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    Carol Kawaykla salvages items at her tornado-ravaged home Thursday, May 23, 2013, in Moore, Okla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Many states get hit frequently with tornadoes and other natural catastrophes, but Oklahoma is Disaster Central.

    The twister that devastated Moore, Okla., was the 74th presidential disaster declared in the Sooner state in the past 60 years. Only much-larger and more-populous California and Texas have had more.

    The state is No. 1 in tornado disasters and No. 3 for flooding, according to a database of presidential disaster declarations handled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And those figures don't include drought, which is handled by a different agency.

    The explanation is partly atmospheric conditions that trigger twisters and flooding, partly where people live and how they build their homes, and partly politics and bureaucratic skill, according to disaster experts. Even one of the state's U.S. senators said recently that because of the way federal guidelines are written, Oklahoma is getting disaster aid more often than it needs.

    Of the 25 U.S. counties that have been declared disasters the most times since 1953, nine are in Oklahoma, the highest total of any state.

    Oklahoma County has been on the disaster list 38 times, more than the entire state of New Jersey. Caddo County, just west of the Oklahoma City metro area, has been named a federal disaster area nine times since 2007, with a litany of woe that includes twisters, floods, ice storms, a blizzard and violent winds.

    "Things happen around here," Tulsa, Okla.-based disaster consultant Ann Patton said. "Of course, sometimes it can make you stronger."

    When disaster declarations are measured on a per-person basis, Oklahoma gets nearly three times the national average. When they are computed based on how much land is in a state, it gets twice the national average, according to an analysis of FEMA records.

    The atmospheric explanation is pretty basic: "Oklahoma really is the bull's-eye for awful tornadoes," said Mike Lindell, director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University.

    Oklahoma is in a particularly busy and dangerous section of Tornado Alley, the cluster of states in the nation's midsection that are especially twister-prone.

    If you map all the nation's tornadoes in May - the busiest tornado month - they form a circular blob 100 miles across over central Oklahoma. That's because low-pressure systems rush south down the Rocky Mountains and collide with warm, moist air, forming nasty thunderstorms that often spawn tornadoes, said Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist at the Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.

    "Welcome to the sweet spot of severe thunderstorms," Brooks said.

    Texas, Kansas and Florida get more tornadoes than Oklahoma does, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But Oklahoma gets more of the biggest ones - the EF5s, like the one that smashed Moore. That's why the storm lab and the National Weather Service storm prediction center are in Oklahoma, Lindell said.

    With severe thunderstorms, you can get both tornadoes and flooding. Oklahoma has been declared a disaster 35 times because of tornadoes and 44 times because of flooding. In some instances, a combination tornado-and-flood disaster was declared.

    The FEMA database looks only at how often catastrophes are declared and aid is shipped, not at how much total money is given out.

    Tornadoes generally occur more frequently than hurricanes and earthquakes but usually don't cause as much damage. Oklahoma City officials estimate the Moore tornado caused up to $2 billion in damage, while state officials say it may exceed the figures for the 2011 Joplin, Mo., tornado. At $2.8 billion, Joplin is the nation's costliest tornado since 1950, according to NOAA.

    Yet NOAA's National Hurricane Center lists more than 30 hurricanes that caused more than $2.8 billion damage when adjusted for inflation. Hurricanes tend to hit broader areas, last longer and strike the more densely populated coast, where property values are higher.

    Another explanation for Oklahoma's role as Disaster Central is urban sprawl, which puts more people in the path of disasters. Moore, with 56,000 people, boomed by more than one-third between 2000 and 2010. As more such suburbs pop up and grow, the chances of homes being hit increases.

    Between 1970 and 1985, Tulsa County was declared a flood disaster about nine times, said Patton, the disaster consultant. Then the city moved more than 1,000 buildings out of harm's way and diverted water. There hasn't been major flooding since, she said.

    Oklahoma is the leading state when it comes to safe rooms, which probably saved lives in Moore, according to FEMA. Yet some areas haven't developed wisely to avoid disasters and "don't respect the power of nature," Patton said.

    Several disaster experts also say Oklahoma is particularly adept at working the bureaucracy to obtain federal aid.

    Having the president declare your community a federal disaster area is a complicated process that needs to be followed precisely. A governor must request a presidential declaration in writing through FEMA, which rates the disaster based on a number of factors. It is up to the president to make the decision, and then it's up to FEMA to get the aid flowing.

