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SKYE on AOL

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    April 4, 2013

    This satellite image taken Tuesday, Oct. 30, shows post-tropical storm Sandy off the East Coast of the US. (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - Responding to criticism after Superstorm Sandy, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday it would change the way it warns people about tropical storms that morph into something else.

    At the height of Sandy, as the hurricane knocked on the Northeast coast, forecasters at the center stopped issuing advisories and warnings because the storm merged with two cold-weather systems, lost its tropical characteristics and mutated into a hybrid megastorm.

    Sandy lost the hurricane part of its name and the prestige that comes with the hurricane center's constant attention and reliable forecasts, and some people said that caused Northeast residents to underestimate its danger.

    Under the new policy, the hurricane center in Miami will continue to put out warnings and advisories if a storm threatens people and land, even if a hurricane or tropical storm loses its name and becomes something different.

    "Our forecasters now have more flexibility to effectively communicate the threat posed by transitioning tropical systems," said Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service, which is part of the National Hurricane Center. "Sandy's forecast was remarkably accurate and under a similar situation in the future, forecasters will be able to choose the best option to underscore the urgency involved."

    From Maryland to New Hampshire, the hurricane center attributed 72 deaths in the U.S. directly to Sandy, though some estimates were higher. It was the most deaths in the northeastern U.S. since Hurricane Agnes killed 122 people in 1972, according to the center's records, which date back to 1851.

    The hurricane center counted at least 87 other deaths that were indirectly tied to Sandy, from causes such as hypothermia due to power outages, carbon monoxide poisoning and accidents during cleanup efforts.

    Sandy threatened 60 million Americans in the eastern third of the nation when it brought high winds, drenching rains, extreme tides, flooding and even heavy snow. It wiped out entire neighborhoods, inflicting the worst of its fury on New Jersey and New York, and was one of the nation's costliest natural disasters.

    In a February report on Sandy, the hurricane center noted the unprecedented warning challenges Sandy posed due to its massive size and the expectation that it would lose its hurricane status before landfall.

    Forecasters didn't have a system ready to issue post-tropical advisories and faced unacceptable options that would have caused widespread confusion and damaged forecasters' credibility, according to the report. So, on Oct. 29 at 11 p.m., the hurricane center issued its last advisory on the Sandy, which was still packing hurricane-force winds. The center said the next advisory would come from the National Weather Service's hydrometeorological prediction center, a lesser known entity.

    The new policy change was first proposed during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane conference in November. It reflects a post-Sandy collaboration between meteorologists and emergency managers, said Rick Knabb, the hurricane center's director.

    A hurricane warning is issued when tropical storm force winds are expected in a coastal area within 36 hours. A hurricane watch is issued when those winds are possible within 48 hours.

    Similar watches and warnings also are issued for tropical storms, which have sustained winds between 39 mph and 73 mph. Hurricanes have winds of 74 mph or higher.

    The six-month Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy
    Superstorm Sandy, Lighthouse

     

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    Photographer Bruce W. Berry Jr. stitched together time-lapse sequences taken by astronauts onboard the International Space Station to make this stunning HD video. From flashes of lightning to the glowing green aurora, the time-lapse reveals amazing views of Earth captured as the ISS orbits the planet.

    (via 5 Things I Learned Today)

     

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    Thinkstock

    Walkers who feel as though they are way down on the exercise chain can now hold their heads a little higher. When it comes to lowering risk factors for heart disease, walking is just as good as running, according to a new study.

    After six years of following a large pool of runners and walkers, researchers found that running lowered the risk of developing hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure) by 4.2 percent, high cholesterol by 4.3 percent and diabetes by 12.1 percent.

    But walking was also found to have similar results, lowering the risk of high blood pressure by 7.2 percent, high cholesterol by 7 percent and diabetes by 12.3 percent.

    Running also reduced the risk of developing coronary heart disease by 4.5 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for walking. However, the small number of coronary heart disease cases in the study made it difficult to determine if walking and running caused similar reductions in risk, the researchers said.

    Researchers analyzed the exercise habits of 33,060 runners enrolled in the National Runners' Health Study and 15,045 walkers participating in the National Walkers' Health Study. Participants' ages ranged from 18 to 80, though most were in their 40s and 50s. Men represented 21 percent of the walkers and 51.4 percent of the runners.

    At the study's start, the researchers assessed the amount of physical activity performed by each runner and walker - using distance, rather than time, as a gauge - and calculated the amount of energy each person expended. To calculate energy expenditure, which correlates with intensity, the researchers used a measure called metabolic equivalent, or MET.

