said. Rescuers reached the man by cutting across property belonging to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Ballmer's property was not threatened by the slide, the chief said.

    Ballmer was not available for comment, Microsoft spokesman Pete Wootton said Wednesday night.

    Many of the homes are summer cabins or weekend getaways and were unoccupied. Some are larger, upscale properties and others are more modest dwellings.

    The slide area remains unstable.

    A geotechnical engineer working for Island County and state Department of Natural Resources geologists took a preliminary look at the area Wednesday and hoped to complete a fuller assessment Thursday.

    Area residents were briefed on the status of their homes at a meeting Wednesday night.

    There has been no significant rain in recent days, but the area has been prone to slides in the past.

    "The west side of the island ... is prone to slides because of soil conditions and water movement in the ground," Hartin said.

    "We have no specific cause as to 'why here, why now, why this big.'"

    The slide area extends about 400 to 500 yards across the hillside and down 600 or 700 yards to the water, Hartin said.

    Bret Holmes told The Seattle Times he had been staying in a home that has been in his family.

    The noise he heard in the early morning darkness was "like an earthquake, it rattled the whole house," he said.

    He took a flashlight to the backyard facing the water and found that 20 or more trees had vanished.

    His flashlight battery died; when he returned with a new flashlight, he told The Times, "where I had been standing was no longer there."

    By Wednesday afternoon, Holmes estimated 75 feet of the backyard was gone.

    The NW Insurance Council issued a statement cautioning home and business owners that standard homeowners and business insurance policies specifically exclude damage caused by earth movement like a landslide.

    Special landslide coverage is available for an added cost, said Karl Newman, council president.

    Residents who heard the slide about eight miles south of Coupeville described it to KOMO-TV as sounding like thunder.

    "It was a mix of rumbling and snapping trees," Hartin said. "We were hearing the same thing when we arrived."

    Whidbey Island is about 35 miles long, north to south, and just a mile or two wide in places east to west.

    A ferry ride away from the Seattle area, the island offers picturesque farm and water views and has a population of about 60,000, mostly centered around Oak Harbor and the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    The beach of the Grand Lido Sans Souci resort in the town of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. (AP Photo)

    KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - A U.S. seismic expert on Wednesday urged authorities in Jamaica to start long-term efforts to prepare for another major earthquake on the island, where the seaside capital was mostly destroyed by a big temblor just over a century ago.

    It's impossible for scientists to determine if the next big quake will hit in days or decades, but geophysics professor Eric Calais of Purdue University is urging the island's government and various stakeholders to understand that the threat is very real based on the area's history and active seismic activity.

    Calais, visiting the island over four days as part of a mission with the United Nations Development Program, said most scientists agree that Jamaica will most likely be exposed to a quake with a magnitude of 7 or 7.5. An earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale is considered "major," and capable of widespread, heavy damage.

    Jamaica's southern capital of Kingston was destroyed and roughly 1,000 people killed in a 6.5-magnitude quake in 1907. Researchers with the University of the West Indies have said that if Jamaica were to be hit by a quake like that one now the island could suffer a $6.5 billion loss, nearly half of the island's gross domestic product.

    "A 6.5 in the harbor by the capital could be a tremendous threat," said Calais during a Wednesday visit to Port Royal, a town just outside of Kingston which was the island's main city in the 17th century until an earthquake and tsunami submerged two-thirds of the settlement in 1692.

    Calais' call is especially sobering because in March 2008 he was among a group of scientists who warned officials in Haiti that their country was ripe for a major earthquake after detecting worrisome signs of growing stresses in a fault. Two years later, that fault unleashed a 7.0 quake that devastated the Caribbean nation, with the government putting the death toll at 316,000 people.

    Jamaica has a "good foundation" to tackle risks, especially when compared to nearby Haiti, he said. The island is situated along the same seismically active plate boundary as Haiti and experiences about 200 earthquakes per year, most of them small.