    The presidential decision involves many factors, including the political clout of the region's congressional delegation and how good a case the governor makes, said University of Delaware political science professor Richard Sylves, who studies disaster declarations. Oklahoma is so experienced at this process that its governors and emergency managers know how to make it run smoothly, he said.

    "Some people get disaster declarations simply because they've got an influential political delegation," Lindell said of the process in general.

    The irony, said Kathleen Tierney, who heads the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, is that Oklahoma's current two senators have often opposed special disaster relief funding bills for other parts of the country, such as one earlier this year for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy.

    Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has criticized the FEMA formula for declaring disasters, saying it rewards smaller states and punishes bigger ones for catastrophes of the same size.

    During a hearing last month, Coburn told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: "Oklahoma had 22 FEMA grants last year. I'm thankful that the federal government is helping Oklahoma out, but in a lot of those, we weren't overwhelmed and we could have taken and dealt with it. And some states that may be in much worse budget shape than we are had twice as much but got no help from the federal government on like-minded events. "

    Joseph Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator for disaster response, said Thursday that politics has absolutely nothing to do with Oklahoma's many disaster declarations: "It's purely a natural occurrence."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Tornado Devastation in Moore, Oklahoma
    Moore, Oklahoma, Tornado


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    A man carries a young girl who was rescued after being trapped with her mother in their home after a tornado hit Joplin, Mo., May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Mike Gullett)

    In the wind-swept prairie called Tornado Alley, the scene is eerily familiar: Homes smashed to splinters. Trees and telephone poles snapped like twigs. Piles of bricks, overturned cars and dazed survivors sifting through rubble in search of a precious photo or heirloom. A town in ruins.

    On Monday, it was Moore, Okla. Two years ago, it was Joplin, Mo. There's a pattern to the aftermath of these deadly disasters: Clean-up. A steely determination. Vows to rebuild. And urgent questions about what can be done to shield tornado-prone communities from the worst ravages of the next monster storm that comes calling.

    The ferocious tornado in Moore that killed 24 people and carved a nearly 17-mile path of destruction is bound to revive talk of beefed-up building codes, spur new construction of shelters and send architects and engineers back to the drawing board for ways to make Tornado Alley safer. Some experts are urging more of the tools used to protect hurricane zones; others say there are limits, financial and practical, to what a community can do to protect itself from the kind of horrific super-twisters that leveled Moore and Joplin.

    "You can design for 250 mph winds but you can't design for it economically," says Steve Cope, Joplin's building and neighborhood improvement supervisor. "It's got to be something that can withstand the impact of a car going 250 miles an hour into a wall and roof because that's what happened here. ... To build a truly tornado-proof home, people wouldn't be able to afford to live in it."

    After 161 people died in Joplin in an EF5 tornado in May 2011, the city strengthened its building codes. It now requires, for example, more mechanical fasteners at the roof and foundation to better keep intact the shell of the house, Cope says. "We did what we felt was economical and easily achievable and we know would make an impact," he adds.

    But Joplin stopped short of mandating safe rooms, largely for financial reasons. "We're talking about an additional $3,000 to $4,000," Cope says. "Many people thought that additional cost should be up to them to decide. We have folks who don't want government to tell them they had to do it."

    Residents of Tornado Alley have proven time and again their resilience when their communities are flattened and all seems lost. There's a sense that if dust storms, droughts and Depression have been unable to break their spirit, neither will twisters. That's especially true in Moore, which has been battered by three big tornados in the last 14 years.

    When twister season arrives in Oklahoma, there's a sense that "this is the time of year when things happen, but it's not a cowering attitude, it's not, 'I'm so afraid,'" says Caleb Lack, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Central Oklahoma who has studied PTSD in tornado survivors. One conclusion of his research: PTSD is more likely to occur among those who've experienced man-made disasters, such as a bombing or a school shooting, than among survivors of natural disasters.

    Folks in Oklahoma understand no place is safe, he says. "You adopt an attitude that matches the environment," Lack explains. "Here we have massive storms but the positive vastly outweighs the negative. People say, 'I could live in places where there are no tornadoes, but then there are hurricanes, there are earthquakes and there are blizzards.' You have to choose your poison."