    One MET is equivalent to the energy expended while quietly sitting. Walking slowly, at 2 mph, is the equivalent of about two METs, walking briskly at 3 mph is the equivalent of 3.3 METs and running at 8 mph is the equivalent of 13.5 METs, according to Harvard Medical School. Activities that expend fewer than 3 METs are considered light, activities that expend 3 to 6 METs are considered moderate and activities that expend more than 6 METs are considered vigorous, the researchers wrote.

    To determine how running and walking affected heart health, researchers looked at each person's energy expenditure and whether a physician diagnosed them with hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and coronary heart disease during the study.

    They found that walkers and runners who expended the same amount of energy "have pretty much equal benefits for major heart-disease risk factors," said study researcher Paul T. Williams, a principal investigator at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

    In other words, someone who walked at a moderate pace enjoyed the same reductions in risk as someone who ran at a vigorous pace, provided they both covered the same distance.

    The more activity the runners and walkers did, the greater their health benefits, Williams added.

    Walking and running are ideally suited to a comparison of the health benefits of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activities because they both use the same muscle groups and involve traveling along a course, but they are performed at different intensities, Williams said.

    "This is a valuable study that was done on a large number of people," said Dr. Gerald Fletcher, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association (AHA) who was not involved in the study. "It shows that the quantity of exercise you do" is important, he said.

    "Physical inactivity is a major modifiable risk factor for heart disease," Fletcher said, adding that walking is the ideal activity for someone who has been sedentary or who is unable to run.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the AHA recommend that adults spend a minimum of 30 minutes daily, for five days a week, doing moderate-intensity exercise, or at least 20 minutes daily, for three days a week, doing vigorous activity.

    It's fine to combine exercises of different intensity ? for instance, walking briskly for 30 minutes twice a week and running for 20 minutes two days that week. The goal is to raise the heart rate, which builds cardiovascular fitness, controls weight and reduces the risk of chronic diseases, according to a 2007 report in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

    The study is published today (April 4) in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

    Pass It On: Walking may be just as effective as running in lowering the risk of heart disease.

    Follow MyHealthNewsDaily on Twitter @MyHealth_MHND. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

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

     

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    People embrace outside a Red Cross center to help flood victims in La Plata, in Argentina's Buenos Aires province, Thursday, April 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

    LA PLATA, Argentina (AP) - Argentine police and soldiers searched house to house, in creeks and culverts and even in trees for bodies on Thursday after floods killed at least 57 people in the province and city of Buenos Aires.

    As torrential rains stopped and the waters receded, the crisis shifted to guaranteeing public health and safety in this provincial capital of nearly 1 million people. Safe drinking water was in short supply, and more than a quarter-million people were without power, although authorities said most would get their lights back on overnight.

    Many people barely escaped with their lives after seeing everything they own disappear under water reeking with sewage and fuel that rose more than six feet (nearly two meters) high inside some homes. The wreckage was overwhelming: piles of broken furniture, overturned cars, ruined food and other debris.

    Their frustration was uncontainable as politicians arrived making promises. President Cristina Fernandez, Gov. Daniel Scioli, Social Welfare Minister Alicia Kirchner and the mayors of Buenos Aires and La Plata were all booed when they tried to talk with victims. Many yelled "go away" and "you came too late."

    "I understand you, I understand you're angry," Kirchner said before she and the governor fled in their motorcade from an angry crowd.

    "There is no water, there is no electricity. We have nothing," said Nelly Cerrado, who was looking for donated clothing at a local school. "Terrible, terrible what we are going through. And no one comes. No one. Because here, it is neighbors who have to do everything."

    The nearby Ensenada refinery, Argentina's largest, remained offline after flooding caused a fire that took hours to quench in the middle of the rainstorm, the state-run YPF oil company said. Later Thursday, YPF said it expected it back online in the coming hours.

    Scioli said the death toll had risen to 51 people in and around La Plata, following six deaths in the national capital from flooding two days earlier. But he said nearly all of the missing had been accounted for.

    The victims included a member of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group, Lucila Ahumada de Inama, who was found under nearly six feet (about 1.7 meters) of water inside her home. She died without having found her grandson, born in captivity after her pregnant daughter-in-law was kidnapped by Argentina's dictatorship in 1977.

    Some flooded residents were being lauded as heroes. Alejandro Fernandez, a 44-year-old policeman who was off-duty when the rains started, pulled out his rubber boat and shuttled about 100 neighbors to higher ground. His neighbor, Dr. Jose Alberto Avelar, turned his home into a clinic, treating dozens for hypothermia.

    Fernandez "won't say it because he's too humble, but what he did was incredible," Avelar said. "His action got everyone else helping as well."

    A store and an elementary school were looted, but police and troops were helping residents guard neighborhoods to prevent more crimes. In addition to 750 provincial police officers, the national government sent in army, coast guard, police and social welfare workers.

