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    April 2, 2013
    James Hansen NASA
    Dr. James E. Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, gestures during an interview in August 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    Climate scientist James Hansen is retiring from NASA this week to devote himself to the fight against global warming.

    Hansen's retirement concludes a 46-year career at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, but he plans to use his time to take up legal challenges to the federal and state governments over limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

    In recent years, Hansen, 72, has become an activist for climate change, which didn't sit well with NASA headquarters in Washington. "As a government employee, you can't testify against the government," Hansen told The New York Times.

    Supporting his "moral obligation" to step up to the fight now, Hansen adds in the Times article that burning a substantial fraction of Earth's fossil fuels guarantees "unstoppable changes" in the planet's climate, leaving an unfixable problem for future generations.

    The distinguished NASA scientist has spent his career at the Goddard Institute on the campus of Columbia University. He has testified in Congress dozens of times, and has issued warnings and published papers that drew criticism from climate-change skeptics. [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]

    Hansen was arrested in February while protesting the proposed construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry heavy crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. "We have reached a fork in the road," he told the Washington Post at the time, adding that politicians must understand they can "go down this road of exploiting every fossil fuel we have - tar sands, tar shale, off-shore drilling in the Arctic - but the science tells us we can't do that without creating a situation where our children and grandchildren will have no control over, which is the climate system."

    With his departure from NASA, Hansen told the Times he plans to lobby European leaders to institute a tax on oil derived from tar sands, whose extraction leads to more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. He could not have done these things as a government employee, he said.

    Hansen will probably work in a converted barn on his farm in Pennsylvania, but may possibly set up a small institute or take an academic appointment, according to the Times. He will continue to publish papers in academic journals, but will not run the powerful computers and other resources NASA provided for tracking and forecasting global warming and its effects.

    Raised in a small town in Iowa, Hansen initially studied the planet Venus, but switched to studying the effect of human greenhouse gas emissions on Earth during the 1970s.

    He was one of the first scientists to raise alarm about global warming and its effects on climate and the environment. After testifying at a Congressional committee in 1988 that man-made global warming has begun, Hansen was quoted widely as saying, "It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here."

    Hansed joined NASA's Goddard Institute as a post-doctoral scholar in 1967 and became a federal employee in 1972. He became director in 1981, and was the longest-serving director in the intistute's history. "He has pushed forward the frontier of our knowledge of Earth's climate system and of the impacts that humanity is having on Earth's climate," Nicholas E. White, director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at Goddard, said in a statement.

    Climate scientists applaud Hansen for leading the predictions of climate change's effects. But some say these predictions were exaggerated. For example, he has said in recent years that vast carbon dioxide emissions might ultimately cause a runaway greenhouse effect like on Venus that would boil the oceans and make Earth uninhabitable, the Times reported. Other scientists say this hasn't happened in the past and that Hansen overstated the risk.

    Hansen was embroiled in a political fight in 2005, when a young political appointee in George W. Bush's administration tried to muzzle Hansen in the press. But Hansen revealed this to the public in an interview reported by the Times, and the administration lifted its restrictions.

    Despite his environmentalist stance, Hansen has also criticized the environmentalist movement. He strongly opposed a failed climate bill in 2009, because he said it would have given the federal government billions of dollars without truly limiting emissions.

    Hansen, who is registered as an independent, believes carbon dioxide emissions should be taxed, but that the money should be returned to the public as a rebate, instead of going to the goverment.

    Hansen told the Times he senses a mass movement on climate change is beginning, led by young people, which he plans to support.

    Follow Tanya Lewis 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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    Thinkstock

    PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (AP) - A tiny Samoa airline is offering a new reason to drop extra weight before your next trip: Tickets sold not by the seat, but by kilogram.

    Samoa Air planned on Wednesday to start pricing its first international flights based on the weight of its passengers and their bags. Depending on the flight, each kilogram (2.2 pounds) costs 93 cents to $1.06.

    That means the average American man weighing 195 pounds with a 35 pound bag would pay $97 to go one-way between Apia, Samoa, and Pago Pago, American Samoa. Competitors typically charge $130 to $140 roundtrip for similar routes.

    The weight-based pricing is not new to the airline, which launched in June. It has been using the pricing model since November, but in January the U.S. Department of Transportation approved its international route between American Samoa and Samoa.

    The airline's chief executive, Chris Langton, said Tuesday that "planes are run by weight and not by seat, and travelers should be educated on this important issue. The plane can only carry a certain amount of weight and that weight needs to be paid. There is no other way."

    Travelers in the region already are weighed before they fly because the planes used between the islands are small, said David Vaeafe, executive director of the American Samoa Visitors Bureau. Samoa Air's fleet includes two nine-seat planes for commercial routes and a three-seater for an air taxi service.

    Langton said passengers who need more room will be given one row on the plane to ensure comfort.

    The new pricing system would make Samoa Air the first to charge strictly by weight, a change that Vaeafe said is, "in many ways... a fair concept for passengers."

    "For example, a 12- or 13-year-old passenger, who is small in size and weight, won't have to pay an adult fare, based on airline fares that anyone 12 years and older does pay the adult fare," he said.

    Vaeafe said the pricing system has worked in Samoa but it's not clear whether it will be embraced by travelers in the U.S. territory.

    Langton said the airline has received mixed responses from overseas travelers since it began promoting the pricing on its website and Facebook page.

    Ana Faapouli, an American Samoa resident who frequently travels to Samoa, said the pricing scheme will likely be profitable for Samoa Air.

    "Samoa Air is smart enough to find ways to benefit from this service as they will be competing against two other airlines," Faapouli said.

    Pago Pago-based Inter Island Airways and Polynesian Airlines, which is owned by the Samoa government, also run flights between the country and American Samoa.

     

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    Cars and garbage containers lay piled up after flash flooding caused damage overnight in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Leonardo Zavattaro, Telam)

    BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - Torrential rains in Argentina's capital triggered flooding responsible for at least five deaths on Tuesday.