    Joplin hasn't seen any great exodus since its disaster. There also haven't been dramatic differences in construction and the same kinds of houses are being built with relatively minor modifications, such as extra concrete in the foundations and roof fasteners, says Crystal Harrington, head of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Missouri.

    "That will make a difference for a normal disaster," she says. "Ours was an extraordinary disaster."

    Harrington says there might have more calls for different construction methods if the twister had been less severe and some particular kinds of building remained standing. But "when you saw all this destruction, all anybody could think was nobody could survive this," she says. "A concrete house would but people don't want that."

    Instead, more people are opting for in-house safe rooms or shelters.

    That's the route Lloyd Parker and his wife, Janie, took after they lost almost everything in the Joplin twister. Parker says his wife, who suffered a punctured lung and three broken ribs in the storm, insisted on the safe room. It has 8-inch-thick concrete walls with reinforced steel rods and a steel door that can withstand almost 300 mph winds.

    "Short of an atom bomb," he says, "nothing will get into it. The whole house could fall down and we're going to be fine."

    They equipped the room with cable TV and recliners. Parker and his wife hunkered down there during a spare of recent storms and stayed informed by watching The Weather Channel.

    "It cost $4,000 to $5,000 but it was worth it," Parker says. "I would recommend everybody do it."

    But they're still in the minority. Only about 20 percent of homes built after the tornado have above-ground, in-house safe rooms, says Cope, the Joplin official. Some folks, he says, are choosing backyard shelters, instead.

    Money remains a big obstacle for building storm shelters. Basements also can add as much as 10 percent to the overall cost of a house, according to Curtis McCarty, an Oklahoma home builder. Homes in the state are generally built on slabs.

    "Basements aren't the answer because unless you have a concrete ceiling, it'll be a hole in the ground filled with debris," he says.

    McCarty expects there will be increased demand for shelters now as the Moore tornado dominates headlines, but that could fade. If people exceed their budgets when building houses, he says, it's the kind of item they often remove.

    In Moore, Mayor Glenn Lewis wants to propose a city ordinance to require all new homes have storm shelters but because of the expense, he says it's more realistic any requirement will be limited to new assisted-living facilities and apartment complexes.

    But shelters are just one option. Engineering experts say residents of Tornado Alley can fortify their homes for a relatively modest price by using construction designs common in hurricane zones, though they won't help for those in the direct path of an EF4 or E5 twister.

    "The tornadoes that get a lot of press - Moore or Joplin - the sheer destruction is so severe there's a feeling there's nothing you can do about it," says Fred Haan, an engineering professor at the Rose-Human Institute of Technology in Indiana. But, he says, about 90 percent of storms are in the EF2 category or lower - they carry a maximum 135 mph wind gusts. For those, "raising the level of construction, a lot of the destruction can be significantly reduced," he says.

    Some of the more common items used are 'hurricane clips,' steel fasteners that connect the roof to walls and walls to the foundation. They cost a few dollars each and a couple hundred of them greatly increase the resilience of the house and can double the strength of the roof, he says.

    Other possible tools include ring shank nails that also can reinforce the roof, windows that are resistant to debris and reinforced house and garage doors.

    For schools and hospitals, more dramatic measures have been taken. In Joplin, St. John's Regional Medical Center, which was ravaged by the storm, is being rebuilt with siding made of precast, reinforced concrete atop another layer of reinforced masonry. The windows will be made of safety laminated glass capable of withstanding winds of up to 250 mph in the most vulnerable areas, such as intensive care units, according to officials.

    Joplin may be able to provide some lessons as Moore recovers. While city officials in the Oklahoma town face many decisions Jennifer Walker already has made up her mind.

    When she moved into her single-story brick house in Moore eight years ago, she considered installing a safe room or bunker to shield her family. She decided against it.

    This week as she stood in the rubble and watched two National Guardsmen dig through the wreckage of her home to retrieve her two-week-old washer and dryer, she made a vow: She'll build an underground bunker, even if she has to shell out $10,000.

    "Oh yeah, I would forego the granite, whirlpool tub," she says. "I would forego all that just to have the shelter, for sure. Now."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Things Found in the Tornado Rubble


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    Breaking Weather: Stormy Start to Holiday WeekendThere will be periods of rain in New England with the threat for flooding as well as storms in the Plains.