    Mobile hospitals were activated after two major hospitals were flooded, and government workers were handing out donated water, canned food and clothing. Provincial Health Minister Alejandro Collia said hepatitis shots were being given at 33 evacuation centers, and that spraying would kill mosquitoes that spread dengue fever.

    "The humanitarian question comes first. The material questions will be resolved in time," said Scioli, who promised subsidies, loans and tax exemptions for the victims.

    Scioli also thanked Pope Francis for sending a message of support. The governor said "this has to give us all the strength to accompany these families."

    Argentina's weather service had warned of severe thunderstorms, but nothing like rainfall that fell this week.

    More than 16 inches (400 millimeters) drenched La Plata in just a few hours late Tuesday and early Wednesday - more than has ever been recorded there for the entire month of April.

    In both Buenos Aires and La Plata, sewage and storm drain systems were overwhelmed, and low-lying neighborhoods looked something like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, with all but the upper parts of houses under water.

    And in both cities, politicians sought to fix blame on their rivals as residents complained that government in general was ill-prepared and providing insufficient help.

    It didn't help that the mayors of both cities were vacationing in Brazil when disaster struck.

    Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri said Fernandez needs to foster expensive public works projects to cope with storms that will become more frequent due to climate change.

    La Plata Mayor Pablo Bruera, meanwhile, arrived home to an additional, self-inflicted disaster: While he was in Brazil, a tweet sent from his official Twitter account falsely claimed he had been "checking on evacuation centers since last night." The tweet even included an old picture of Bruera handing out bottled water.

    Bruera told reporters Thursday that he would not resign over the false claim, and that he had instead fired the people responsible for what he called a "mistake by my communications team."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space
    Hurricane from Space

     

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    (AP Photo)

    Most people don't think of spring as being a high-risk time of the year for brush fires, but April and May sometimes bring the perfect conditions.

    The early spring offers plenty of fuel for brush fires: dormant grass, fallen leaves and dry brush.

    The weather during the middle of the week may have been chilly, but very low humidity and strong sunshine warms and dries out the fuel.

    Locally gusty winds, even those caused by passing vehicles at highway speed can quickly turn a smoldering area into a major brush fire and cause that fire to spread rapidly.

    There is an elevated risk of brush fires from Virginia to southern New England as most of this area is free of snow cover, green-up is slow in some areas and the brush has become dry.

    RELATED:
    Cold Rain to Brush Coastal Northeast Thursday Night, Friday
    Warm versus Cold Next Week in the Northeast


    Be very careful using outdoor power equipment in these conditions.

    Do not toss burning cigarettes out of your car.

    Avoid parking vehicles on dry, grassy areas as the hot exhaust can ignite the brush underneath.
    A storm system will bring higher humidity and even some rain to part of the mid-Atlantic and southeastern New England Thursday night into Friday, which will lower the risk.

    However, over the weekend, rising temperatures and some sunshine will raise the risk especially in areas, where there is no snow on the ground and the rainfall managed to stay away recently.

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.

     

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    This Oct. 30, 2012 file photo shows an aerial view of damage to the New Jersey shoreline following Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, File)

    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 reins 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.

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


    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."

    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."

    However, 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."

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    While Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc along the East Coast late in October 2012, the power of sending real-time weather information and photos on social media was apparent.

    Sending out real-time weather information and pictures on breaking weather events helps to inform the public faster than ever before that there may be a weather danger. However, the quickness of information sharing can also lead to the spread of false information and fake photos.

    "Social media offers unbeatable immediacy," AccuWeather Social Media Coordinator and Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said. "Citizens worldwide can obtain critical, breaking weather information through mobile devices and transmit photos or videos of severe weather events on the Internet in real-time to platforms like Facebook."

    On Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, AccuWeather's Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity and Ferrell held a Google Hangout along with New York's WABC Meteorologist Amy Freeze to explain the severity of Sandy. The storm surge was only beginning in New Jersey and New York at the time of the Hangout, but the devastation of the storm was imminent.

    Crucial warnings were sent out utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, while the East Coast was inundated at the height of Sandy on Monday, Oct. 29, 2013. Even as Sandy's powerful winds knocked out power to more than 2.4 million customers in New Jersey, Sandy victims were able to view important information on mobile devices and tablets.

    According to Hootsuite, #Sandy trended on Twitter while millions of people were without power.

    Hootsuite said: "Social media tools are, in some cases, the only assist in connecting people and supplying information."

    Government officials were among the millions on social media to warn citizens of the dangers that Superstorm Sandy posed.

    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tweeted strongly worded warnings to people, cautioning them to stay away from beaches and to evacuate in mandatory areas.

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was also sending updates about power outages and impacts of Sandy.