    A record 6.1 inches of rain fell in just two hours in Buenos Aires. That's equal to all of the normal rainfall for April. The storm caused power outages, flooded subway lines and turned the streets into rivers.

    "This amount of water is extraordinary," said Daniel Russo, head of Buenos Aires' civil defense. "We have streets that normally flood, but there are some places where we never had recorded flooding before."

    The rain broke a record of 142 millimeters that fell over two hours on April 8, 1989, said the Buenos Aires Central Observatory, which tracks data since 1906.

    Emergency officials asked people to stay at home after a subway worker died when he was electrocuted after stepping on wet railway lines and after three men and a woman drowned to death.

    Service on a subway line has been interrupted, and trains on other lines are delayed. Officials are asking people to avoid driving to prevent accidents.

    The Argentine National Metereological Service expects more storms Tuesday in Buenos Aires and says heavy rains will continue until Friday.

     

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    (AP Photo)

    HONOLULU (AP) - People in Hawaii are donning sweaters and long-sleeve shirts as winds from the north send temperatures to record lows.

    The temperature at Honolulu International Airport dropped to 61 degrees Tuesday, below the date's previous record of 62 degrees set in 2002.

    The lowest temperature ever recorded in Honolulu is 52 degrees, marked on Jan. 20, 1969.

    It's also cold on the Big Island, where thousands are gathering this week for the annual Merrie Monarch Festival celebrating hula and Hawaiian culture.

    Temperatures dipped to 58 degrees at Hilo Airport on Tuesday, lower than the previous record of 60 degrees set in 1953.

    Hilo hit an all-time-low of 53 degrees on Feb. 21, 1962.

    National Weather Service forecaster Ian Morrison says temperatures will warm slightly as the usual east-northeast trade winds return.

     

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    An enormous twister churned through the Texas Panhandle on April 1, after forming a few miles west of Caprock Canyons State Park. Watch around 1:00, when the massive funnel begins to change shape and twist sideways.

     

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    Snow covering the Lake Michigan area on April 2, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

    Although spring has arrived, it may not feel that way for many in the United States and Canada who have had to put up with unusually cold temperatures.

    Last month was a chilly one, ranking as the second-coldest March in the continental United States since 2000, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The average temperature across the United States this March was also 13 degrees Fahrenheit lower than in March 2012, and a late-winter blizzard broke snowfall records in many areas.

    So, why has it been so cold?

    The culprit is a stubborn, stationary mass of warm air over Greenland and the North Atlantic that has blocked the normal flow of air from west to east and south to north, said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the NWS' Storm Prediction Center. This flow of air, known as the jet stream, usually brings more warm air from the South as the Northern Hemisphere begins to heat up in the spring.

    Obstinate air masses

    This March, however, the mass of warm air - a high-pressure system that repels incoming weather systems - has redirected air currents and created a pattern of winds coming from the Northwest, blasting the eastern two-thirds of the United States with Arctic air, Carbin said.

    "This obstinate mass of warm air over Greenland has redirected air currents like a rock in a stream," Carbin said.

    However, the spring season hasn't been cold everywhere. In fact, the southwestern United States has been warmer than average, as the region has been unaffected by the blocking system in the North Atlantic, said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and science writer with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

    Due, in part, to the cold, there have been fewer than 20 tornadoes in the United States this March, Carbin said. On average, March will see 76 twisters across the United States. Tornadoes depend on warm, moist air, which was scarce this past March, Carbin added. [Infographic: Tornado! How, When & Where Twisters Form]

    Climate change?

    Some research has suggested a link between a retreat of Arctic sea ice in a warming world and these high-pressure blocking systems, Carbin said.

    As cold as March seemed, it was only the 59th coldest March since 1871, according to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog. In other words, the month's frigid temperatures do not disprove the observation that the world is heating up - and climate change could be playing a role in the development of the high-pressure system that has fueled the unusually cool month, Carbin said.

    This March's temperatures contrasted sharply with those seen in March 2012, which was the warmest March on record. In 2012, a mass of hot air developed over the middle of the country, causing unusually high temperatures and fueling an outbreak of tornadoes.

    "They were almost like - no pun intended - polar opposites," Henson said.

    The cold will not stick around forever, though, Carbin said. the high-pressure blocking system over Greenland is already beginning to weaken and looks likely to dissipate by the beginning of next week (April 7). This will bring temperatures back into the average range, he said - which means it may finally start to feel like spring.

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

    6 Signs That Spring Has Sprung
    Season to Season: Earth's Equinoxes & Solstices (Infographic)
    Weirdo Weather: 7 Rare Weather Events

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

     

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    A potent storm system developing in the Gulf of Mexico will spread heavy rain, thunderstorms and the risk for flooding and severe weather to much of the Southeast on Thursday.

    Some locations with the greatest potential for dangerous severe thunderstorms include Tallahassee, Panama City, Lake City, Gainesville, Ocala, Jacksonville and Tampa, to name a few.

    Severe storms could even make it as far north as Dothan in Alabama and Valdosta in Georgia.
    The thunderstorms on Thursday will be part of the same storm system that spawned severe weather across Texas on Tuesday and Tuesday night.

    In Houston, the thunderstorms produced a 63-mph wind gust downtown near the Texas Medical Center. As the storms plowed eastward, they produced hen egg-sized hail and nearly 3.00 inches of rain in Galveston.

    The biggest impact from the thunderstorms on Thursday will come in the form of hail as large as ping-pong balls or even golf balls. Hail of this size can damage vegetation and crack windshields.

    Damaging winds will also be a major concern with these storms as they blast through the region. In a few isolated locations, winds could gust as high as 60 mph, which could down trees and power poles.

    Farther to the north, a soaking rain will drench areas from eastern Alabama across Georgia into much of the Carolinas.

    Rainfall in these areas will average generally around 0.50-1.50 inches. While this isn't enough to cause major flooding, there will be some urban and poor drainage flooding in areas such as Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, Ga.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Spring Severe Weather Outlook
    AccuWeather Severe Weather Center
    April Snow Possible for Northeast Friday


    The rain will push into eastern North Carolina and eastern Virginia by Thursday night, where much heavier rainfall is possible.