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    A San Antonio metro bus sits in floodwaters after it was swept off the road during heavy rains Saturday in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

    SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Two women died after being swept away by floodwaters after weekend rains deluged numerous roads in San Antonio, forcing more than 235 rescues by emergency workers who aided stranded motorists and homeowners at times using inflatable boats.

    At least one teenage boy also was reported missing after Saturday's torrential rains, carried away while trying to cross the swollen Cibolo Creek in the San Antonio suburb of Schertz, authorities said.

    At the height of Saturday's torrential downpours, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro urged residents not to drive as a flash flood warning covered nearly two dozen counties. Nearly 10 inches of rainfall was reported in a matter of hours Saturday at the city's airport.

    The National Weather Service said the flash flood threat would persist until late Sunday morning though mostly cloudy weather with occasional thunderstorms and showers was expected to give way to partly sunny skies later in the day.

    The rains left more than 200 residents of the Texas city stranded in cars and homes when water rose unexpectedly up to 4 feet in some spots. Traffic also was snarled, making driving difficult.

    "It was pretty crazy," said Gera Hinojosa, a valet parking cars downtown after the storm. "It was pretty unexpected. We hardly got any warning about it."

    One woman became trapped in her car and climbed to the roof before being swept away in floodwaters, said San Antonio Fire Department spokesman Christian Bove. Her body was later found against a fence, he said.

    Emergency officials also recovered the body of a woman in her 60s who was swept away in her car while firefighters were trying to rescue her.

    Authorities did not immediately identify the women.

    At nightfall, water still was pooling in many ditches and underpasses. Several roadways were closed, including a major highway linking the suburbs and the city.

    But even in low-lying neighborhoods along Commerce Street east of downtown San Antonio - a faded stretch of clapboard houses and beauty parlors - yards were clear. In the tourist district around the River Walk, the streets were thick with weekend holiday revelers.

    While the water in some homes rose 4 feet high, according to Bove, most residents experienced the floodsprimarily as a major traffic hassle.

    Karen Herring, 50, who spent the day volunteering at a fitness contest at the AT&T Center, said participants complained of three-hour drives across town.

    In the city, even a municipal bus was swept away, but firefighters on a boat were able to pluck the three passengers and driver to safety, public transit spokeswoman Priscilla Ingle said. Nobody was injured.

    The San Antonio International Airport by Saturday afternoon had recorded 9.87 inches of rain since midnight, causing nearly all streams and rivers to experience extraordinary flooding. The highest amount of rainfall recorded since midnight was 15.5 inches at Olmos Creek at Dresden Drive.

    The San Antonio River about 20 miles southeast of the city, near Elmendorf, was expected to peak at 62 feet by Sunday morning, well above the flood stage of 35 feet, the National Weather Service said.

    The National Weather Service compared the flooding to the storm of October 1998, when 30 inches of rain fell in a two-day period. In that flood, the Guadalupe and San Antonio River basins overflowed, leaving more than 30 people dead, according to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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    Graduations Bring Normalcy To Ravaged OklahomaOKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Seven tornadoes have swept through their town since they were born, but as new graduates donned caps and gowns to say goodbye to their high schools Saturday, they vowed they wouldn't say goodbye to Moore.

    "I wouldn't want to be in any other place. It's our roots. Tornadoes are a part of life here," said 18-year-old Brooke Potter, whose current college aspirations take her to two neighboring towns.

    Saturday's graduations for Westmoore, Southmoore and Moore high schools are another step toward normalcy for this Oklahoma City suburb ravaged by an extremely strong tornado. Monday's twister killed 24, including seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

    "I want to end up back here," Madison Dobbs, 18, said. "I've been here my whole life and can't picture myself anywhere else. Tornadoes happen anywhere."

    While that's true, few other places have the amount and severity of tornadoes like Oklahoma - and no other place has had a tornado like Moore. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman says the Oklahoma City area has been struck by more tornadoes than any other U.S. city, citing records that date to 1893.

    When the current graduating class was in second grade, Moore experienced an EF4 tornado with winds approaching 200 mph. And three months before they started pre-kindergarten, a twister with the highest winds on record - 302 mph - sliced through their town.

    "Crazy storms happen; the goods outweigh the bads," said Potter, who wants to attend Oklahoma City Community College, and then transfer to the University of Oklahoma in neighboring Norman.