    RELATED:
    Social Media: A New Horizon for Forecasting
    Google Hangout: Social Media and the Weather
    Weather Photo Hoaxes and How To Detect Them


    Due to the massive volume of information sent out over social media during Superstorm Sandy, it was a hot topic at Social Media Week 2013 in New York City during February.

    "Companies are learning that Social Media can be used for crisis management and communication with their customers during weather disasters," Ferrell said.

    During Social Media Week 2013, power companies such as Con Edison talked about how useful social media was in updating customers without power during Sandy. Con Edison is one of the largest power companies in the world, and it supplies more than three million customers with power in New York.


    Power companies tweeted pictures of damage to show customers why there were so many outages. They also tweeted photos and videos of crews out in the field to assure customers that there was progress in restoring power.

    Besides sending out pivotal weather information from AccuWeather social media accounts during Sandy, information was gathered to help the storm coverage on AccuWeather.com. The long lines at gas stations and the means of people coping without power for days after Sandy were found through social media.

    However, there are downsides to the fast flow of breaking weather information and photos on social media. False information can be sent out and spread quickly if steps are not taken to verify.

    Hoax photos, either photoshopped or photos from the past, are often sent out during major storm situations. For instance, fake photos of sharks swimming in the streets next to cabs in New York City were one of the hoaxes during Sandy.

    As social media continues to evolve and change, so to does the sharing of weather information.
    AccuWeather continues to grow its presence in different social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest. The visual outlets lend themselves well to sharing weather information, since the weather is so visual.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    A major storm next week is poised to bring much needed rain, heavy snow and dangerous thunderstorms to the Plains.

    The main storm will be preceded by a lesser system with spotty rain, snow and thunderstorms during late Sunday into Monday. However, the main event over the Plains will begin Monday night and Tuesday and will sprawl eastward as the week progresses.

    Snow

    Depending on how quickly cold air is utilized on the northern flank of the storm, there could be a swath of heavy snow from large areas of Colorado and Wyoming to parts of Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota.

    Denver, Cheyenne, Wyo., and North Platte, Neb., are a few cities that could receive snow from the storm, depending on its track.

    Enough snow could fall in some areas, combined with strong wind to lead to significant travel delays.

    The timing and location of the severe weather will be periodically adjusted as more information become available. The severe weather outbreak will unfold early in the week from the central Plains to Texas and will shift eastward over time through the remainder of the week reaching parts of the Mississippi and Ohio valleys.

    Severe Weather

    Farther south and east, in the storm's warm sector, a severe weather outbreak is bound to unfold.

    There is a possibility of violent thunderstorms in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Louisiana.

    While it is a bit too early to say with certainty the exact coverage, nature and timing of the thunderstorms, the risk includes the full spectrum of severe weather ranging from large hail and damaging wind gusts to flash flooding, frequent lightning strikes and even tornadoes.

    Rain

    In between the snow to the north and severe thunderstorms to the southeast, a zone of drenching rain is likely.

    The exact swath of the heaviest rainfall, like the snow and severe weather area, will depend where and how the storm negotiates the high country of the West. However, states that could receive some of the drenching rainfall include Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and South Dakota.

    Part of this area could receive two inches of rain with the potential for much more.

    Drought Relief

    According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "The storm with its rain, snow and thunderstorms next week could bring some relief to a significant portion of severe and exceptional drought areas of the Plains."

    RELATED:
    Major Storm Potential for West and Plains Next Week
    West Part of Storm to Bring a Wild Start to Next Week
    South Getting Needed Rain This Week


    Mohler cautioned that the storm's beneficial moisture will not reach all areas in need, citing that the northern Plains may miss out.

    "It does appear that a rapid thaw accompanied by heavy rain will be avoided with this particular storm over the Red River Basin (of the North)," he said.

    Concerns have been raised by officials for the deep snow pack over the region, which is lingering longer into the spring than usual, due to late-season cold weather.

    The northern Plains will receive some moisture from moderate snow and rain from the preliminary storm Sunday into Monday.

    West Impact

    The storm will first impact portions of the West late in the weekend and the start of next week with areas of high winds, blowing dust, thunderstorms with hail and areas of rain and heavy snow after moving inland from the Pacific Ocean.

    More moisture will be pumped into the storm east of the Rockies as the system enters into a zone of great temperature contrast from south to north. At the same time, the storm will get extra energy from the jet stream, high velocity winds high above the ground.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Magical North from Marek K on Vimeo.