    "But at the same time, I think it's important to realize the foundation is not at the level that's sufficient to face a challenge of a possible magnitude seven or seven-and-a-half," said Calais, adding that he does not believe that the level of hazard has changed in Jamaica since the 2010 quake that leveled Port-au-Prince.

    Earthquakes typically occur along fault lines, areas where two sections of the Earth's crust grind past each other. When decades of centuries of accumulated stress become too great at a fault boundary, the land gives way, causing a quake.

    Lyndon Brown, head of Jamaica's government-funded earthquake unit, said the island needs to pass legislation to update building codes and then enforce the law to ensure that buildings can better withstand earthquakes.

    Now, squatters and developers in Jamaica too often build along unsafe gully banks, steep hillsides and embankments, even visibly eroding riverbeds.

     

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    (AP Photo)

    GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) - Road crews are working to get snow-covered roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park open as the spring tourism season is set to begin.

    Park spokeswoman Dana Soehn says the higher elevations of the Smokies have received more than 18 inches of snow this week.

    On Wednesday, U.S. 441 was closed between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Newfound Gap on the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. The Clingmans Dome Road was scheduled to open Friday, but isn't likely to be passable before early next week.

    The park is the nation's most visited national park.

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

     

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    Spotted 'UFOs' Near Houston Explained

    Fireballs seen floating in the sky near Houston, Texas, sent some residents into a panic, though they were not the alien invaders some had feared. Despite many residents' belief that they were seeing UFOs, as HLN reports, the mysterious lights were just ... wedding lanterns. The wedding party sent off the lanterns at their reception hoping that each guest would make a wish of happiness. However, the lanterns sent citizens and police into a frenzy. Officials even called the UFO reporting center.


    RELATED ON SKYE: Weather Balloon or UFO?
    Weather Balloon or UFO

     

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    AccuWeather long-range forecasters are predicting an active severe storm season during the mid-spring and early summer of 2013, despite a slow March this year, compared to last year. In short, atmospheric conditions that have kept a lid of severe weather thus far will soon change.

    "People can't let their guard down," AccuWeather expert senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said. "It looks like everybody is going to be vulnerable to severe weather this year from the Gulf of Mexico in early April up to the Midwest by late in the spring and early summer."

    Storm Threats and Areas of Concern

    AccuWeather lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok is forecasting an average ramp-up of severe storm events with damaging wind and hail moving forward.

    "The Deep South is going to be under the gun during during April," Kottlowski said.

    According to severe weather expert Henry Margusity, "The blocking pattern responsible for sending cold, dry air masses over the South and Gulf of Mexico should wind down during April."

    The pattern has driven the jet stream well to the south, a necessary ingredient for providing energy for severe thunderstorm and tornado development.

    "Weighing in a slightly later start to the severe weather season, the atmosphere will be hard-pressed to produce an above-normal amount of tornadoes this season, but we are likely to see the counts of tornadoes increase as we normally would moving forward from April onward through the spring," Margusity added.

    Water temperatures have trended to near normal in the Gulf of Mexico after running below normal during the late winter.

    That means low-level moisture supply (higher dew point temperatures) for the Deep South is poised to return when winds swing in off the Gulf.

    Moisture-rich (high dew point) air is essential in the development of severe storms. However, Pastelok said that when a storm system is strong enough, it can compensate for the lack of moisture.

    "We have seen a couple events already, and I think there are a couple more events coming in the next few weeks," Pastelok said.

    The ingredients may come together for more violent outbreaks of severe storms and tornadoes during the second half of April and May. As water temperatures increase in the Gulf of Mexico and more humid air reaches the South, the northward shift of the jet stream will also be coming together.

    Rotating severe storms, which parent tornadoes, require rapidly increasing wind speed or a change in direction with increasing height to help create a twisting motion in the atmosphere. This is known to meteorologists as wind shear.

    The proximity of the jet stream to a potential severe thunderstorm formation area often increases wind shear and exploits other atmospheric conditions, tipping the scale toward development.

    The transition time where the jet is slowly shifting northward during late April and May can set the stage for the worst outbreaks of the year.