    With graduates wearing red, blue or black caps and gowns, Westmoore was the first of three schools to hold commencement ceremonies Saturday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.

    A teacher in the district said despite being big enough to have three high schools, the 56,000-strong community is still tightly knit.

    "This is such a big district, but this is a small town," said Tammy Glasgow, a second-grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary, which was also destroyed but didn't have any deaths. "When you see somebody in the street, it's not a 'hi' and a handshake, it's a hug."

    Some students lost everything in the violent storm. Southmoore senior Callie Dosher, 18, said she sifted through the debris of her family's destroyed home in the past few days, looking to recover precious possessions - her mom's two Bibles and the teddy bear Callie's granddad gave her shortly before he passed away.

    But Dosher, too, wants to stay: "These people, I've grown up with them. I have all my friends here," she said.

    Miranda Mann, an 18-year-old Southmoore grad whose family also lost their home, couldn't recognize her own neighborhood because of the damage. Yet the family has vowed to rebuild on the same ground.

    "We loved the house we were in," she said. "But we get to make new memories in the new house."

    Westmoore Senior Alex Davis, 18, will attend University of Oklahoma after graduation partly so he can stay close to friends and family.

    "It speaks to how the community's banded together," he said. "We're not going to let a natural disaster beat us."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Things Found in the Tornado Rubble


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    Terrifying Footage: Huge Tornado Tears Through Russian Town
    A tornado ripped through residential areas about 65 miles southeast of Moscow on Thursday, destroying vehicles, damaging houses and ripping down trees and electricity poles. There were no reports of serious injuries, however.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Things Found in the Tornado Rubble


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    Debris cakes the face of this yard angel in front of Shirley Parrish's home in Moore, Okla., on Thursday. The 80-year-old widow escaped to a neighbor's shelter just minutes before Monday's EF5 tornado destroyed her house. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

    MOORE, Okla. (AP) - They say you should never make a big decision when you're emotional. But what if there's barely a moment to think and a life-or-death choice looming?

    In those last horrifying minutes before the EF5 tornado struck, there was no time for reflection or regret. Just questions needing answers, right now.

    Does a pregnant woman go to find her daughter, or protect the life growing inside her?

    Does a husband risk his life to go back for the family pets?

    Do you listen to a spouse on the other end of the telephone, or to the little voice in your heart?

    With death staring them in the face and adrenaline coursing through their veins, the citizens of Moore were faced with the biggest decisions of their lives, and they had nothing to go on but gut instinct amid raw terror.


    Cindy Sasnett clings to a porcelain Christmas angel decoration she recovered from her destroyed home as she stands Wednesday in one of the rooms she almost took refuge in from Monday's tornado, in Moore, Okla. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

    As she ran from room to room, Cindy Sasnett prayed to God for help and cursed herself for not being better prepared.

    "What was I thinking?" she remonstrated herself for not insisting they build a storm shelter. "We should have had one. If anything, for the children."

    The day of the tornado, husband Jim Sasnett, machinist, was at work about 10 miles away in Oklahoma City. Cindy, who runs a daycare out of their 1,600-square-foot home, had six charges that day, including her 2-year-old grandson, Jack.

    About an hour and a half before the storm hit, parents of four kids had come to retrieve them. The fifth, Rob Willis, was on his way from Edmond to get 2-year-old Cade, but was stuck in traffic.

    The couple had talked about installing a shelter after devastating tornadoes struck Moore in 1999 and again in 2003. But lack of funds or just rank procrastination always seemed to conquer the fear.

    Now, Cindy Sasnett was petrified.

    She called her husband, and he told her it looked as if the storm might turn away from their home. But she couldn't get over her feelings of unease.

    She was looking to another source for guidance.

    "God, it's here," she prayed. "What do I do, Lord?"

    She raced into their bedroom, where she kept her mother's ashes. As she stood in the doorway, a little voice said, "No. Go." She ran to a closet, then to a hallway, and confronted the same whisperings.

    Suddenly, she heard the television announcer say that the tornado was heading for her area, and that no one without a shelter could survive. She grabbed the children and said, "Come on, babies. We're going."

    Dirt and bits of leaf pelted the 50-year-old grandmother as she strapped Jack and Cade into their car seats. Cade looked up and pointed.

