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    Updated Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at 7:48 p.m. ET

    A man walks in the snow in downtown Denver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. (AP)


    DENVER (AP) - People in parts of Colorado and Wyoming pulled puffy jackets, hats and umbrellas out of the closet again Wednesday for another round of wet spring snow.

    The May Day snow storm was making travel difficult on Interstate 70 in Colorado's mountains and along Interstate 80 in southeastern Wyoming, but the snow wasn't having a major impact on Denver's airport, though there have been de-icing delays.

    Nearly 3 feet of snow is possible in the foothills and mountains of northern Colorado while around a foot is expected at lower elevations in parts of both states. By midday, over a foot fell at Rocky Mountain National Park. The heavy snow caused power and heat outages there and in Cheyenne, which received 15 inches of snow by noon Wednesday. West of Cheyenne, 20 inches fell near Buford, while Casper saw 4 inches of snow.

    Parts of the Midwest were also getting rare May snow.

    South Dakota's largest city, Sioux Falls, got its first May snowfall in 37 years. The city received 1.5 inches of snow by late morning.

    A winter storm warning was also in effect for parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Snow fell in parts of Nebraska, and western Iowa was expecting snow between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

    The storm is welcome in Colorado and Wyoming because it boosts the snowpack that provides the region's water supply. Both states are in a drought but have benefited from several rounds of spring snow. However, the recent storms have largely missed southwestern Colorado, which remains dry and at risk for wildfires.

    About 5 inches were forecast for Denver, where the snow was making the roads a sloppy mess. The snow wasn't sticking much to the pavement, still warm after recent temperatures in the 70s, but it clung to grassy areas and flowers.

    Denver native Chris Lujan said he's never worn a top coat, scarf and hat on May 1st before. Greg Notz just put his hood up and wasn't fazed.

    "I expect this. Yup. It's better than living where it's warm and dry and nice all the time. At least we get a variety," he said.

    Snow in May hits Denver roughly once every three years. July and August are the only months that snow hasn't been recorded there, National Weather Service forecaster David Barjenbruch said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Spring Snowstorm Strikes Plains

     

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    As a slow-moving disturbance works its way along the Gulf Coast, showers and thunderstorms will bring much-needed rain across Florida through the weekend.

    On Wednesday, the showers and thunderstorms will have the greatest concentration across southern Louisiana, southern Alabama and southern Mississippi. Areas from Lake Charles eastward to New Orleans and Mobile could have as much as 1.00-2.00 inches, and some flooding is even possible in the heaviest activity.

    RELATED:
    Severe Storm Risk Kansas to Wisconsin Through Tuesday
    Denver: Snowstorm, Dramatic Change to Cold in Store

    Rapid Snowmelt Accelerates Red River Flooding

    On Thursday through Sunday, the heaviest showers and thunderstorms will shift into the state of Florida.

    Rainfall amounts will average 2.00-4.00 inches across much of the peninsula, with lesser amounts of 1.00-2.00 inches across the western panhandle.

    Showers and thunderstorms will feed off a tropical atmosphere, and resulting blinding downpours will cause localized flash flooding.

    Some of the areas with the greatest potential for heavy rain include Jacksonville, Orlando, Daytona Beach and Melbourne.

    Flooding of low-lying areas and small creeks and streams will be the biggest threats from these storms, as they respond the quickest to rapid water runoff from thunderstorms.

    The showers and thunderstorms will also have an impact on those who will be on vacation or have outdoor activities planned.

    If you plan to be out and about this week, keep a close eye to the sky. Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. This is especially relevant when golfing or swimming, as you become particularly vulnerable.

    Torrents of rain can also slow travel significantly as visibility is reduced and roadways become slick.

    The rain and thunderstorms are not all bad for residents across the state, however.

    Many areas, especially across central Florida from Tampa to Ocala and Jacksonville have been under moderate to severe drought conditions for much of the winter and early spring.

    As many as two dozen wildfires were burning around the state as of early Tuesday morning.

    A look at current wildfire activity across Florida courtesy of The Florida Forest Service.

    These fires are not just occurring in rural areas, either. According to the Associated Press, last week a brush fire spread rapidly and came dangerously close to an apartment complex near Orlando.

    Smoke from these fires can also reduce and lead to dangerous travel on major interstates that run across the region, such as 95, 75 or 4.

    Smoke can also cause breathing problems for those with asthma or other respiratory related illnesses.