    "The quickness at which severe weather parameters come together is what usually determines how bad a severe weather outbreak is," Kottlowski said.

    While severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are expected in the traditional tornado alley over the Plains, the prime threat area for tornadoes is skewed farther east this year (similar to last year), due to an anticipated building zone of high pressure at most levels of the atmosphere centered over the Rockies.

    During the heart of the severe season, when the threat of tornadoes should be highest, an area to watch will be the lower Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee valleys. Little Rock, Memphis and Nashville are among the cities that lie in the zone of greatest risk this year.

    Overall, the number of tornadoes is expected to be near to slightly below average* in 2013.
    (* The 10-year estimated average number of tornadoes to hit the U.S. annually is 1,300.)

    However, the actual annual average is not known due to observing and reporting methods that have changed drastically over time.

    Comparison to Last Year

    This year is expected to be a more active severe weather year than 2012 when only 939 tornadoes occurred, according to the Storm Prediction Center. February and March only account for a small percentage of tornadoes, on average for the season.

    RELATED:
    Low Number of Tornadoes in 2012
    What Makes a Cloud Look Like a Mothership?
    The Recipe for a Thunderstorm


    The beginning of 2012 was very active with severe storm outbreaks and numerous tornadoes during January and February. During the typically active months of April and May, severe weather decreased in frequency in 2012.

    The AccuWeather.com severe weather team expects violent weather outbreaks to significantly ramp up during the second half of April and May of 2013, all things considered.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    March 28, 2013

    The iconic Jet Star rollercoaster seen in the background was washed into the ocean during the wrath of Superstorm Sandy. Photo courtesy of AccuWeather.com's senior videographer David Defilippis.

    As Memorial Day and the start of the summer season nears, almost an entire rebuild is underway at the Jersey Shore, after Superstorm Sandy devastated homes and businesses last fall.

    When Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, locals evacuated with prized possessions and a few days worth of spare clothing. Few anticipated the severity of the storm and how long displacement might last.

    Nearly five months later, hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions are preparing to re-open and are in need of a heavy tourism season. Homeowners, however, have their reservations about what conflicting messages the public may be receiving.

    Jersey Shore, Pier, SandyLou Cirigliano is the Director of Operations at Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach, an iconic part of the coastline for many who have spent their childhood summers at the Jersey Shore.

    Casino Pier's signature attraction, the Jet Star roller coaster, was framed as the backdrop for Sandy's devastation, as it washed into the ocean and remained dismally amid the water for months after the storm.

    Despite severe damage to the pier and its attractions, Cirigliano is set on re-opening.
    "We are still hopeful of being able to bring the entire property east of Ocean Terrace back by Memorial Day weekend," Cirigliano said.

    "It is still a very long process yet. We have no electrical services or utilities there. We are working hard and things will begin in ernest this week, but in only two months there is still a lot to be accomplished."

    The pier is being disassembled in areas deemed structurally unsound and new pilings are being placed where fresh boardwalk will lie in the future.

    Like many, Cirigliano has struggled with the frustration of new building requirements and the bureaucracy of insurance companies and governmental agencies.

    "We can't wait to do the required work, but with all our damage we sustained, we also need to do certain things based on the procedures the insurance representatives dictate," Cirigliano said.

    "The rebuilding process has been quite complicated - more so than I ever imagined."
    Cirigliano is just one of many facing the same plight.

    Ohana Grill in Lavallete has been closed since Sandy ransacked the town in October.
    "Between the winds that knocked the power lines down and the surge of water that overtook the barrier island, our restaurant was in bad shape," restaurant owner and head chef James Costello said.

    Sandy, Jersey ShoreWinds gusted to near 90 mph in the hardest-hit areas of New Jersey, knocking out power to more than 2.4 million customers. Sandy's destructive winds were responsible for more than double the number of power outages caused by Irene in 2011.