    "Look," he shouted. "Tornado!" Jack joined in.

    She slammed the SUV into gear and raced up the street ahead. Glancing over her shoulder, her eyes clouded with tears, she thought how strange it would be to survive the storm, only to die in a car crash.

    Now, Jim was her guide, on the cell phone. Watching the storm's progress on TV at work, he told her to head toward Sunnylane Road, turn right, then go south.

    Cindy circled until the radio announcer said it was safe for Moore residents to return. When she got back to the house, every room in which she'd considered taking shelter was demolished.

    A couple of hours later, Rob Willis came staggering up the street. He wrapped her in a bear hug and thanked her again and again for saving his only child.

    Cindy wants two things to come from their experience. She hopes Jim will fully accept Jesus into his life.

    And she wants their next home to have a shelter.


    Leslie Paul stands with her children Hayden, 4, and Addison, 7, in the wreckage of their home in Moore, Okla., on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

    Leslie Paul knew that her son was safe.

    Husband Scott, an Oklahoma County sheriff's deputy, had been wanting to spend more time with the kids. So on Monday, he took 4-year-old Hayden with him to the command center off Interstate 35 at SW 29th Street.

    But 7-year-old Addison was at Oak Ridge Elementary. Not yet sure where the tornado was headed, Leslie jumped in the car and went to get her daughter.

    She didn't get far.

    Alarmed by the deteriorating conditions and eight months pregnant, Paul decided to take shelter at Crossroads Cathedral, just east of Santa Fe Avenue. When she arrived at the reinforced choir room at the building's center, a couple hundred people were already huddled there.

    Emerging from the church after the tornado had passed, she found the roads choked with debris. On foot, she headed out on the 9-mile trek to the school.

    Addison and her classmates had ridden out the storm in the hallways. The tornado caused only superficial damage, and the kids were moved to the cafeteria to await their parents.

    As she waited, a classmate's father arrived to retrieve him. Addison overheard the man telling the boy that his mother had been killed.

    Finally, after four hours, Leslie Paul made it to the school. A teacher brought Addison out, and the two fell into each other's arms, weeping.

    "Mommy," Addison sobbed. "My friend's mommy got sucked up by the tornado. And I was afraid that that would happen to you, and that I would never see you again."

    The two held each other hard for about 10 minutes. Then they headed out, Addison clutching her mother's hand tightly.

    They had walked for a while before Leslie was able to raise someone on her cellphone to come pick them up.

    That evening, Addison talked animatedly for two hours about what had gone on at school. Then, suddenly, she broke down in tears. She cried for more than an hour.

    When the family returned to their home on Tuesday, there wasn't a wall standing. Leslie Paul had gone to rescue Addison, but the little blond girl may have ended up saving her.

    Digging through the rubble for something that might help comfort Addison, they found one of her favorite dolls - a Raggedy Ann.

    Scott and Leslie Paul shared a birthday Friday - he turned 30, she 27. They celebrated at the Oklahoma City hotel provided by their insurance company.

    Addison's little sister is due in June 10. The Pauls plan to name her Faith.


    Scott Evenson on Thursday walks to his eight-months pregnant wife Kimberly, across the rubble that was once their home before a tornado hit Moore, Okla., several days earlier. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    It was correctional officer Scott Evenson's first day back to work after a lengthy illness, and he was tired after his overnight shift. Returning home around 9:15 a.m. Monday, he fixed 2-year-old Macie a bowl of Cheerios, munched on a bagel and then slipped off to bed.

    He and Kimberly, eight months pregnant with their second child, were renting her grandparents' old home on South Broadway, not far from I-35 and the massive Warren Theater. They'd been in the house about two years, and had come to love it there.

    The man across the street worked at Sara Lee, and would come by with gifts of fresh-baked bread; another neighbor was generous with his tools. The brick cottage was just a three-bedroom starter home, but the young couple - he's 26, she 27 - one day hoped to have the money to buy it.

    While Scott slept, Kimberly strapped Macie into the car to run some errands, despite the ominous warnings on the radio. She drove to the post office to mail her student loan payments, then went to drop off her Netflix movies.

    Not long after reaching the house, her weather alert radio sounded. She woke her husband.

    The man next door had invited them to use his underground shelter. Scott Evenson handed Macie over the chain-link fence and headed across the street with his wife to gather as many neighbors as they could.