    Rainfall amounts will reach up to 2.00 to 3.00 inches across areas like Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Norfolk, Va.

    This amount of rain has a better possibility of causing flooding of smaller creeks and streams, as well as low-lying areas.

    If you will be out and about or vacationing along the coasts of Florida, keep a close eye on the sky. Thunderstorms will move quickly, and you should take shelter at the first hint of threatening weather.

    Remember, lightning is one of Mother Nature's number one killers, and if you are close enough to a storm to hear thunder, you are close enough to be stuck by lightning.

    The storms will clear the Southeast by Friday afternoon, and pleasant, sunny weather moves in just in time for the weekend.

     

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    A major storm is likely to impact a million square miles over the Plains and West with areas of rain, snow and severe weather next week.

    As a large storm begins to spread rain across the South this week, a new and even larger storm is forecast to impact parts of the West beginning this weekend and continuing into the middle of next week with significant moisture for some very needy areas.

    The pattern of chilly air in parts of the East and warmth in the West is about to flip long enough to allow a large storm to roll in from the Pacific with moisture and potentially tap Gulf of Mexico moisture.

    The storm would begin to gather moisture and strength over the weekend and would reach its peak during the first part of next week.

    In addition to impacting the Northwest, areas of low-elevation rain and high-elevation snow could reach building drought areas of Wyoming, Colorado, southern Montana, Utah, Nevada and southern Idaho.

    There is the potential that drenching rain could even reach across parts of big drought areas of Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas next week.

    Like many storms in the West, the greatly diverse terrain will play a role on enhancing the precipitation in some areas and diminishing it in others.

    Where winds are blowing uphill and Gulf of Mexico moisture gets involved, such as the eastern slopes of the Rockies and parts of the High Plains, there is the potential for an inch of rain or more.

    Enough cold air could arrive on the scene to make for a heavy snowfall instead of rain over portions of the Plains of Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle as well as the Black Hills area.

    RELATED:
    South Getting Needed Rain This Week
    Slight Chance of Snow in Northeast Friday
    March 2013 Versus March 2012


    It will be cold enough for snow at pass level in California. The question is how much moisture is available for the storm this far southwest.

    Significant rain and high-elevation snow could reach northern Arizona and New Mexico.

    Large Severe Weather Outbreak Possible Next Week

    With almost every large storm, benefits could be outweighed by problems and risks to lives and property in other locations.

    Just as the storm has the potential to bring significant rainfall to needy places in the West and parts of the Plains, it could also unleash violent thunderstorms. The most likely area for this initially is portions of Texas and Oklahoma to perhaps southern Kansas and Missouri.

    However, the potential for dangerous and damaging storms would extend farther east into Dixie as next week progresses.

    The nature of the severe weather event (tornadoes versus straight-line winds) has yet to be determined over Texas, the southern Plains and the South.

    Early on, as the storm takes shape and cooler air drives southward into the Southwest, gusty winds and thunderstorms with hail are likely to erupt from portions of California to Nevada late in the weekend, spreading to Arizona and New Mexico early next week.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Astronaut Chris Hadfield brushes his teeth in space. (YouTube)

    Dear Commander Hadfield,

    I laughed out loud within the first 10 seconds of that video of you brushing your teeth in space. You take the toothbrush out of your pocket and say, "Standard toothbrush, nothing magical there," but when you release it, the purple toothbrush hangs in the air in a slow spin.

    "Nothing magical there." I disagree. Without gravity, everything seems magical to the earthbound. Just for grins, I went into the bathroom and picked up my own toothbrush. When I let go of it, it fell into the sink.

    Also, I watched your Nail Clipping in Space video. Yes, I watched you clipping your nails for nearly two minutes, proving that there is almost nothing you can do that I won't watch, enraptured. I hate nail clipping: I'm always grateful when summer weather arrives so my husband can go out to the backyard to do this task, so crazy does it make me. And I watched you add water to a packet of spinach as though I had never seen anyone prepare food before.

    There's a toothbrush in my bathroom and spinach in my fridge and somewhere, there's a nail clipper that I want to relegate to the backyard. But these things, I pay them no mind. I just mechanically brush my teeth, and sometimes, when I'm lazy or tired, I mechanically cook dinner. It's all mundane and normal stuff. In my case, there's truly nothing magical there.

    I don't think of myself as a clumsy, unobservant person. I notice the hummingbird at the feeder outside my office window, and the sparkly manicure on the girl across from me on the bus. At the mall, I see the shopkeepers so deep in conversation that they would not notice if a customer walked into their store. I'm good at seeing things, but I don't know that I bring that kind of attention to doing things. I understand that this must be a requirement of life in the International Space Station, where attention to detail is critical not just for science, but also for staying alive. It's your willingness to share these smaller details that makes me think.

    How much better a person would I be if I were able to bring your obvious joy and amusement to all these small tasks? How much better would my work be if I treated everything I do as though it were worth watching? Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that watching me brush my teeth is utterly fascinating. But what if I gave more of the small activities in my day the kind of attention I give to the things that seem big? I'm unlikely to get the better of gravity any time soon, but finding some magic in something as insignificant as cooking a package of spinach? That seems a little more possible now.

    Your gravity-bound admirer,
    Pam Mandel
    @nerdseyeview

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Amazing Photos of the International Space Station
    International Space Station, Shuttle

     

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    This image provided by the European Space Agency ESA on Wednesday April 3, 2013 shows the International Space Station in the sunlight. (AP Photo/NASA/European Space Agency ESA. Keystone)

    GENEVA (AP) - It is one of the cosmos' most mysterious unsolved cases: dark matter. It is supposedly what holds the universe together. We can't see it, but scientists are pretty sure it's out there.

    Led by a dogged, Nobel Prize-winning gumshoe who has spent 18 years on the case, scientists put a $2 billion detector aboard the International Space Station to try to track down the stuff. And after two years, the first evidence came in Wednesday: tantalizing cosmic footprints that seem to have been left by dark matter.