    The expected rainfall over the next week will not only help to douse the flames, but also wet the lips of thirsty creeks, streams and plants that have had very little to drink over the past six months.

    The same system of storms moved over Texas late Monday afternoon, unleashing a tornado in San Patricio County, Texas. There were no reports of damage or injury.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Lost City Revealed After 1,200 Years Under Sea
    In a new documentary, British scientists reveal an incredibly preserved ancient Egyptian city buried underneath the Mediterranean sea. Scientists say the lost city was buried for more than 12,000 years. Prior to the discovery, the city only existed on paper; no real artifacts had been found. Still a mystery remains: how did the city end up underwater?

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Breathtaking Images of Earth from Space

     

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    Updated Thursday, May 2, 9:14 p.m. ET
    Southern California Wildfire, 101 Freeway
    Smoke billows over the U.S. 101 near Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Thursday, May 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - A wildfire fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds raged along the fringes of Southern California communities on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of homes and a university while setting recreational vehicles ablaze.

    The blaze erupted during morning rush hour along U.S. 101 in the Camarillo area about 50 miles west of Los Angeles. It was quickly spread by the winds, which also pushed other damaging blazes across the region.

    The evacuation orders included the smoke-choked campus of California State University, Channel Islands, which has about 5,000 students.

    Flames quickly moved down slopes toward subdivisions, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. More than 6,500 acres - some 10 square miles - were charred, with no containment. A cluster of RVs in a parking lot was destroyed as flames moved close to a mobile home park.

    There were no reports of homes burning, and no firefighter injuries were reported.

    Fire officials said Thursday afternoon that a hazardous materials team will deal with a store of highly toxic pesticides that caught fire at a Laguna Farms property near the university, according the Ventura County Star. Area residents were warned to stay out of the smoke as much as possible.

    More than 850 firefighters and law enforcement officials from multiple agencies worked to protect numerous homes around Camarillo Springs Golf Course and in a section of adjacent Thousand Oaks.

    Air tankers were grounded for a time in the afternoon because of the winds, which gusted to 50 mph. Planes dropping water and retardant, along with six helicopters, were trying to create a perimeter and contain the fire.

    The Santa Ana winds sent plumes of smoke and embers over the homes and strawberry fields to the south. At midday, farm sheds burst into flames in a clearing amid rows of crops.

    The vegetation-withering dry winds out of the northeast caused humidity levels to plunge from 80 percent to single digits in less than an hour. Temperatures soared into the 90s in Camarillo.

    The area is at the western edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, which abruptly descend to a coastal agricultural plain. It was possible the flames could burn all the way to the Pacific Ocean, about 10 miles from the start point.

    For a while, the California Highway Patrol closed a 10-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway at Point Mugu. It was reopened at midafternoon around the time coastal weather stations recorded a localized return of moisture-bearing winds off the ocean, although hot Santa Anas kept blowing a few miles inland.

    Mark Brewer, 52, was resting at an evacuation center Thursday afternoon after he and about 25 adults and children were evacuated from a county-run homeless shelter. Brewer could see flames coming down a hillside toward the building before he left.

    "This is a part of being in Southern California, just like earthquakes," Brewer said.

    Brewer, who lost his job in the mortgage industry a year and a half ago, managed to grab his laptop, some clothes and papers from the room he lives in before traveling to a Camarillo church, where evacuees were glued to televisions watching fire coverage.

    About 100 miles to the east, two homes, a number of outbuildings and several vehicles were destroyed, and two other homes were damaged in a 5-acre grass fire that prompted the evacuation of an elementary school in Jurupa Valley, said Theresa Williams, a spokeswoman for CalFire.

    The blazes could signal a difficult fire season ahead.

    Officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said Wednesday in their first 2013 summer outlook that a dry winter and expected warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal on the West Coast, in the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana.

    Meanwhile, the California Department of Water Resources found the water content in the snowpack was just 17 percent of normal. The snowmelt is a vital water source for the state.

    Elsewhere in California, crews made progress on a 4 1/2-square-mile fire burning in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains north of Banning, Riverside County fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann said.

    The fire, which burned a home Wednesday, was 40 percent contained with only sporadic flames showing.

    In Northern California, a fire in a remote area of brush and timber north of the town of Butte Meadows grew to more than 3 square miles, with 10 percent containment, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. Several fires smaller than 200 acres burned in Sonoma, Glenn and Butte counties.