    By then, his mother, his sister's boyfriend and their 8-month old son had arrived. Their home had nearly been hit by Sunday's tornadoes, and they decided it would be safer here.

    When they finally made it to the shelter, Scott Evenson noticed that one family had brought their two dogs, and he decided to go back for his. Odie, a 4-year-old pit bull mix, and Sammy, a 5-year-old dachshund, were both pound puppies.

    The dogs were frantic. Each time Evenson got close, a loud noise would send them fleeing in the other direction.

    How much longer could he do this? After a couple of minutes, he gave up and went outside. Pausing on the deck, he looked at the jungle gym they'd just bought for Macie from Craigslist. Swinging on it was her favorite thing in the world.

    He'd just decided to make one last effort to corral the dogs when he looked up and saw a mass of mud, branches and leaves swirling his way. Hustling to the cellar door, he yanked it shut and shouted: "We're going to lose it all."

    Macie cried as her ears popped under the intense pressure. Scott Evenson hung on a nylon rope to keep the door shut as his wife huddled with the others in silent prayer.

    When the danger was over, it took the group several minutes to free themselves. A 10-foot sycamore bough had fallen across the shelter door.

    As they clambered across the debris pile, Macie spotted a Cabbage Patch doll that had been ripped in two. She scowled at her father when he refused to let her take it.

    Scattered about were pages of religious sheet music from Kimberly's years of piano competition. In what had been the kitchen, a soggy book was open to the hymn, "How Firm a Foundation."

    Miraculously, Odie emerged from the destruction and came over to his master. They dug and dug, but could not find Sammy.

    On Thursday, they got a report that a dachshund had been recovered in the area. The description didn't quite fit, but they went to the shelter anyway - it was not Sammy.

    Kimberly's aunt is letting the family stay in a home she owns up in Norman until they decide what to do next. Scott Evenson says it's doubtful his in-laws will rebuild.

    Macie still doesn't talk much, But every once in a while, her mother will hear her daughter mumble the word, "Sammy."


    Scott Bagensie takes a break from recovering items from his shattered rental home in Moore, Okla., on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

    Marianthe Bagensie was hunkered down at her office on Tinker Air Force Base when her phone rang. Her husband, Scott, was stuck in traffic on I-35, near 89th Street, heading toward the tornado.

    "What are you doing there?" she asked, incredulous.

    "I'm heading home to take care of the dogs and cats," the air traffic control specialist replied.

    With older son Alexander serving in Afghanistan with the Air Force and 20-year-old Zack preparing to leave the nest, the seven animals had become more precious than ever to the couple. But Marianthe had just lost her mother and grandfather in one horrible March week, and she wasn't ready to lose Scott.

    "Please," she begged. "Don't be stupid."

    Scott Bagensie's first thought was to pile the animals into the car and try to outrun the tornado. But when he heard that the storm was bearing down on the Warren, he knew that wasn't an option.

    Using Milk Bones, Scott easily lured Apollo, a hound-pit bull mix, and Night Song, a shepherd, into the bathroom and closed the door.

    The four cats weren't so easy.

    At 16, Hunter went docilely into the master bedroom closet, followed by Chaser, Alexander's white Siamese. But twins Jade and Ying Yang, who weighs in at nearly 14 pounds, were under the bed and weren't coming out without a fight, so Bagensie left them to fend for themselves.

    Animals as safe as he could make them, he went outside to find debris already swirling in the air. He was starting to panic when he spotted a man waving from a garage two doors down.

    "We have room in the shelter," the man shouted. "Come on over here."

    Bagensie was the last of the 10 people to get inside. Not five minutes later, everything went dark.

    Marianthe Bagensie tried in vain for more than an hour to reach her husband. Finally, she got through.

    "The house is gone," he said.

    "I don't care," she replied. "You're safe."

    When Bagensie made his way through the wreckage to the bathroom, the two dogs were wagging their tails at him. He found Hunter perched on a pile of clothes at the far corner of the closet.

    By Tuesday, all were safe and accounted for.

    Scott Bagensie says he would do the same thing all over again, "I value my animals that much." Much as she loves them all, Marianthe isn't sure it was worth the risk.

    She glanced over at the garage where Scott had finally taken refuge.