    This stunning time-lapse video is comprised of footage taken from the Arctic Circle from March 9 to 16, 2013 and highlights breathtaking shots of mountain vistas, fishing villages, waterways and the Northern Lights. The video was shot in Abisko, in northern Sweden and Lofoten, Norway.

    via 5 Thing I Learned Today

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Photos of Antarctica

     

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    Blue Marble
    (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

    Some of the most stunning and well-known images to come out of NASA in recent years - including the Blue Marble image of Earth that was the default shot on countless new iPhone screens - were created by a group of six people working in a government office in Maryland. At the helm is Robert Simmon. He's the art director for the Earth Observatory, the NASA website that communicates the agency's Earth science research to the public. The EO takes data about climate and the environment from NASA satellites, research and climate models and transforms it into images and animation that non-scientists can understand. His images often inspire wonder and awe.

    SKYE spoke with Simmon about his work, visualizing our planet from space and the breadth of his images' impact.

    Robert Simmon, Blue Marble, NASASKYE: So what, exactly, do you do?

    Basically, we've learned how to use data and turn those into images. Depending on the data set -- because some are much easier to use than others -- the process is: You find out about some interesting topic and go and get the raw data. Data comes in a few different flavors. The easiest to explain is true-color imagery, which is like the red, green and blue channels in a digital photograph. This data comes from satellites. It's the same idea with false-color images, except that one or more of the channels may be from wavelengths invisible to human eyes, like infrared. The second type of data is measurements. We'll also make charts, which could represent data from satellites, models or direct measurements from instruments on the ground, a plane or a weather balloon.

    Working from the raw data is significant because scientists are usually making images for their peers, not broader audiences, and they're trained in science, not graphic design or data visualization. We try to make imagery that appeals to, and is understandable by, non-experts.

    We'll first process the data in a way so that it can be read by software like Illustrator and Photoshop and then we do the finish, polish layer. The little final touches make something a really striking, attention-grabbing image that people can really resonate with.

    How do you decide which ideas and information to present?

    By basically keeping our ears and eyes open. One of the really important things about our team is that we are in a science group. We are not in a communications or public affairs group. We're interacting everyday with scientists, and, literally, can do the whole water cooler thing or hear a conversation across the hall and say, "Hey that's really interesting. Tell me more about it -- and do you have any data that we could use?" There is that sort of spontaneous day-to-day interaction. There's also watching news media.

    China Smog[A few weeks ago] the Washington Post had a story about air pollution in Beijing, and the next day they had another story. On Monday morning, I came in and said we were going to go look at the data from Beijing and see what we can do to tell this story. So I went back, got an image from that morning, got an image from a week before, and we had a comparison between a relatively good air-quality day and this historically bad air quality.

    Other times, we'll actually have scientists approach us and say, "Hey I've got this really interesting idea; can you help me present it?" If there's a new mission or new data product, we'll start working on that early and work with the scientists to explain the mission, show it off, explain how it works and what science we're going to learn from it.

    We have a weekly meeting where we'll sort of toss ideas around. Sometimes we just go in and literally browse through existing imagery and see if there's anything that's interesting. Is there anything that captures a place that has some really cool geology or some funky thing going on with a cloud formation? We try to find the stuff that looks interesting to us and hope that it's what people outside of NASA, who are not necessarily scientists, will also be interested in and just think are cool.

    Do you consider yourself to be a storyteller?

    Yes. As a group, I think we all consider ourselves to be storytellers. The writers and the developers and the designers. It's a group of about six people, so it's not a huge group, and we all do a little bit of everything. We actually take a lot of pride in the fact that we tell stories and aren't just giving people a list of facts. There is decent scientific evidence that people remember stories much better than they do other things, so it is a much more effective way of communicating.

    Your background is mostly in engineering, but creating these images seems almost like artwork. Did you have any experience studying art before you got to NASA?

    I don't have any formal training in either art or design, but essentially was self-taught from going to art museums -- living in DC, they're all free -- and learning to appreciate the visual side of things. Then, having a good science background from an engineering degree meant that I could understand scientists. I was in this position where I'm not a scientist and not an artist, but can understand both worlds. And I think that -- this is a generalization and obviously not entirely true -- there are a lot of scientists that are uncomfortable with art and a lot of artists who are uncomfortable with science. Being squarely in the middle is pretty much perfect for what I do. I'm just trying to present information as clearly as possible: information that can be very complex, as well as information that is very relevant and, in some ways, controversial.

    What do you think makes these images of Earth taken from space so compelling?

    I think, innately, it's cool. People like it because it's an unfamiliar view of something that's familiar. It's sort of like flying in an airplane, but better. I'm definitely one of the people who likes the window seat. Not everybody does. But I sit there with my nose to the window. I try to make images that match my own mental picture of what I would expect, which makes things easier to understand. If a person glances at an image and it's baffling or weird, I don't think they're necessarily going to keep looking at it. They'll look at it once and say, "Oh yeah, whatever, NASA threw out another image," versus, "Hey, I can sort of understand what that is." Or even, "I can see my house from there." That's the standard joke, but it's the common thread with every one of the global images.