    SKYE QUIZ: Can You I.D. These 10 U.S. Cities?
    New Orleans

     

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    Updated Thursday, May 2, 2013, 7:45 p.m. ET


    The list of locations that have received record May snowfall from a storm that brought up to 2 feet of over the central Rockies continues to grow over portions of the Plains and Upper Midwest.

    The storm will continue to drop accumulating snow into Friday morning and reaching even more unlikely locations over the Plains, Midwest and the South before it is all said and done.

    Omaha, Neb., Mason City, Iowa, and Rochester, Minn., are but only several cities that have been clobbered by their biggest May snowfall on record. In many cases in the major cities in the Plains, those records date back to the 1800s.

    While snow is not unheard of away from the Rockies and northern tier states during May, it is the amount of snow and the extent of that snow that is so unusual. Snowstorms during May in the Midwest are typically highly localized.

    Minneapolis/St. Paul managed to avoid the heaviest snow from this storm. However, areas less than 50 miles to the southeast of the Twin Cities received between 6 and 12 inches of snow Wednesday night into Thursday. As much as 18 inches fell on part of southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.

    The Omaha, Neb., area picked up between 3 and 6 inches of snow. A general swath of 3 to 10 inches of snow has fallen over much of western Iowa.

    Des Moines, Iowa, Kansas City, Mo. will take a turn at accumulating snow Thursday night into early Friday.

    In some cases the snow fell on locations that were in the 80s only a couple of days earlier, including Denver and Amarillo, Texas. Cold air was driving southward in the wake of the storm and threatens to bring yet another freeze to part of the southern winter wheat belt.

    The bulk of the snowfall accumulations were occurring during the night time and early morning hours. During the daylight, much of the snow was melting as it was falling.

    As the storm continues to spin slowly to the east there is even a chance of wet snowflakes being seen as far south as the Ozark Mountains in Missouri and Arkansas before the week ends. Some folks northern Alabama, northern Mississippi and the southern Appalachians may spy snowflakes by early next week.

    Snow is not forecast to reach Chicago and St. Louis, but flooding rain is possible in parts of these metro areas.

    Prior to any snowflakes in the Deep South, the storm will cause an area of rain to enhance part of the Mississippi Valley into the weekend. Small streams and tributaries to Old Man River may experience another round of flooding.

    Downpours could put a damper on activities in Louisville for Derby Day. There is a chance of muddy track conditions if downpours manage to swing through right before the Kentucky Derby.

    May Plains Snowstorms: A Historical Perspective

    There have been some snowstorms in May in the region, but they are rare. 1907 sticks out as a benchmark year for a number of locations. However, multiple years during the mid-1940s also brought snow events to the region for several years in a row.

    RELATED:
    Denver: Midweek Snowstorm, Dramatic Change to Cold
    Winter Weather Center
    More Flooding Concerns for Midwest Later This Week


    According to National Weather Service records for May, until this storm in 2013, there has never been more than 2.0 inches of snow in Omaha, Neb. On May 9, 1945, 2.0 inches of snow fell. There have been two snowfalls on May 3 over the years in Omaha. One was 1.3 inches in 1907 and another was 1.0 inch in 1967.

    The heaviest May snowfall on record for Des Moines, Iowa, was during 1907, when 1.2 inches fell on the third day of the month. There has been measurable (0.1 of an inch or more) snow as late at May 15, which was set the same year.

    About 100 miles north of Des Moines, along I-35, in Mason City, Iowa, there has been 4 inches of snow as late as May 28 in the year 1947. That storm continued into the next day and brought a grand total of 4.5 inches.

    Meanwhile, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area has received measurable snow as late as May 15, during 1907. On May 11, 1946, a storm brought 2.8 inches of snow. On May 1, 1935, 3.0 inches of snow fell on the area.

    In Kansas City, Mo., the 1907 storm brought 1.7 inches of snow on May 3.

    Records for the area date back into the late 1800s.

    In Eau Claire, Wis., records only date back to 1949. The only measurable snowfall during May since then was 0.7 of an inch on the ninth day of the month in 1960.



    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Spring Snowstorm Strikes Plains

     

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    Folks with outdoor plans and projects from Maine to New York and Virginia have an extended period of dry weather in store.

    While stormy conditions target the Central states and parts of the South into the weekend, an atmospheric road block will favor abundant sunshine for many days in many areas of the New England and the mid-Atlantic.