    Ohana Grill, which opened two years ago, received one and a half feet of water damage and required Costello to replace the floor and 4 feet of the bottom sheetrock. What was salvaged sits in storage, awaiting the restaurant's official reopen.

    "Every time we meet with the landlord we feel his frustration that to date none of his insurance claims have even come close to settling. Basically, right now we are building in the 'hopes' that everything being spent will be covered," Costello said.

    Costello says it has been a "leap of faith" for him and his wife.

    "I had a discussion with my wife prior to beginning the rebuilding process that there was a possibility that we would take on substantial debt to reopen. We decided, together, to go forward. This had always been our dream together and we couldn't let this storm take it away," he said.

    Despite a hopeful attitude, the coast is draped with concern, from both business and homeowners alike.

    "I think we will see people returning to Seaside to support the businesses that are back opened, but I fear that the rentals and hotels they used to stay in may not be reopened in time ...," Cirigliano said.

    Businesses to the north of Casino Pier were severely impacted and Cirigliano questions whether they will ever return.

    "I know the phones have been ringing about the summer, and that is keeping us optimistic. If the amount of people in town on the weekends so far is any indication, things will be good."
    But for homeowners, there is a dangerous mixed message of preparedness for the summer season and disrepair in the community.

    Faith Ligouri, a resident of Seaside Park, has returned to her home but has not yet been able to restore the first floor, which sustained severe water damage and has since been gutted.

    "I'm excited today because B&B is open, a local store down the street," Faith told AccuWeather on March 16. "I'm happy to see them back."

    "I don't want to discourage people from coming and visiting, it's important to our businesses and our economy but I would beg the world, honestly, to understand that we are not whole. And we will not be whole for years to come because we all have to face, how are we going to rebuild our homes," she said. "And no one can give us a clear and financially do-able answer to that."

    The elusiveness of federal mitigation grants and insurance payouts is breeding frustration in the community.

    "I feel like there is a perception that the Jersey Shore is wealthy or these are people's second homes and that's really not true. These are our primary homes. And we need support, financially, emotionally and physically," Ligouri said.

    "And that's what I'd like people to know. While our streets may be clean, our houses are empty."

     

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    This tornado was one of many spawned during a massive outbreak stretching from eastern Colorado to Oklahoma on May 23-24 in 2011. (Sean Waugh | NOAA | NSSL)

    Tornadoes conjure up images of massive funnel clouds tearing over the expansive Great Plains of the United States during springtime, but tornadoes range in size and strength and can happen anywhere, at any time of the year.

    Although freak accidents happen - and the most violent tornadoes can level a house - most tornadoes are much weaker than the monster EF5s (the highest tornado rating) most people imagine, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) says in their tornado FAQ, and knowing proper tornado safety tips can help you get through the storm.

    But there are a lot of tornado safety folklore and myths out there, so it can be hard to know what advice to follow. Here are five of the most pervasive tornado safety myths, as well as a few tips to follow:

    Myth #1: Opening windows will equalize pressure.

    The SPC said it best: "Opening the windows is absolutely useless, a waste of precious time, and can be very dangerous. Don't do it."

    All it might get you is a bunch of debris blown into your house by a tornado's fierce winds - which could be dangerous. And if a tornado hits your house, it most likely will break the window anyway, the SPC noted.

    Myth #2: The southwest corner of a basement is the safest corner.

    While a basement is a good place to take shelter from a tornado, no corner of a basement is safer than any other.

    According to the SPC, this myth arose from the mistaken belief that most tornadoes come from the southwest and that any debris they generate would fall into the northeast corner of a basement. But tornadoes can arrive from any direction; their winds are spinning in a vortex and can be blowing from any direction.

    If you take shelter in a basement, the best place to be is away from any windows, under a sturdy workbench or mattress, and away from any shelves or other things that might fall on you. You should also make sure you're not directly under any heavy appliances that may be on the floor above.

    Myth #3: When you're on the road, the best place to ride out a tornado is under a bridge.

    Definitely not! Do not do this!