    But the evidence isn't enough to declare the case closed. The footprints could have come from another, more conventional suspect: a pulsar, or a rotating, radiation-emitting star.

    The Sam Spade in the investigation, physicist and Nobel laureate Sam Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he expects a more definitive answer in a matter of months. He confidently promised: "There is no question we're going to solve this problem."

    "It's a tantalizing hint," said California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll, who was not part of the team. "It's a sign of something." But he can't quite say what that something is. It doesn't eliminate the other suspect, pulsars, he added.

    The results from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS, are significant because dark matter is thought to make up about a quarter of all the matter in the universe.

    "We live in a sea of dark matter," said Michael Salamon, who runs the AMS program for the U.S. Energy Department. Unraveling the mystery of dark matter could help scientists better understand the composition of our universe and, more particularly, what holds galaxies together.

    Ting announced the findings in Geneva at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the particle physics laboratory known as CERN.

    The 7-ton detector with a 3-foot magnet ring at its core was sent into space in 2011 in a shuttle mission commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly while his wife, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. The device is transmitting its data to CERN, where it is being analyzed.

    For 80 years scientists have theorized the existence of dark matter but have never actually observed it directly. They have looked for it in accelerators that smash particles together at high speed. No luck. They've looked deep underground with special detectors. Again no luck.

    Then there's a third way: looking in space for the results of rare dark matter collisions. If particles of dark matter crash and annihilate each other, they should leave a footprint of positrons - the anti-matter version of electrons - at high energy levels. That's what Ting and AMS are looking for.

    They found some. But they could also be signs of pulsars, Ting and others concede. What's key is the curve of the plot of those positrons. If the curve is one shape, it points to dark matter. If it's another, it points to pulsars. Ting said they should know the curve - and the suspect - soon.

    The instrument will be measuring cosmic rays, where the footprints are found, until 2020 or so.

    Other scientists praised the results and looked forward to more.

    "This is an 80-year-old detective story and we are getting close to the end," said University of Chicago physicist Michael Turner, one of the giants in the field of dark matter. "This is a tantalizing clue and further results from AMS could finish the story."

     

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    Extent of surface melt over Greenland's ice sheet on July 8 (left) and July 12 (right) based on data from three satellites. (Light pink: probable melt, meaning at least one satellite showed melt; dark pink: melt, meaning two to three satellites. (Source: Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory)

    The culprit behind the record-shattering level of ice melting in Greenland in 2012 may have been low, thin clouds, new research suggests.

    These novel findings, detailed in the April 4 issue of the journal Nature, may help answer climate mysteries elsewhere in the Arctic, the researchers said.

    If the sheet of ice covering Greenland were to completely melt, such destruction of 720,000 cubic miles (3 million cubic kilometers) of ice would raise global sea levels by 24 feet (7.3 meters). In summer 2012, Greenland saw an extraordinarily large amount of melting across nearly its entire ice sheet. In fact, it was the largest ice melt seen in Greenland since scientists began tracking melt rates there in 1979. Ice-core records suggest melting events so extreme have only happened once every 150 years or so over the past 4,000 years.

    "The July 2012 event was triggered by an influx of unusually warm air, but that was only one factor," said study researcher Dave Turner, a physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Severe Storms Laboratory. "We show that low-level clouds were instrumental in pushing temperatures up above freezing."

    Thin clouds

    Turner and his colleagues discovered the role these clouds played by analyzing temperature data from the ICECAPS experiment run at Summit Station atop the Greenland Ice Sheet at about 10,500 feet (3,200 m) above sea level. Melting occurred even all the way up there on July 11, 2012. [Images of Melt: Earth's Vanishing Ice]

    The idea that low clouds might help melt ice might seem mistaken at first, since they usually reflect solar energy back into space. (Cloudy days tend to be cooler than sunny ones.) However, the research team's computer models suggest these clouds can be both thin enough to allow sunlight to pass through to heat the surface and thick enough to trap thermal radiation emitted upward by the surface. (This thermal radiation is a form of light but comes in longer wavelengths than visible light and is invisible to the human eye. The Earth's surface absorbs the sun's rays and then re-emits this thermal radiation.)

    Climate models often underestimate the occurrence of these clouds, thus limiting their ability to predict Arctic climate change and other phenomena. This new research suggests this kind of cloud is present about 30 percent to 50 percent of the time over both Greenland and across the Arctic, said Ralf Bennartz, lead author of the study and an atmospheric physicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    More observations needed

    "A very narrow range of cloud thickness allows for amplification of surface warming," Bennartz told OurAmazingPlanet. "This shows how well we have to understand individual components of the climate system, such as clouds, in order to accurately understand the system as a whole."

    More observations are key to a better understanding of these components, he added.

    "We need to continue detailed observational studies at Summit Station in Greenland in order to better understand processes leading to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and help improve the representation of these processes in global climate models," Bennartz said.

    Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and 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.

     

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    April 3, 2013

    In this Jan. 31, 2013, photo, damaged houses sit vacant in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a neighborhood that was hit hard by floodwaters from a levee break after Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal investigators said Wednesday that as much as $700 million in federal aid intended to help some 24,000 Louisiana families elevate their homes after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 may have been misspent.

    A report by the Housing and Urban Development Department's inspector general said some homeowners who got grants of up to $30,000 used the money for something else, and that others didn't provide sufficient documents to state officials to show that the work was done.

    "The state did not have conclusive evidence" that $698.5 million in disaster recovery aid was used to elevate homes, the auditors wrote.

    In response, HUD officials said the state is responsible for making sure the money was spent properly. But after seeing similar results in previous audits, department officials helped Congress put tighter reins on the program in distributing aid to victims of last fall's Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast.

    "In the years since Hurricane Katrina, HUD has already implemented a number of the recommendations made by the inspector general, including additional controls to ensure recovery funds are used appropriately," department spokesman Jason Kravitz said.

    He said the Obama administration fought for wording to be included in the Sandy aid measure to require enhanced reviews and internal controls on all money made available by HUD and other agencies for superstorm relief and recovery.