    Garden and home improvement centers will likely do a brisk business into the weekend.

    The pattern will favor painting, paving and other construction projects.

    The weather through Sunday may be an indicator of what to expect most days for the rest of the spring into the first part of the summer.

    According to Paul Pastelok, head of the AccuWeather.com Long Range forecast team, "We are expecting drier-than-average conditions to expand from upstate New York and northern New England southward a bit going into the first part of the summer.

    The pattern will feature a bumper crop of sunny days.

    However, just south and west of this area may be a highway for showers and thunderstorms from the Upper Midwest to the Ohio Valley and South, brushing part of the mid-Atlantic.

    AccuWeather.com has released its Summer 2013 Forecast.

    According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "Despite the sunshine and low humidity for most areas, the lawns will continue to grow and stay green for a time."

    This time of the year, there is usually sufficient moisture in the ground and the nights are cool enough to sustain the lawns for at time.

    "However, as the dryness continues, typically daytime temperatures trend upward, which accelerates the drying of the ground, but we still see enough rainfall on occasion to keep most lawns green into June," Mohler said.

    Mohler added that while the pattern will be great for planting, folks should be careful to not jump the gun over the interior locations, where there is still the risk of frost the next few weeks.

    For more weather news, visit Accuweather.com.http://www.accuweather.com/

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 30 Best Places to Watch the Sunset

     

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    The sun celebrated May Day with a spectacular solar eruption Wednesday, unleashing a colossal wave of super-hot plasma captured on camera by a NASA spacecraft.

    The solar eruption occurred over a 2.5-hour period Wednesday (May 1) and appeared as a "gigantic rolling wave" on the sun in a video recorded by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, agency officials said in an image description. The solar eruption is what scientists call a coronal mass ejection (CME) - a type of sun storm that can fire off billions of tons of solar material at more than a million miles per hour, they added.

    When aimed directly at Earth, the most powerful CME events can pose a risk to satellites and astronauts in orbit, as well as interfere with communications and navigation networks. They can even damage ground-based power infrastructure.

    But the May Day solar eruption occurred on the side of the sun and was not aimed at Earth, NASA officials said. It produced a dazzlingly bright wave of plasma that expanded from the sun's surface and then erupted from the sun's side, or limb, into open space.

    The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach its peak activity this year.

    NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is one of several sun-watching spacecraft that keeps constant watch on Earth's nearest star to track solar weather patterns and storm events. The $850 million SDO mission launched in 2010 and records constant high-definition views of the sun in several different wavelengths, including the extreme ultraviolet range of the light spectrum used to make the video of the May 1 solar eruption.

    Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Late-season snowstorms and cold temperatures have delayed the annual spring "breakup" in interior Alaska. (Credit: Becky Oskin)

    Alaska's frigid winter refuses to release its grip on America's northernmost state.

    In interior Alaska on April 30 and May 1, residents hauled out handheld ice scrapers to excavate cars and trucks blanketed by a late-season snowstorm. The National Weather Service said 6 to 10 inches of snow fell between Monday and Wednesday in the Fairbanks region.

    Last weekend, cold air racing south from the Arctic snapped cold temperature records across the state. At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, the NWS reported a record low of 2 degrees Fahrenheit on April 28. East of Fairbanks, the town of Eagle hit a record low of minus 5 degrees F.

    The cold temperatures are as much as 20 degrees below normal, the NWS said. On the Nenana River, the ice is running about 10 inches thicker or more than is typical for this time of year. Each year, people from around the world place bets on when the Nenana River ice will break up, a contest called the Nenana Ice Classic.

    Despite the chilly weather, some signs of spring have already appeared around Fairbanks, such as pussy willows (furry buds) on willow trees. With 17 hours of warm daylight, icy puddles appear during the day, and snow piles are melting between storms.

    But with a high-pressure system in the Bering Sea directing the polar jet stream over Alaska, the shivery spring is likely to last another month, the NWS predicts.

    High pressure over the Bering Sea is maintaining an cold weather pattern over Alaska, bringing much colder than normal spring temperatures and snowstorms.

    The unusually frigid spring is the latest in a string of cold winters to hit Alaska during the 2000s. The Alaska Climate Research Center attributes the shift to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. This 20-year climate oscillation is in what is called a negative phase, meaning it is directing Arctic storms across Alaska.