    Although it might seem like the bridge over your head would protect you, hiding under an overpass or bridge is actually very dangerous, because a tornado's winds can blast debris underneath the structure. The storm's winds could blow you out from underneath and possibly into the tornado itself, or the bridge could collapse on top of you, the SPC warned.

    But if you're on the road, you don't want to stay in your car, either. "Vehicles are notorious as death traps in tornadoes, because they are easily tossed and destroyed," the SPC said.

    Your options depend on where the tornado is and what's around you. If the tornado is far away or not heading toward you, the best option may be to head in the opposite direction and get out of its path. If it's bearing down on you, and there's a sturdy structure nearby, take shelter there. But if no building is around, get as far away from the road and cars as possible, and lay down in a low spot, the SPC advised.

    Myth #4: Tornadoes never cross hills, rivers, roads, etc.

    If a particular town or other location hasn't been hit by a tornado that passed nearby, it didn't have anything to do with the area's topographical features, it was just luck, the roll of the dice.

    Tornadoes are not guided or repelled by roads, hills, streams or rivers. In fact, a tornado has even crossed the Mighty Mississippi. [Infographic: Tornado Alley Facts & Stats]

    The SPC noted that local wisdom had it that towns such as Topeka, Kan., and Waco, Texas, were immune to tornadoes, until they were hit by F5s (in 1968 and 1953, respectively). (The current Enhanced Fujita scale was preceded by the Fujita scale.) Those are extreme examples and larger metropolitan areas (more on that in a minute), but plenty of other places have been rudely awakened from various forms of this myth.

    Myth #5: Tornadoes avoid big cities.

    Related to Myth #4, many people think big cities are immune to tornadoes. That's not the case: Many cities - including Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis (which has been hit a whopping four times) - have been hit by tornadoes. [Skyscraper Storms: 7 Big City Tornadoes]

    Cities can simply seem like they aren't tornado-prone for some innate or meteorological reason when it's really just statistics: Cities occupy a smaller area relative to the surrounding, more rural areas, and are therefore less likely to be hit.

    In fact, damage caused by tornadoes can be worse in big cities, due to their high concentration of people and structures. Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., sustained severe damage from a tornado that tore through both cities on April 27, 2011, and was on the ground for 80 miles (129 kilometers) - killing 65 and injuring 1,500. The tornado bucked a downward trend in tornado deaths, not only because of its powerful EF4 strength, but also because it hit highly populated areas.

    For more tornado safety tips, read through the Storm Prediction Center's helpful guide.

    Follow Andrea Thompson @AndreaTOAP, Pinterest& Google+. Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook & Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

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

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes
    tornado

     

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    Solar Impulse solar-powered plane is displayed during a press conference at Moffett Airfield, NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., on Thursday, March 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) - A solar-powered plane that has wowed aviation fans in Europe is set to travel across the United States with stops in Phoenix, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York, organizers of the trip announced Thursday.

    The plane, Solar Impulse, is expected to be ready to leave from NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., on May 1, although the actual departure will depend on the weather, the plane's Swiss creators said at a news conference at the NASA center.

    Solar Impulse, considered the world's most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York's Kennedy Airport in early July - without using a drop of fuel, its creators said.

    Between Dallas and Washington, D.C., the plane will also stop at one of three other cities: Atlanta, Nashville or St. Louis, said André Borschberg, Solar Impulse's co-founder, pilot and CEO. Each leg of the flight will run 20 to 25 hours.

    "We want to inspire the young generation to become pioneers, to help them find and develop their passion," Borschberg said.

    The Solar Impulse is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries, allowing it to fly day and night without jet fuel. It has the wing span of a commercial airplane but the weight of the average family car, making it vulnerable to bad weather.

    Its creators say the Solar Impulse is designed to showcase the potential of solar power and will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights. The delicate, single-seat plane cruises around 40 miles per hour and can't fly through clouds.

    "The more you fly, the more energy you have stored in the batteries, so it's absolutely fabulous to imagine all the possibilities the people can have with these technologies in their daily lives," said Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse co-founder and chairman.