    What do you love most about your job?

    The most exciting thing is seeing something that nobody else has ever seen before. The next best part is when I actually finish a graphic and get it to a point where I'm happy with it and know that people are going to be able to see things in a new way. Getting a tricky data set that either was hard to read or was difficult to present for whatever reason and actually coming up with a good solution is really, really satisfying.

    What's the most challenging part?

    Just reading the data is such a huge pain in a lot of cases. Another extremely challenging part is when you have a scientist who is set in his or her ways as to how they want the data to be presented, when you know that it's not the best way to do it. Trying to convince them that, no, I'm not just doing this because I think it looks nice, I'm doing it because my knowledge of human perception tells me that this other way is actually going to be more clear to the audience that you're trying to reach. If you are an expert in the field, you often forget how long it took you to become an expert and the steps along the way. Nobody is born a scientist. They're actually dealing with these extremely complex concepts that rely on multiple levels of knowledge. I try to figure out how to distill the concepts down for the person who is interested in a topic, but doesn't necessarily have all that background information. Trying to explain that to the scientist who is used to communicating with peers at a scientific conference can be extremely challenging and frustrating.

    Seeing how much bad presentation is out there, and watching it get posted on the NASA homepage, and going, "It could be so much better and it wouldn't even be that hard." But nobody has put the time or the thought into doing it. That's really frustrating.

    NASA, Blue MarbleThe Blue Marble images are perhaps the most well-known you've worked on. How did those come to be?

    That was almost entirely born out of the fact that it was something we needed. I work for NASA and I do Earth science, so pictures of Earth from space are an essential ingredient. The data that we get all comes in these small chunks -- data about a particular place at a particular time. Although the scales vary up to most of the hemisphere, there was no way that we could get a global view. At the time, there was a relatively new satellite called Terra and sensor called MODIS, and for the first time ever, it was taking true-color imagery -- so, photograph-like imagery -- of the entire planet. It didn't do it all at once. It did it over a period of two days, but we had the opportunity to do a color picture of the entire Earth's surface for the first time. The original Apollo 17 Blue Marble photo showed only a single perspective.

    The astronauts that I have talked to have all pretty much said, "Going to space is a transformative moment. Looking at the Earth from above and seeing the world without boundaries, and looking at human habitation and seeing how much of the Earth is inhabited, is really profound even if you're prepared for it." Which is something that I haven't done. I wanted to bring that concept across as well as I could.

    This was unprecedented, as far as being a realistic picture of the entire Earth surface, and because it was being put out by NASA as free data, people could use it for whatever they wanted.

    Why do you think that particular image struck a chord with people?

    On a very banal level, its because it's not copyrighted -- it's free and anybody can use it and reuse it however they want. Putting things out in the public domain means that they can be reused in ways I never thought of, whereas if it were something I were working on for a commercial imaging company, it would be used once or twice at an extraordinarily high cost and that would probably be about it. The other reason is, I'm pretty sure that it was the first semi-realistic hemispheric view of the Earth since Apollo. Everyone almost everyone is familiar with the Apollo images, but there are very few that show the entire sunlit side of the Earth.

    While you were creating it, did you have any idea how widespread the impact of that image would be?

    Nope. I just thought, "Hey, this is really cool!" It was fun to work on, and I was happy with the results, but the focus was really on the base maps, which I did maybe 2 or 3 percent of the work on.

    iPhone Blue MarbleWere you surprised when it appeared on home screens of the iPhone?

    I had no idea. I bought one the day after they first came out. ... I literally bought it, took it home, plugged it in, and the first thing that happens is [the Blue Marble image] pops up on the screen and it says to plug this into iTunes. I'm not sure what I actually said, but I'm sure it involved several profanities. I thought it was awesome. I never did email Steve Jobs, which I totally should have done. But I would have had no idea what to say. It was really cool, and to this day, when people ask what I do, I can say, "Oh, I do this."

    This year, you created a series of images of the Earth at night that was called "Black Marble." What was the inspiration for that?

    When NASA and NOAA launched a satellite called Sumi NPP, one of its capabilities was that it was a much better nighttime detector -- an imager, essentially a camera, that could view extremely dim light sources and extremely bright light sources at the same time. The other sensor was low resolution. It could only see 64 different levels of light; if it was too dark, it would be black, and if it was too bright, it would be white. It was an overexposed and underexposed photograph simultaneously. The new ones can do the full spectrum of brightness. So, it's this very high-quality data set. That's a huge improvement over what we had done earlier.