    Alaska isn't the only state with a record snowy spring this year. Wichita, Kan., had its seventh-coldest April on record, with record lows on April 23 and 24, according to the NWS. And a storm moving through the Rockies this week is expected to drop up to a foot (30 cm) of snow in Denver, Cheyenne, Wyo., and the Great Plains, the NWS has forecast. Denver is already buried under 11 inches more snow than average for April.

    Editor's note: This story was updated May 1 to correct the record low temperatures for Alaska on April 28.

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

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

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

     

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    Shown here, global temperature anomalies (above or below the average) averaged from 2008 through 2012. (Credit: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)


    More than half of Americans think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, according to a new nationally representative survey that measures the pulse of American sentiment on climate change.

    The newly released study shows that about two out of three Americans say weather in the country has worsened over the past several years, with only one in 10 saying the weather has been improving.

    Americans also have strong views about the link between global warming and extreme weather.

    Nearly 50 percent of the population believes global warming made the droughts that plagued the Midwestand the Great Plains last year more severe. Similarly, 46 percent of Americans believe climate change exacerbated the effects of Superstorm Sandy, which battered the Northeast in October 2012. [Dry & Dying: Stark Images of Drought]

    "Americans are continuing to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather in the United States," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. "They're associating climate change with some of the major events that we experienced last year, like the ongoing drought."

    Half of Americans also believe global warming was to blame for last year's record-breaking temperatures. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named 2012 the warmest year on record, with every contiguous U.S. state registering above-average annual temperatures for the year.

    With the exception of 1998, the nine warmest years in the 132-year record all have occurred since 2000. Shown here, global temperature anomalies (above or below the average) averaged from 2008 through 2012.

    Furthermore, 85 percent of Americans said they personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather in the past year, ranging from extreme heat (51 percent) to extreme high winds (60 percent).

    The number of Americans who were significantly harmed by extreme weather events in the past year increased to about 37 percent - up 4 to 5 percentage points since 2012, Leiserowitz told LiveScience.

    "That's quite a significant number," he said. "It shows just how dramatic these extreme weather events have been."

    And concern about the potential impacts of extreme weather does not appear to be dissipating. More than half of Americans (54 percent) believe extreme weather is "very" or "somewhat likely" to cause a natural disaster in their local area in the coming year.

    The new report, titled "Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind," is based on a nationally representative survey jointly conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in New Haven, Conn., and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication in Fairfax, Va.

    For the study, 1,045 participants over age 18 were interviewed between April 8 and April 15. The researchers report a 95 percent confidence level, with a total average margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. This means that if the survey were conducted 100 times, the results would fall within 3 percentage points above or below the data collected in 95 of the 100 surveys.

    The study was funded by the Surdna Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation and the V.K. Rasmussen Foundation.

    Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. 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.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Off-the-Charts Hottest and Coldest Places on Earth

     

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    (AP Photo)

    GENEVA (AP) - The World Meteorological Organization says last year was the ninth-warmest since record-keeping began in 1850, despite the cooling effect of the weatherpattern called La Nina.

    The U.N.'s weather agency says this marks the 27th year in a row the global average temperature - 58 degrees Fahrenheit in 2012 - surpassed the 1961-1990 average.

    WMO said in annual climate report Thursday the years from 2001 to 2012 were all among the top 13 warmest on record - the hottest being 2010, when the average temperature was 58.2 degrees F.

    WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud says "sustained warming of the lower atmosphere is a worrisome sign" of global warming despite La Nina, which is the flip side of El Nino and generally cools the oceans globally.

     

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    (YouTube)

    I don't think I'll catch next week's live Music Monday simulcast concert. What a great idea, though: performing your song, "ISS (Is Somebody Singing)," from space along with people all over Canada, if not the world. I'll be traveling that day and don't know if I'll have internet access. I'm going to try to play along, but honestly, I can barely listen to the tune without being overcome with emotion. It's such a beautiful song about travel and space and what it's like to see the world from your faraway vantage.

    You've built a remarkable community while in orbit. Truly, your following is rock-star-like. I had breakfast with a friend last weekend and she asked me if you knew about my letters. "I don't know," I responded, "but it doesn't matter so much. Just being able to wave at the stars is enough." I'm surprised at how much I mean that. I'm okay with just singing at the sky because I never expected you to answer me. With more than 700,000 followers on Twitter, you can't possibly reply to all of us. That would be a full-time job for an earthbound person. That's why every time you respond to someone, I'm equal parts wracked with jealousy and thrilled because you've taken the time to make someone's day.