    In 2010, the solar plane flew non-stop for 26 hours to demonstrate that the aircraft could soak up enough sunlight to keep it airborne through the night. A year later, it went on its first international flight to Belgium and France.

    Last year, the Solar Impulse made its first transcontinental voyage, traveling 1,550 miles from Madrid to the Moroccan capital Rabat in 20 hours.

    Before its coast-to-coast American trip, the Solar Impulse will take test flights around the San Francisco Bay Area in April, officials said.

    Piccard and Borschberg are planning an around-the-world flight in an improved version of the plane in 2015.

    Piccard comes from a line of adventurers. His late father, Jacques, was an oceanographer and engineer who plunged deeper into the ocean than any other person. His grandfather Auguste, also an engineer, was the first man to take a balloon into the stratosphere.

    Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones made history in 1999 when they became the first people to circle the globe in a hot air balloon, flying 25,000 miles nonstop for 20 days.

     

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    A public works employee operates a bulldozer on the beach in Long Beach Township, N.J., on March 5, 2013, a day before a powerful winter storm was forecast to hit the Jersey shore. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 4 out of 5 Americans want to prepare now for rising seas and stronger storms from climate change, a new national survey says. But most are unwilling to keep spending money to restore and protect stricken beaches.

    The poll by Stanford University released Thursday found that only 1 in 3 people favored the government spending millions to construct big sea walls, replenish beaches or pay people to leave the coast.

    This was the first time a large national poll looked at how Americans feel about adapting to the changes brought on by global warming, said survey director Jon Krosnick, a professor of political science and psychology at Stanford.

    The more indirect options the majority preferred were making sure new buildings were stronger and reducing future coastal development. New building codes rated the highest with 62 percent of those surveyed favoring it.

    Three in 5 people want those who are directly affected by rising seas to pay for protection, rather than all taxpayers.

    Krosnick said the low favorability of sea walls and sand replenishment "reflect the public's fatalistic sense that it's more realistic to just give up the beach than to try to save it when other storms in the future will just wash it away again."

    The nationally representative survey of 1,174 Americans conducted online by GfK Custom Research has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

    University of Miami geology professor Harold Wanless, who wasn't involved in the survey, said he was at a Miami Beach meeting on Thursday with business and political leaders on how to try to keep from losing their "hugely expensive" land. But they are afraid of spending money in vain attempts that won't work.

    There are three ways the public can deal with the effects of rising seas on beaches, said coastal geology professor S. Jeffress Williams of the University of Hawaii. He is an expert on sea level rise and methods of adapting to it. You can "hold the line" with expensive sea walls, retreat and leave the beach, or compromise with sand dunes and beach replenishing.

    Sand dunes helped protect the New Jersey town of Seaside Park more than its dune-less neighbor Seaside Heights when Superstorm Sandy hit last fall, said Laurie Mcgilvray, a government coastline science expert.

    Williams said the public's attitude about not doing much to protect current beach development would be fine if it were 100 years ago. "But we've got tremendous trillions of dollars of a tourist economy that depends on the coast.

    "You should expect that if you are going to use the coast, you need to put some money in to maintain it," he said.

    But people surveyed said money is an issue.

    When it came to the general question of who should pay to protect the coast, 60 percent of the public said it should be paid for by local property owners and businesses, not the general taxpayers. And when it comes to specific solutions, about 80 percent of those surveyed said the money should come from local property taxes, not federal or state income taxes.

    Nearly half, 47 percent, said the government should prohibit people from rebuilding structures damaged by storms.

    The survey also found that 82 percent of the public believes global warming is already happening. About 3 out of 4 people said rising sea levels caused by global warming is a serious problem.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Here, numerous tracks of Oryx antelopes crossing fairy circles in an interdune pan, shown in this aerial view of Namibrand, Namibia. (Image courtesy of N. Juergens)

    The "artists" behind bizarre, barren, grassless rings dotting the desert of Southwest Africa have been found lurking right at scientists' feet: termites.