    NASA, Black MarbleWe knew that we were getting the new data and we knew that we wanted to make a splash with the presentation. So, we thought, OK, let's get the data when it comes out and let's try and make an improved view. Let's try and do a nighttime render to go along with the newer daytime renders that we had been doing. And it was all grunt work from there. Let's get the data. What format is it going to be? How can we read it? How can we translate it into something that we can use? Oh wait, the sensor is far too good, so we need to figure out a way to take out the light from the aurora and take out the starlight that is being reflected on the snow in mountain ranges or in North Dakota or whatever. By far, the hardest part of this project was going in by hand, and wherever there was light contamination from any source, basically blending in the older data.

    It was again a case of, let's promote this data set and the best way to do that is by creating a realistic global image. It's a project that I wanted to tackle for a long time, but because we also have that day-to-day operation, sometimes it's difficult to find enough time all at once to get an interesting thing done unless you have a deadline or a press conference or some milestone that makes it realistic to say, "Hey you guys can take care of 95 percent of my job, and I'm going to be focus on this 5 percent for the next three weeks."

    Many of the Earth Observatory's images reveal the ways in which the Earth and its climate are changing. How important is illustrating climate change in your work? And how big of an effect do you think the EO has on the public's understanding of climate change?

    That is a major factor of what we do. And that is a reflection of NASA's research efforts. I hope people can look at our site and get a sense of the quality of the research. It is not a small group of scientists who are collaborating to raise grant money. It is a very large group of scientists that is doing huge variety of research, looking at all different facets of the Earth. And the picture that is coming out of all that research is that humanity is having a pretty big impact on the planet. No matter what you think of it, or you think of any possible solutions at this point, it's pretty incontrovertible that it's happening. We are very conscious about sticking to the state of the art of scientific understanding. If there is a controversy, we focus on laying out what it is. And scientific controversy is not political controversy. There are disagreements between scientists over different aspects of this stuff. People outside the field will consider a lot of it very minor, but if it's your entire field, if it's your entire research area, little changes mean a lot. That's something that I would love to do more of -- delving into some of the nitty-gritty of this. Right now we don't have enough people to do it, but I think there are some really good stories to be told there.

    I have no idea how effective we are, but again, we try to make sure that we are communicating what is known right now. We try to make all of our resources available so other people can tell their story with our information.

    SKYE: Thanks, Robert.

    Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Simmon Tells the Stories Behind 13 Iconic Images

     

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    April 5, 2013

    Adelie penguins in Antarctica's Ross Sea. (John B. Weller)

    Antarctic warming has been a boon for one large colony of Adélie penguins, a finding that's surprising scientists.

    A recent study found that over the last 60 years, a colony of the birds on Beaufort Island in the Ross Sea, south of New Zealand, increased by 84 percent, from 35,000 breeding pairs to 64,000 breeding pairs. This increase has come as glaciers have retreated from the island, leaving more bare, snow-free ground, where the penguins make their nests, according to the study, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

    For food, the penguins still depend on sea ice, from which they forage. As the extent of sea ice has declined in Antarctica, it brings bad news for other colonies of the aquatic birds.

    The finding is surprising since other colonies of Adélie penguins have declined in population, and many continue to do so. The scientists suspect that the increase in population on Beaufort Island is primarily due to the increase in available nesting habitat; since 1980, the amount of flat, bare ground has increased by 20 percent, according to a news release describing the study. There may be other reasons for the increase in population, such as prey availability, though this is uncertain, according to the study.

    "This research raises new questions about how Antarctic species are impacted by a changing environment," said Michelle LaRue, study co-author and researcher at the University of Minnesota, in the statement. "This paper encourages all of us to take a second look at what we're seeing and find out if this type of habitat expansion is happening elsewhere to other populations of Adélie penguins or other species."

    The study estimates penguin populations and habitat size using high-resolution aerial photographs taken as far back as 1958, and, more recently, satellite imagery.

    The penguins are smaller than the more well-known Emperor penguins, standing about 18 to 30 inches (46 to 75 centimeters) tall and weighing about 10 to 12 pounds (4.5 to 5.4 kilograms). They are listed as near-threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because they are "expected to undergo a moderately rapid population decline over the next three generations owing to the effects of projected climate change," according to a 2012 study cited by the IUCN.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Photos of Antarctica
    Antarctica

     

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    Deadly Floods Descend on Peru

    Homes and communities across Peru are under threat from rising floodwaters that have killed at least two people, with eight more missing. In Argentina, there have been protests for more government aid after massive flooding in the province of Buenos Aires, particularly in the provincial capital La Plata, and the city of Buenos Aires, killed at least 57 people this week.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Residents Fearful as Mt Etna Erupts

    Europe's largest active volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily, has erupted again, alarming those who live fairly nearby.