    It makes perfect sense that it would be kids in classrooms who would get your attention before unknown fan-mail scribes from south of the Canadian border. How could you answer every single plea for your attention? I'm not the only one who wants to play "Rocket Man" with you, surely.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Previous Letters to Commander Hadfield

    But now, there's Music Monday. Music brings us together, and your song "ISS," in particular, celebrates people all over the planet coming together. I found the download for the easy ukulele version. While I probably won't add my voice when the concert is live, I'm learning "ISS" on my uke all the same.

    Music keeps us young, and as you mentioned in the Music Monday reminder video, it makes our neurons fire. It helps us make friends and makes us feel alive. What a fine thing for all of us to sing together, not just across your home country of Canada, but all over the world -- and from the stars.

    Sing your song, I'm listening.

    Your ukulele-playing earthbound fan,

    Pam Mandel
    @nerdseyeview

     

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    Updated Friday, May 3, 9:08 p.m. ET
    Ventura, California, Wildfire
    Fire department personnel drive along Pacific Coast Highway near Point Mugu as a thick layer of smoke sits overhead, Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Ventura County, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) - It seemed that each time wind-driven embers sparked new blazes or a wall of fire leaped a Southern California hillside and came charging toward hundreds of homes, an army of firefighters was right there to either douse or direct the flames away from humanity.

    As a result, the fire that broke out Thursday quickly moved through the Camarillo Springs area without destroying a single home.

    Firefighters were hoping for the same success on Friday, as the fire raged out of control miles away near the coast.

    Fifteen structures in the area 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles sustained some damage, and other homes in a wooded area were being threatened Friday by the blaze that had roared across 28 square miles. Some 900 firefighters using engines, aircraft, bulldozers and other equipment had it just 20 percent contained.

    The good fortune of the Camarillo Springs area wasn't the result of luck or clairvoyance by firefighters. It came after years of planning and knowing that sooner or later just such a conflagration was going to strike.

    "When developers want to go into an area that is wild-land, it's going to present a unique fire problem," Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tom Kruschke said. "And you have to be prepared for that."

    Camarillo Springs, which was nothing more than rugged backcountry when homes began to go up there 30 years ago, was well prepared.

    Its homes were built with sprinkler systems and fireproof exteriors from the roofs to the foundations. Residents are required to clear brush and other combustible materials to within 100 feet of the dwellings, and developers had to make sure the cul-de-sacs that fill the area's canyons were built wide enough to accommodate the emergency vehicles seen on TV racing in to battle the flames.

    "All of our rooftops are concrete tile and all of the exteriors are stucco," said Neal Blaney, a board member of The Springs Homeowners Association and a 15-year resident. "There's no wood, so there's almost no place for a flying ember to land and ignite something."

    When the blaze broke out, Blaney said, volunteer emergency officers in the neighborhood gave the first alert to residents. As a result, when the flames got close, residents were ready to get out of the way of firefighters.

    Residents in the area are also particularly vigilant about clearing brush from the hillsides next to their yards, Kruschke said. Normally, firefighters remind people in such areas to do that every June, but in Camarillo Springs people do it every few months. The work paid off this week.

    The type of blaze that hit the area usually doesn't strike Southern California wild-land until September or October, after the summer has dried out hillside vegetation. But the state has seen a severe drought during the past year, with the water content of California's snowpack only 17 percent of normal.

    That created late-summer conditions by May, and when hot Santa Ana winds and high temperatures arrived this week, the spring flames that firefighters routinely knock down once or twice a year quickly roared up a hillside - out of control.

    "It's just the beginning of May and we already have a 10,000-plus acre fire that's burning intensely," Kruschke said. "That doesn't bode well for the rest of the season."

    On Friday, the huge wildfire stormed back through canyons toward inland neighborhoods when winds reversed direction. A new evacuation was ordered in a Thousand Oaks neighborhood along a two-mile stretch of road overlooking smoke-filled coastal canyons.

    However, cooler, calmer ocean air was beginning to move ashore, raising humidity and even bringing a chance of rain by Sunday night, which should aid firefighters.

    California State University, Channel Islands, remained closed, however.

    After jumping Pacific Coast Highway 20 miles north of Malibu, the fire burned for a time on a beach shooting range at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station.

    The blaze is one of more than 680 wildfires in the state so far this year - about 200 more than average.