    Known as fairy circles, these patches crop up in regular patterns along a narrow strip of the Namib Desert between mid-Angola and northwestern South Africa, and can persist for decades. The cause of these desert pockmarks has been widely debated, but a species of sand termite, Psammotermes allocerus, could be behind the mysterious dirt rings, suggests a study published today (March 28) in the journal "Science."

    Scientists have offered many ideas about the circles' origin, ranging from "self-organizing vegetation dynamics" to carnivorous ants. Termites have been proposed before, but there wasn't much evidence to support that theory.

    Finding patterns in circles

    While studying the strange patterns, biologist Norbert Juergens of the University of Hamburg noticed that wherever he found the dirt patches (the barren centers inside fairy circles), he also found sand termites. [See Photos of the Bizarre Fairy Circles]

    Juergens measured the water content of the soil in the circles from 2006 to 2012. More than 2 inches of water was stored in the top 39 inches of soil, even during the driest period of the year, Juergens found. The soil humidity below about 16 inches was 5 percent or more over a four-year stretch.

    Without grass to absorb rainwater and then release it back into the air via evaporation, any water available would collect in the porous, sandy soil, Juergens proposed. That water supply could be enough to keep the termites alive and active during the harsh dry season, while letting the grass survive at the circles' rims.

    Juergens conducted surveys of the organisms found at fairy circles. The sand termite was the only creature he found consistently at the majority of patches. He also discovered that most patches contained layers of cemented sand, foraged plant material and underground tunnels - telltale signs of sand termites.

    The scientist found a few other termite species, as well as three ant species, at fairy circles in areas that get rain during the summer or during the winter, but not at all the sites he studied.

    Teensy engineers

    The termite behavior provides an example of "ecosystem engineering," Juergens wrote in the Science paper. The insects appear to be feeding on the grass roots to create the characteristic rings, the study suggests. As to why the termites would create circular-shaped patches, Juergens doesn't say.

    "The paper is a useful addition to debating the origin of the fairy circles," chemist Yvette Naude of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience in an email. But, Naude added, the study "does not address the key question as to what is the primary factor that causes sudden plant mortality, i.e. the birth of a fairy circle."

    The soil in fairy circles seems to be altered so that plants can't survive, whereas termites usually enrich soil, making it more hospitable to plants, she said. (Juergens actually thinks the termites chew up the plant roots, and that's what leads to the barren patches.)

    It is possible the termites don't cause the fairy circles, but merely live in them. However, Juergens found the insects were present even during the early stages of patch formation, before the grass had died off on the surface. Over the termites' lifetime, they munch on the grassy borders and gradually widen the circles.

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

    In Photos: Mysterious Crop Circles
    Image Gallery: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth
    In Photos: Mystical Fairy Circles Grace African Desert

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Weather Balloon or UFO?
    Weather Balloon or UFO

     

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    After a slew of winter storms this month, March will end on a wetter and milder note in many places. The next storm system that will move eastward this weekend is poised to bring rain and some thunderstorms from the Plains to the East Coast.

    A combination of Pacific moisture and a Canadian disturbance will promote a wet start to the Easter weekend across the Midwest and Plains. The area with the steadiest rain is expected to be from Kansas to Wisconsin. A flow of mild air ahead of the system will allow precipitation to fall as rain, not snow.

    Farther south, a stickier air mass, aided by Gulf moisture, will promote some thunderstorms around the Arklatex Saturday. While many locales are not expected to see an all-day washout, dodging showers will be commonplace in the middle of the nation Saturday.

    Unfortunately for the parched areas of the western Plains, the best rainfall is forecast to be to the east, causing more drought stress on agriculture.

    Ahead of this storm system, a brief break from the chilly, wintry weather is expected in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic Saturday. Sunshine is expected to prevail with milder temperatures.