    President Barack Obama in January signed the $50.5 billion measure, which Congress approved the measure despite opposition from conservatives. They said there should have been more time to debate such a large spending bill and to provide tighter spending controls.

    "I commend HUD for discovering that millions of dollars that were intended to elevate homes along the Gulf Coast were either pocketed or squandered," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a frequent critic of government spending. "As the federal government prepares to spend nearly $16 billion on recovery efforts related to Sandy this is a mistake taxpayers, and citizens affected by the storm, can't afford to see repeated."

    The measure was aimed primarily at helping residents and businesses as well as state and local governments rebuild from the storm.

    The biggest chunk of money in the Sandy bill was $16 billion for HUD community block grants. Of that, about $12.1 billion will be shared among Sandy victims as well as those from other federally declared disasters in 2011-13. The remaining $3.9 billion was solely for Sandy-related projects.

    Those grants can pay for rebuilding roads and hospitals, other public works projects, helping small businesses reopen, restoring utilities and providing rental subsidies. The grants are popular with state and local governments because of their flexibility on how the money is spent.

    Louisiana Office of Community Development Executive Director Pat Forbes said the state is working to get the homeowners to document their compliance with the program. Forbes said that since August 31, 2012, which is when HUD's data was collected, more than 5,000 homeowners have done so.

    "We are working aggressively with HUD to get the remaining 19,000 homeowners in compliance," Forbes said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Katrina
    Hurricane Katrina, Superdome, New Orleans

     

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    Tug boats maneuver around the Carnival cruise ship Triumph on the east side of the Mobile River after becoming dislodged from its mooring during high winds Wednesday, April 3, 2013 in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Bill Starling)

    MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Authorities were searching for a shipyard worker who was thrown into the water in strong winds that also tore a troubled Carnival cruise ship away from its mooring at an Alabama port.

    The man was one of two people in a guard shack that blew into the water Wednesday at the shipyard in downtown Mobile, Ala., where the 900-foot Carnival Triumph had been moored for repairs after being stranded off the coast of Mexico for five days in February.

    A second worker was rescued, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said. Aside from the weather, the two incidents were unrelated, the Coast Guard said. Both men work for BAE Systems, which runs the shipyard.

    Authorities are unsure of how deep the water is where the men fell in, but Carnival Cruise Lines said on its website that its ship-repairing operation is adjacent to a 42-foot, deep-ship channel.

    "The search continues for the second pier worker," Carnival said in a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday night. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the missing shipyard employee and the family."

    The Triumph was at the dock for repairs after a February engine fire that left the ship adrift without power for five days, subjecting thousands of passengers and crew to horrendous conditions including food shortages and raw sewage running in corridors.

    On Wednesday, the ship was pulled loose from the dock in near-hurricane-force winds, then lumbered downriver and crunched into a cargo ship. It drifted for a couple of hours before being secured about 5 p.m. and moved to the Mobile Cruise Terminal, Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said.

    A 20-foot gash about 2 to 3 feet wide was visible about halfway up the hull from the water and it wrapped partway around the stern. Underneath the gashed area, two levels of railing were dangling and broken. Electric cables that had been plugged in on shore were dangling from the port side of the ship.

    Carnival said all 600 of its crew members and 200 contractors who were working aboard the vessel during the repairs were safe. On Wednesday, people could be seen on the deck of the ship and looking out the windows.

    The pier where the ship was docked wasn't damaged but one adjacent to it was when the ship bumped into it, said BAE spokesman John Measell.
    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    A man wades through a flooded street in La Plata, in Argentina's Buenos Aires province, Wednesday, April 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

    LA PLATA, Argentina (AP) - At least 52 people drowned in their homes and cars, were electrocuted or died in other accidents as flooding from days of torrential rains swamped Argentina's low-lying capital and province of Buenos Aires.

    At least 46 died Wednesday in and around the city of La Plata, Gov. Daniel Scioli said. Six deaths were reported a day earlier in the nation's capital.

    Many people climbed onto their roofs in the pouring rain after storm sewers backed up. Water surged up through drains in their kitchen and bathroom floors, and then poured in over their windowsills.

    "It started to rain really hard in the evening, and began to flood," said Augustina Garcia Orsi, a 25-year-old student. "I panicked. In two seconds, I was up to my knees in water. It came up through the drains - I couldn't do anything."

    The rains also flooded the country's largest refinery, causing a fire that took hours to put out. The La Plata refinery suspended operations as a result, and Argentina's YPF oil company said an emergency team was evaluating how to get it restarted.

    "Such intense rain in so little time has left many people trapped in their cars, in the streets, in some cases electrocuted. We are giving priority to rescuing people who have been stuck in trees or on the roofs of their homes," Scioli said.

    But many complained that they had to rescue themselves and their neighbors as cars flooded to their rooftops and homes filled with up to six feet of water.

    "We lost family heirlooms, appliances, clothing," said Natalia Lescano, who escaped with her family to a friend's house on higher ground.

    President Cristina Fernandez arrived by helicopter in Tolosa, a La Plata neighborhood where she grew up and where her mother was among those evacuated. She announced security measures to combat vandalism, help for identifying the dead, and three days of national mourning for the victims.

    She was then was surrounded by her mother's neighbors, in a rare uncontrolled encounter with everyday citizens. Some hugged and thanked her. Others complained angrily and shouted at her to "go away."

    "It's a disgrace," Miguel Garcia, a 58-year-old shopkeeper, said earlier. "They need to govern. My mother-in-law is disabled. We had to carry her up to the roof, and then we had to rescue ourselves because no ambulance would come."

    The coast guard finally reached the Bozzano family on their rooftop an hour before dawn. By then, their car had floated away and everything inside the house was destroyed.

    "We were trapped inside the house and couldn't get out because of the water pressure. Finally we were able to open a door and escaped to the roof. That's where we spent the night," Mauricio Bozzano said.