    On Friday, some 3,000 firefighters were battling a handful of blazes scattered around the state.

    In Riverside County, a 4 1/2-square-mile fire that destroyed a home burned for a third day in mountains north of Banning. It was 65 percent contained.

    Fifty-five miles away from Camarillo, in the hills above Glendale, a blaze broke out Friday afternoon, prompting the closure of several roads as it quickly charred 75 acres.

    In Tehama County in Northern California, the size of a wildfire north of Butte Meadows was revised down from more than 15 square miles to 10 square miles, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

    The fire, which was 10 percent contained, was burning in a remote area and wasn't posing an imminent threat to any structures.

    A fire in Butte County that covered 55 acres was expected to be contained this weekend.

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    This April 19, 2013, photo shows Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church parishioners Nick McGovern, left, and Albert Lucero holding an effigy of San Ysidro, the patron saint of farmers, during a prayer procession for rain in Bernalillo, N.M. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

    BERNALILLO, New Mexico (AP) - Along the irrigation canal that cuts through the centuries-old New Mexico town of Bernalillo, a small group of churchgoers gathers to recite the rosary before tossing rose petals into the water.

    Remnants of a tradition that stretches back to the days of Spanish explorers, the humble offerings are aimed at blessing this year's meager irrigation season and easing a relentless drought that continues to march across New Mexico and much of the western half of the United States.

    From the heart of New Mexico to West Texas and Oklahoma, the pressures of drought have resulted in a resurgence of faith - from Christian preachers and Catholic priests encouraging prayer processions to American Indian tribes using their closely guarded traditions in an effort to coax Mother Nature to deliver some much needed rain.

    On Sunday, congregations across eastern New Mexico and West Texas are planning a day of prayer for moisture and rain.

    "We're worried, but we're maintaining our traditional ways and cultural ways. Together we pray, and individually we pray," said Peter Pino, administrator of Zia Pueblo. "We haven't lost hope in the spiritual world, that they'll be able to provide us resources throughout the year.

    "We're not giving up. That's pretty much all we can do at this point."

    In its wake, the drought has left farmland idle, herds of cattle have been decimated, the threat of wildfire has intensified and cities are thinking twice about the sustainability of their water supplies.

    In New Mexico, the renewed interest in the divine and the tension with Mother Nature stems from nearly three years of hot, dry weather. There are spots around the state that have fallen behind in rainfall by as much as 24 inches, causing rivers to run dry and reservoirs to dip to record low levels.

    In neighboring Texas and Oklahoma, the story is no different.

    The faithful gathered Wednesday night in Oklahoma City to recite a collection of Christian, Muslim and Jewish prayers for the year's first worship service dedicated to rain.

    In Bernalillo, the parishioners from Our Lady of Sorrows church recited the rosary as they walked a few blocks from the church to the irrigation canal on a recent Friday evening. At the front of the procession, two men carried an effigy of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers.

    "I think people need to pray for rain," said Orlando Lucero, a school teacher and county commissioner who organized the procession. "We used to do it in every community and in every parish. It was a beautiful tradition that disappeared. Now I'm hoping that we can get other parishes involved."

    In dry times, it's natural for farmers and others who depend on the land to turn to God, said Laura Lincoln, executive director of the Texas Conference of Churches. Still, she and others said praying doesn't take away the responsibility of people to do what they can to ease the effects of drought.

    Church leaders are urging their parishioners to conserve water and use better land-management practices like rotating crops.

    "We have to play our part," said The Rev. William Tabbernee, head of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches. "Prayer puts us in touch with God, but it also helps us to focus on the fact that it is a partnership that we're involved in. We need to cooperate with God and all of humanity to be responsible stewards of the gifts God has given us through nature."

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    (Getty Images)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - A new federal report blames a combination of problems for a mysterious and dramatic disappearance of U.S. honeybees since 2006.

    The intertwined factors cited include a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides.

    The multiple causes make it harder to do something about what's called colony collapse disorder, experts say. The disorder has caused as much as one-third of the nation's bees to just disappear each winter since 2006.

    Bees, especially honeybees, are needed to pollinate crops.

    The federal report, issued Thursday by the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, said the biggest culprit is the parasitic mite varroa destructor, calling it "the single most detrimental pest of honeybees."

    The problem has also hit bee colonies in Europe, where regulators are considering a ban on a type of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that some environmental groups blame for the bee collapse. The U.S. report cites pesticides, but near the bottom of the list of factors. And federal officials and researchers advising them said the science doesn't justify a ban of the pesticides yet.