    RELATED:
    Region by Region Breakdown of Easter Weekend Weather
    Deep Snow Raises Alarms for Midwest, New England Flooding

    Easter Weekend Storm to Dampen Midwest, East

    Saturday certainly looks like the better weekend day to be outside in the East. By Easter Sunday, clouds will stream into the region and afternoon Easter egg hunts may turn wet.

    Once again, thunderstorms will rumble on the southern side of this system Sunday from Dallas, Texas, to Atlanta, Ga. As always, keep an eye to the sky for threatening weather and move inside if a thunderstorm approaches.

    No organized severe thunderstorm outbreaks are expected. A lack of a strong atmospheric disturbance and deep moisture will put a lid on nasty thunderstorms.

    The only area of wintry weather should be across the northern Great Lakes where there can be snow showers, although accumulations will remain light. New England will stay cool and dry.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    An image of the storm taken by the MODIS instrument on the Aqua satellite on March 27, 2013. (NASA)

    There is currently a massive storm churning over the Atlantic that spans the entire ocean basin, stretching all the way from Canada to Europe, and from Greenland to the Caribbean.

    It's the same weather system that brought a massive spring blizzard to much of the United States and Canada earlier this week (on Tuesday (March 26), 44 of 50 states had some snow on the ground), and which has now ballooned in size, according to Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist with the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang.

    Robert Oszajca, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service's Ocean Prediction Center, explained that the storm got this big by merging with several low-pressure systems that were hanging out over the Atlantic Ocean. The merging weather systems gave it more power, which was accentuated by a gradient between warm moisture from the southeast, delivered by the Gulf Stream, and frigid air from the north. This intensified the storm, causing it to spin, elongate and grow in size, Oszajca told OurAmazingPlanet.

    Normally, the system would have drifted into Europe several days ago. However, a high-pressure system over Greenland blocked the low-pressure system's advance, which allowed it to strengthen further, fed by cold air from the north. This created winds (which move from high pressure to low pressure) up to 75 mph (120 km/h), equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane, Oszajca said.

    "We're impressed with the size of this storm," he said. Nevertheless, storms this big form about once or twice every winter.

    The storm, which looks like a large comma whose tail stretches into the Caribbean, ranges from Eastern Canada all the way to Spain and north to Greenland. It has created waves up to 42 feet (13 meters) high, Oszajca said.

    The storm has already begun to weaken, however, as the high-pressure "blocking" system to the north has eased. Oszajca said the central low-pressure system that has powered the storm will soon break up into several separate centers, and the storm will fragment before hitting Portugal in about four days. The storm isn't expected to be very intense by the time it reaches Europe, he added.

    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.

     

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    Must Have Solutions to Look Chic in the Rain!
    We're in the midst of those transitional months - one day it's hot, the next it's cold, with rainy days peppered in between. But a little inclement weather is no reason to let your look suffer; Popsugar's Allison McNamara has some tips for the ladies.

     

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    Breaking Weather: Thunderstorms Erupt Across Plains
    Thunderstorms are in the forecast across much of the South Central states for the start of the holiday weekend.

    Some erupting storms late on Saturday and into Saturday night will have the potential to be severe.

    With the strongest thunderstorms, the main threats are expected to be large hail and damaging wind gusts. Larger storms could also produce blinding downpours and dangerous lightning.

    RELATED:
    First Round of Severe Storms for Texas, Oklahoma
    Diverse Easter Sunday Forecast
    Wet End to March in East

    Just some of the cities within the zone of greatest severe threat include Oklahoma City and Norman in Oklahoma and Wichita Falls and Dallas in northern Texas.

    The combination of dry air from the Southwest, and warm, moist air coming from the Gulf of Mexico will be the perfect recipe for a severe threat late on Saturday.

    A weak storm will continue to slowly push out of the southern Plains helping these storms to start up.

    During the day on Saturday, the strong thunderstorms from late on Friday will continue moving eastward to bring thunder from eastern Kansas and Missouri to northern Louisiana, and northern Mississippi by the afternoon.

    On Easter Sunday, thunderstorms are forecast to stretch from central Texas through the Deep South and to the Carolina coast.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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