    The heaviest rain - almost 16 inches in just a few hours, beating historical records for the entire month of April - hit provincial La Plata overnight. A day earlier, the capital of Buenos Aires was hit hardest.

    About four more inches of rain were expected before the bad weather passes on Thursday, the national weather service said.

    At least 2,500 people were evacuated from their homes to about 20 centers in the La Plata area, which is about 37 miles southeast of Argentina's capital.

    The flooding threatened to ruin food supplies across La Plata's metropolitan area, which has nearly 1 million people.

    It also closed the private Spanish Hospital, a complex that covers an entire city block, after waters rushed into the basement, cutting power and destroying X-ray machines and other diagnostic equipment.

    "We're sending away all the patients and the hospital will be closed for several days," said Sebastian Sambron, one of the hospital's top officials. "We're telephonically cut off, and without power since last night. The hospital is collapsed."

    National Planning Minister Julio de Vido estimated that 280,000 people remained without power across the city and surrounding province of Buenos Aires, where most Argentines live.

    "Our job is focused on restoring service, but we're going to wait until the equipment dries to guarantee the safety of the electricity workers, because we don't want any deaths," De Vido said.

    YPF said no injuries were caused by the refinery fire, which it blamed on "an extraordinary accumulation of rainwater and power outages in the entire refinery complex." The impact on Argentina's chronically short fuel supplies wasn't immediately clear.

    The six killed in Buenos Aires included a subway worker who was electrocuted and an elderly woman who drowned inside her home. Many evacuees slept in their cars overnight, and still had standing water in basements, parking lots and storage rooms.

    The governments of Fernandez and Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri sought to blame each other for the chaos, and the nation's divided media focused their coverage in ways that put one side or the other in the worst light.

    Macri said Wednesday that the only solution is for the constantly warring governments to work together on expensive and long-term public works projects, creating huge underground drainage pipes to carry increasingly common torrential rains out to the Rio de la Plata.

    "Facing the magnitude of what we've lived through, I insist that public works are what will change this story," Macri said, describing one such project that was achieved through regional cooperation and a World Bank loan - the kind of borrowing that Fernandez has sought to avoid.

    "We need to do the same with all the waterworks that are needed in the city, in greater Buenos Aires and in the province of Buenos Aires," Macri said.
    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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  • 04/04/13--01:37: Where Are All the Tornadoes?

  • Tornado damage in Henryville, Ind., after a tornado swept through the small community on March 2, 2012. (Credit: Michael Raphael/FEMA)

    March is typically when tornado season ramps up, with spring's unstable weather giving rise to thunderstorms and twisters. But this year has been relatively quiet so far.

    By early April 2012, there had been 290 tornadoes, including 60 tornado-related deaths. But this year, there have only been about 137 reported twisters, resulting in two fatalities, National Weather Service (NWS) records show.

    So why so few twisters? The main reason is that, so far, it has been a colder-than-average spring and late winter, at least for much of the central and eastern United States, which is where most of the country's tornadoes occur. This can be blamed largely on a stationary mass of warm air over Greenland and the North Atlantic that has blocked the normal flow of air from west to east and south to north, Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the NWS' Storm Prediction Center, previously told OurAmazingPlanet. This flow of air, known as the jet stream, usually brings more warm, moist air from the south as the Northern Hemisphere begins to heat up in the spring.

    Instead, winds have predominated from the north, bathing the eastern two-thirds of the United States in Arctic air. This tamps down the formation of tornadoes, which depend on muggy air to fuel their creation and destructive power, Carbin said. [Infographic: Tornado! How, When & Where Twisters Form]

    Tale of two Marches

    A comparison with last year is somewhat incomplete, since 2012's tornado season got off to a roaring start, thanks to plenty of moist, warm air brought north from the Gulf of Mexico, which helped fuel the month's 154 tornadoes, a cluster of which hit on March 2-3 and were the year's first billion-dollar disaster. March 2012 was the warmest March on record in the United States, according to the NWS.

    The average number of tornadoes for March is 76; this past month, there were only 17 reported, Carbin said. The month was also tied as the second-coldest March since 2000.

    March tornado outbreaks have been deadly throughout the years, killing 40 people in 1994, 64 people in 1984, 58 people in 1966 and 209 people in 1952.

    Super Outbreak anniversary

    This week actually marks the anniversary of the deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history, which occurred on April 3-4, 1974. The Super Outbreak, as it is called, saw 148 twisters touch down in 13 states, killing 330 people.

    Another 5,484 people were injured in a path of destruction that covered more than 2,500 miles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    "Deadly storms such as the 1974 super outbreak can and will happen again," said meteorologist Ken Haydu in a NOAA statement. "The people who experienced the super outbreak have an important story about tornado awareness and preparedness to pass on to later generations."

    Looking into the near future, the cold gripping the eastern United States and lack of extreme weather isn't likely to last. The blocking pattern that has helped lead to cold weather is already weakening, and warmer temperatures are expected early next week as warm air from the Gulf may be allowed to move north. This could also lead to the first significant outbreak of severe weather early next week, Carbin said.

    "It does look like there will probably be more storminess in the middle of the country and we have one system moving across the Midwest on Sunday (April 7), and Monday, that could maybe bring some hail and gusty winds," Carbin said. "And that one perhaps sets the stage for a more substantial outbreak of severe weather perhaps by Tuesday to Wednesday."

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

    The Top 5 Deadliest Tornado Years in U.S. History
    The Tornado Damage Scale In Images
    6 Signs That Spring Has Sprung

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    Scientists work on the ice in the Arctic under a midnight sun. (Credit: Jeremy Potter NOAA/OAR/OER)


    Large swaths of the Arctic tundra will be warm enough to support lush vegetation and trees by 2050, suggests a new study.

    Higher temperatures will lessen snow cover, according to the study, which is detailed in the March 31 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change. That, in turn, will decrease the sunlight reflected back into the atmosphere and increase warming. About half the areas will see vegetation change, and areas currently populated by shrubs may find woody trees taking their place.