     

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    Life Returning to Normal in the Pakistan Sindh Province

    The water still hasn't receded in parts of Pakistan's Sindh province, months after flooding killed hundreds of people and affected more than 5 million. UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on how the children of Pakistan are faring.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    While enjoying this weekend's warmth, residents from Denver to Cheyenne to near Rapid City may find it hard to believe that a blizzard is on the way.
    The blizzard threatens to bring northeastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota and western Nebraska to a standstill Monday night through Tuesday.
    Strong winds severely blowing around heavy snow will dramatically reduce visibility and make driving extremely difficult, if not impossible. Officials may be forced to close stretches of interstates 25, 70, 80, 76 and 90.
    That is true even though the Front Range is in the midst of a mild stretch of weather, which has helped warm road surfaces, and the strength of the April sun. The snow will come down hard enough to overcome both obstacles.

    The blizzard is sure to cause nightmares for travelers, both on the ground and in the air, Monday night through Tuesday. Photo by Photos.com.

    Parents should prepare for school closures, while airline passengers will likely face cancellations and/or lengthy delays.
    Cities in the path of the blizzard include Denver, Fort Collins and Sterling, Colo., Casper, Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyo., and Scottsbluff and Chadron, Neb.
    Snowfall totals in and around these cities will approach or top a foot.
    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
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    Severe Weather Outbreak: Texas to Kansas, Missouri

    While the true blizzard conditions should narrowly miss Rapid City, S.D., to the south, residents can still expect 6 to 12 inches of disruptive snow.
    The blizzard is in the works despite the warm weekend that has unfolded across the Front Range. Temperatures in most of the cities bracing for the blizzard are set to soar into the 60s on Sunday.
    However, cold air plunging southward and interacting with the storm set to move through the West Sunday through Monday is all that is needed for the blizzard to take shape.
    The same storm threatens to ignite an outbreak of severe weather Monday through Tuesday from Texas to Kansas.

    As the severe weather takes aim at the Mississippi Valley and Arklatex on Wednesday, AccuWeather.com meteorologists will be monitoring the potential for the snow to shift eastward across Nebraska and South Dakota and into the Upper Midwest.
    The impending blizzard is not entirely bad news for the Front Range. Runoff from the snow, which will quickly melt once milder air arrives later in the week, will bring needed moisture to the region's parched soil.
    Much of the Front Range is currently suffering from an extreme to exceptional drought, according to the latest report from the United States Drought Monitor.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    After locally violent thunderstorms erupt on Sunday, an outbreak of severe weather will threaten lives and property from Texas to Kansas and Missouri Monday through Wednesday.
    Interests from the central Plains to Texas will want to monitor weather conditions closely during the first part of next week.
    The weather setup through at least the first half of next week will put lives and property at risk. The severe weather outbreak expected is likely to be the worst of the season so far.
    The nature of the storm in local areas has yet to be determined, but some locations have the potential to be hit with violent thunderstorms that bring large hail, damaging wind gusts, frequent lightning strikes and flash flooding.


    There is also the potential for a few tornadoes to be produced.
    The main severe weather event will be preceded by locally violent thunderstorms from the Texas Panhandle to Missouri Sunday afternoon.
    This includes Childress, Texas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., Wichita, Kan., and Springfield, Mo.
    On Monday, the first storms during the outbreak are likely to fire late in the day or early at night along a push of dry air from the deserts coming in contact with humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. This zone would stretch from the western portions of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
    The danger also extends across far southeastern Nebraska and neighboring southwestern Iowa due to the storm's warm front.
    The dry line, as it is called by meteorologists, would then advance slowly to the east across the same states--with Nebraska and Iowa being the exceptions--on Tuesday. The strongest thunderstorms on Tuesday will ignite in the afternoon.

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    According to Severe Weather Expert Dan Kottlowski, "Initially, the storms will be slow to move eastward over the Plains, but an increase in forward speed is likely toward the middle of the week."
    Cities that could be hit by dangerous and damaging weather conditions during Tuesday include Dallas/Fort Worth, Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kan.
    By Wednesday, the severe weather is forecast to reach some of the Mississippi Valley states and may organize into a solid line of thunderstorms, known as a squall line.
    This image of a rotating, severe thunderstorm near Phoenix, Ariz., that was producing large hail was taken on Oct. 6, 2010, by Flickr user wxcasterphx.

    Cities that could face a wall of rain and gusty winds at some point Wednesday could include Houston; Shreveport, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; St. Louis and Springfield, Mo.
    North of the severe thunderstorm area, a swath of rain will soak some Midwest and central and northern Plains communities. Snow will also fall over parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota.

    AccuWeather.com recommends taking time this weekend to rehearse with family members what to do if severe weather or tornadoes are sighted in your area.


    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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