    May Berenbaum, a top bee researcher from the University of Illinois, said in an interview that she was "extremely dubious" that banning the pesticide would have any effect on bee health. She participated in a large conference of scientists that the government brought together last year to figure out what's going on, and the new report is the result of that conference.

    Berenbaum said more than 100 different chemicals - not just the pesticides that may be banned in Europe - have been found in bee colonies. Scientists find it hard to calculate how they react in different dosages and at different combinations, she said.

    Some of these chemicals harm the immune systems of bees or amplify viruses, said Penn State University bee expert Diana Cox-Foster.

    At a news conference Thursday, Sonny Ramaswamy, a top USDA official, said the scientific consensus is that there are multiple factors "and you can't parse any one out to be the smoking gun."

    USDA bee researcher Jeff Pettis also cited modern farming practices that often leave little forage area for bees.

    Dave Gaulson of the University of Stirling in Scotland, who conducted a study last year that implicated the chemical, said he can't disagree with the overall conclusions of the U.S. government report. However, he said it could have emphasized pesticides more.

    The environmental group, Pesticide Action Network North America blasted the federal government for not following Europe's lead in looking at a ban of certain pesticides.

    Pollinators, like honeybees, are crucial to the U.S. food supply. About $30 billion a year in agriculture depends on their health, said Ramaswamy.

    Besides making honey, honeybees pollinate more than 90 flowering crops. Among them are a variety of fruits and vegetables: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruit and cranberries. About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.

    "It affects virtually every American whether they realize it or not," said EPA acting administrator Bob Perciasepe.

    Zac Browning, a fourth-generation commercial beekeeper who has hives in Idaho, North Dakota and California, said the nation is "on the brink" of not having enough bees to pollinate its crops.

    University of Maryland entomologist David Inouye, who was not part of the federal report, said he agrees that there are multiple causes.

    "It's not a simple situation. If it were one factor we would have identified it by now," he said.

    Inouye, president-elect of the Ecological Society of America, said the problems in Europe and United States may be slightly different. In America, bee hives are trucked from farm to farm to pollinate large tracts of land and that may help spread the parasites and disease, as well as add stress to the colonies, while in Europe they stay put so those issues may not be as big a factor.

    At the news conference, Berenbaum said there's no single solution to the U.S. bee problem: "We're not really well equipped or even used to fighting on multiple fronts."

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    The same storm responsible for feet of snow over the Rockies and record snow on the Plains will bring the risk of new flooding over part of the Midwest and South into Saturday.

    A swath of 2- to 4-inch rainfall is forecast from southeastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin to Mississippi on Friday and Saturday. There is the potential for some areas to receive a half a foot of rain during this time.

    Enough rain will fall to cause flash, urban and small stream flooding and is likely to cause new rises on many rivers in the region. Water that was receding from low-lying, unprotected areas could take on water again.

    Thundery rains will target the cities of Peoria, Ill., St. Louis, Memphis and others.

    Levels remain high in many rivers from Missouri to Indiana from heavy rainfall earlier in April. In some cases, major flooding was still occurring along part of the lower Illinois River. Moderate flooding was still occurring along portions of the Upper Mississippi and Wabash rivers.

    In the South, the Tennessee, Big Black and Pearl rivers were experiencing minor flooding problems due to rainfall that has occurred since the past weekend.

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    In the Midwest, warm, dry weather much of this week aided many farmers, allowing the soil to dry out enough to allow for plowing and planting operations in much of the eastern two-thirds of the Corn Belt. However, in much of the western third of the Corn Belt it just wasn't a long enough stretch to overcome the chilly, rainy conditions from prior weeks. In some cases farm equipment was stuck in the mud.

    In the western part of the Corn Belt, snow fell to a depth of a half a foot or more Wednesday night and snow was reaching new areas Thursday and forecast to drift a bit farther to the east Thursday night.

    Snow is not forecast to reach across the Ohio Valley, but it could touch part of the Deep South by early next week.

    Downpours will continue to drench Florida into the weekend with the greatest risks being urban flooding and foiled vacation plans. However, the rain is greatly needed from an agricultural standpoint.

    Dry conditions are forecast to resume over the Sunshine State later in the month and into June before turning around about midsummer.

    AccuWeather.com offers insight for the months ahead throughout the nation with its Summer 2013 Forecast.

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