    "Substitute the snowy surface with the darker surface of a coniferous tree, and the darker surface stores more heat," said study co-author Pieter Beck, a vegetative ecologist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. "It's going to exacerbate warming."

    Warming Arctic

    The Arctic climate affects the world: Changes in sea ice affect ocean circulation, which, in turn, affects atmospheric circulation that then impacts the globe, said Bruce Forbes, a geographer at the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Finland, who was not involved in the study. [Images of Melt: Earth's Vanishing Ice]

    Past research suggested that warming has already brought later winters and earlier springs to the Arctic. And fossil forests reveal the Arctic was once green as well.

    To find out exactly how much greening Arctic warming would bring, the team used a model that projected how temperature changes would affect snow cover, vegetation, and the increased evaporation and transpiration from plants in the Arctic.

    Transformed tundra

    The team found that at least half of the tundra would see changes in the plant types it supported by 2050. In addition, they found more than a 50 percent increase in how much woody greenery - such as coniferous trees - would populate the Arctic. The tree line would also shift north, with coniferous forests sprouting where shrubs once grew.

    Most of the greening was driven by the loss of reflectivity, or albedo, from snow cover. With less snow to reflect heat back into the atmosphere and more dark trees, the Earth gets warmer, "just like a dark car gets hotter in a warm parking lot than a light car does," Beck told LiveScience.

    That warmth supports more tree and shrub growth, creating a positive feedback cycle to the warming, Beck said.

    Real effect

    The findings match forecasts for Arctic greening predicted by various other methods, and they foreshadow effects that will strike closer to home later, Forbes said.

    "What's happening now in the Arctic is a faster version of what will be happening at lower latitudes," Forbes told LiveScience.

    That could worsen extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy in the future.

    "The snowstorms in Washington, D.C., and New York, and the flooding and the freezing on the River Thames - the extreme weather will continue to be extreme but it won't be so uncommon," Forbes said.

    Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter @tiaghose. Follow LiveScience @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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    Below-normal temperatures could be the culprit for an increase in heating bills across parts of the Northeast and Midwest.

    "The cold isn't over yet," AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Joe Lundberg said.

    Residential customers that heat their homes with natural gas, oil or electric are experiencing a longer heating season this year compared to last. Unfortunately, the cold could potentially last for a few more weeks, according to AccuWeather.com meteorologists.

    The cold air masses could last into the first week of April and potentially into mid-April, Lundberg said.

    These temperatures are below normal for this time of year. Some cities with below-normal temperatures are St. Louis at 6 degrees below normal, New York City at 3 degrees below normal, Chicago at 6 degrees below normal, Fargo at 11 degrees below normal and Denver at 4 degrees below normal.

    "From the East to the Rockies, temperatures have been below normal and will end the season that way," Lundberg said.

    The cold air masses keep creeping into the United States due to a blocking area of high pressure sitting over Greenland. The high restricts the jet stream and pushes cold air into the Southern states. Air masses following along the jet stream are forced to go around the block instead of moving west to east.

    As far as substantial snowfall for major cities, Lundberg said significant snow is about over.

    "By the end of March and April, the atmosphere is really fighting climatology," he said.

    Compared to last year at this time, much of the country had minimal to no snow and temperatures were in the 70s and 80s in most places. For example last March, Chicago experienced an average temperature of 53.5 degrees which was 15.6 degrees above normal.

    This March, the Windy City's average temperature was 32.6, which was 5.3 degrees below normal. For more on March 2013 record temperatures, read "March 2013 Falls Well Short of Last Year's Records."

    West Penn Power, an electric company by FirstEnergy, provides services to six million customers across six states throughout the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions, according to firstenergycorp.com. A West Penn Power Spokesperson Todd Meyers said that a customer who uses 1,000 kilowatts of power for the month of March will roughly pay $81.97, compared to last March's total of $96.87.

    Meyers said that the price of electric might have been more expensive last year due to supply and demand being lower for the seasons of fall and spring.

    The cost of natural gas and fuel is relatively low, according to Meyers, which might be a reason why electric is relatively low this season.

    "Natural gas is a big component not only for driving down costs, but also generation costs dropping," Meyers said.

    Scott Waitleverpch, an Equitable Gas Company spokesperson said that starting April 1 through the end of June, also known as the "Second Quarterly," new prices will be in effect for Equitable gas customers. The Equitable Gas Company serves roughly 275,000 customers and maintains 3,300 miles of natural gas pipeline across southwestern Pennsylvania, north-central West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, according to equitablegas.com.

    A rough estimate of natural gas is $4 Mcf, 1,000 cubic feet, according to Waitleverpch. It is estimated that the natural gas prices will increase by 58 cents on April 1.

    Waitleverpch said this could be due to a longer heating season this year.

    As April progresses and temperatures rise, Waitleverpch doesn't know how much of an impact the higher prices will affect paying customers.

    "From a customer standpoint, I don't know that it means much because as it gets warmer, customers will stop using the product," he said.

    Fred Martin, who works at Satterlee Oil Company, a central Pennsylvania oil company, said that a gallon of heating oil in March is $3.55, compared to last year's $3.61 a gallon.
    Martin said that prices should start to decline by the end of April.

    This winter has been the complete opposite of last year. The weather went from one extreme to another. According to NOAA, last year was the warmest year ever for the U.S. This winter, like Lundberg said, parts of the Northeast and Midwest are experiencing below-normal temperatures for this time of year.

    AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said that the fluctuation of temperatures between last year and this year is not unusual. Spring is a transitional season that consists of a battle between winter and summer. Cold air lingers across the northern tier, while warmer air returns to the South.

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

     

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    The intensity of the flooding from Sandy knocked many homes off their foundations. New flood zone regulations aim to prevent this in the future by recommending homes be lifted as high as 10 feet. Photo/David Defilippis


    Before Superstorm Sandy made landfall on the Jersey coast on Oct. 29, 2012, few realized the intensity of the storm that headed in their direction.

    The National Hurricane Center opted not to issue Hurricane Warnings north of North Carolina, and instead handed the reigns to regional National Weather Service offices.

    Local governments warned the public of the approaching threat, and issued evacuation orders to many towns. While some residents agreed to leave, others resisted, believing that people were 'crying wolf' about the storm.

    Sandy, later dubbed a superstorm, brought wind gusts as high as 78 miles per hour to parts of New Jersey. The total inundation* along the New Jersey Coast ranged from 9 to 13 feet, causing breaching and erosion to sand dunes and resulting in severe flooding to homes and businesses.

    Could the inflicted damage to the coastline have been avoided with advance preparation?

    Daniel Barone of the Coastal Research Center (CRC) at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey has spent years studying the dunes of the Jersey coast. The CRC has completed full assessments of the dunes in Ocean and Atlantic counties.

    "There were plenty of areas that were a cause for concern before Sandy, and still are," Barone said. "Even before the storm, we knew of several places in northern Ocean County and Long Beach Island that would not withstand even a 20-year storm, based on our results."

    Though Barone could not compare New Jersey's level of preparedness to another coastal state, he would say that New Jersey is "one of the most proactive states in the nation in doing beach replenishment projects."

    Beach replenishment projects were implemented in some areas of concern before Sandy, and it prevented a significant amount of damage, Barone said, noting Harvey Cedars, N.J.

    Prior to Harvey Cedars' beach replenishment initiative, the CRC's analysis indicated that there were areas with high potential for breach and overwash in a 50-year storm scenario.

    The initiative sought to restore areas which were considered to be at risk.

    "While some areas did breach and overwash in the southern side of the town, even with the replenishment, the majority of the town was spared the full brunt of Sandy's power from ocean waves," Barone said.

    Harvey Cedars suffered catastrophic damage after the March storm of 1962 due to breaching and overwash. The CRC's assessment data shows that the town was one of the most vulnerable locations on Long Beach Island.

    "Had they not had that project, it is very likely that the town would have sustained far more damages to homes and infrastructure due to ocean waves crossing over land," Barone said.

    Harvey Cedars was only one of many areas along the coast which have worked to decrease its susceptibility. Midway Beach in northern Ocean County and Ship Bottom, N.J., have spent decades trying to naturally increase the size of their dunes, he said.

    "If you look at the before and after aerial images from Sandy, you can see that their efforts paid off," Barone said.


    Many businesses constructed on or along the beach suffered irreparable damage. Demolition was required for those that were no longer structurally sound. Photo/David Defilippis

    While dunes do not eradicate all risk, they have proven effective in many areas. Despite this, some towns have opted not to install the barriers in areas that would see benefit from them.

    "Places like Point Pleasant Beach, in front of their boardwalk, or even in Seaside, they did not have a dune," Barone said. "They had a very wide beach but a wide beach isn't enough in some cases, especially when you have the surge and wave energy that Sandy had."

    The absence of dunes, however, is not due to a lack of awareness from government officials. In some cases, objection has come from oceanfront property owners who cite that the dunes are an eye sore and decrease the value of their homes.

    In mid-January Gov. Chris Christie spoke out against these objections calling them "selfish" and "short-sighted."

    RELATED:
    Sandy-Ravaged Businesses Prepare for Tourism; Residents Fear Public Confusion
    WATCH: The Road to Recovery After Superstorm Sandy

    But, even if dunes were to be installed through the length of Jersey's coast, they will not eradicate the flood risk completely, nor will they be a solution for barrier islands.

    Homes built along the bay are vulnerable from both sides.

    "Back bay flooding from storm surge and astronomically high tides is something that can occur regardless of having a significant beach-dune system to stop ocean waters from crossing an island," Barone explained.

    Now, months Since Sandy wreaked havoc on the coastline, the focus has shifted to the process of rebuilding. Devastation along the coast remains widespread, as business owners and homeowners struggle to make reparations in accordance with new FEMA, insurance and flood zone regulations.

    For some flood zones, in accordance with recent changes, FEMA has proposed raising homes as high as 10 feet.

    Many buildings on the coast have sustained severe flood damage to the first level of their homes. This regulation would eliminate the need to gut and rebuild an entire first floor should another major flooding event occur.

    New regulations are designed to decrease the town's susceptibility to future natural disasters, but will result in significantly higher costs to rebuild for business and homeowners.

    "Residents should mimic the storm surge from Sandy, and they should build as if that storm surge could happen again tomorrow," AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said.

    "That would be the smart thing to do, and actually that would be the most economical thing to do. Even if something doesn't happen in the next five to 10 years, 15 years from now it could still happen."

    But, the argument exists that a storm of this intensity will not occur again for many years, if ever. Some have begun to refer to it as the "perfect storm."

    In some ways, it was, according to James Franklin, Branch Chief for the National Hurricane Center's Hurricane Specialist Unit.

    "It was a perfect storm in the sense that you had just the wrong steering flow coupled with very strong extratropical forcing that led to a large cyclone of hurricane strength plowing directly onshore into an area that normally gets glancing blows," Franklin said. "But if it happened once it clearly can happen again, even if it's very unlikely."

    The likelihood of a recurrence of this magnitude remains debatable in the scientific community. Some uphold that this scenario does, in fact, hold a 1 percent chance of recurrence, but others insist that changing environmental factors could increase the coast's susceptibility.

    "With global sea level rise predictions estimating 2 to 4 feet over the next century, we need to start being proactive as opposed to reactive," Barone said.

    "They need to plan for the future. You can't just kick the can down the road."

    A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States is a "hot spot" for sea level rise, and that water levels in this area could be three to four times higher than the global average.

    This rise in sea level could "increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration," according to the report.

    Experts agree that regardless of the likelihood of another superstorm, advance preparation will pay off in the long run.

    "Raising properties above flood elevations and improving infrastructure as well as ways to manage storm waters is going to be essential for sustainability of these communities in the future, in addition to maintaining beaches," Barone said.

    "If these places are not maintained, there is potential for them to become inundated in the future and drown in place."

    *Total inundation refers to the total height of the water during a storm. This would include storm surge, tides and any other factors that would cause water levels to rise.

     

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