    "I probably wouldn't be standing here right now if I had lost him," she said as she stood in front of the mangled home. "It's just too much. It's just too much. ... He is my other half."


    Eldon Parrish helps his mother, Shirley, across the debris-strewn lawn of her home in Moore, Okla. on Thursday. The 80-year-old woman escaped to a neighbor's shelter just minutes before Monday's EF5 tornado destroyed her home. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

    Shirley Parrish tries not to be a burden to others.

    When macular degeneration began stealing her eyesight, her boss at the gasket company where she'd worked since the 1970s would send his son to drive her to the office. But in December 2010, she retired, unable to suppress the guilty feeling that "everybody was babysitting me."

    No longer trusting herself to maneuver the Chevy pickup in the driveway, the 80-year-old widow relied on her son, Eldon, to take her places.

    She and her late husband, Wayne, had never built a shelter. Every rain had always left water standing in the backyard, and they figured the conditions weren't right.

    So as Monday's tornado approached, Parrish simply grabbed Little Bit, her 12-year-old dachshund, and headed to her bedroom closet.

    She left the television turned up high so she could follow the weather reports. She didn't hear neighbor Steve Flynn pounding on the door to invite her into his backyard bunker.

    A few miles away in Norman, Eldon's wife Shari Parrish was leaving work to go be with her mother-in-law when her husband called. Stay put, Eldon said, and he called his mother.

    When the phone in her bedroom rang, she emerged from her hiding place, cradling Little Bit in one arm.

    Go next door to the shelter, Eldon told her.

    She didn't hesitate. But she had had both knees replaced, and as she scrambled to get up the concrete step of her neighbor's house, she stumbled and fell.

    "Help me," she screamed, still clinging to her dog. Flynn emerged, picked her up and led her to the bunker.

    In the midst of the tornado, the bunker's metal door flew off. "Good Lord," Parrish prayed. "Why is this happening?"

    Afterward, Flynn helped her up out of the hole.

    She set Little Bit down on the driveway. The tiny dog just stood there, staring at the gutted house and whimpering.

    "June the 3rd, I would have been here 47 years," the snowy-haired woman said as she surveyed the pitiful sight under a blazing sun Thursday.

    Going through the debris, Eldon found a 3-foot-high yard angel he'd given his mother a couple of Christmases ago and stood it up in front of the house.

    "I've got a lot of angels," his mother said. "I've got one great big two-legged one right over there."


    Wal-Mart manager Adam Stutzman stands behind his store in Moore, Okla., on Thursday. More than five dozen workers, customers and passersby took shelter in the store's meat room from Monday's tornado, which collapsed the church in the background. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

    When he ran the Wal-Mart store in Tulsa, Adam Stutzman had a 45-minute commute to and from home. After they moved to Moore to take over the Neighborhood Market there eight years ago, he made sure to get a house close enough that he could go home for lunch with Susan and the kids.

    After lunch Monday, the Stutzmans decided to check 13-year-old Alyssa out of school early so they could all go to an assembly at North Moore Elementary. Coleton, 10, had gotten straight As and was receiving a superintendent's award certificate.

    By the time the ceremony ended around 2:30, Moore was already on high alert. Knowing his family would be safe in the shelter they'd installed beneath their garage three years ago, Stutzman decided to head over to the store on SE 4th Street to make things were all right.

    A group of roofers was already there, fixing leaks from a storm system the day before. Susan knew there was no use in arguing with the company man.

    The 35-year-old store manager wasn't there 15 minutes before the sirens began blaring.

    Stutzman and his "associates" are a well-oiled machine. Without waiting for instructions, they began ushering customers to the meat room behind the deli - about 65 people altogether. The temperature in the room is kept just below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and Stutzman's staff distributed white butcher smocks to help keep the refugees warm.

    They left the store's front doors open, in case anyone else might need to seek shelter. As he stood in the doorway, Stutzman watched as an old man unplugged an electric scooter, climbed aboard and rolled up the bread aisle toward him. Almost as soon as the man was safely inside, the storm was upon them.

    Standing watch, Stutzman could hear the skylights popping and see ceiling tiles lifting up from the storm's suction - but, surprisingly, when the storm was over there was limited damage.

    Outside, it was a scene of devastation. The Church of God out back was half collapsed, and nearly an entire neighborhood was gone, home alarms beeping out of synch in an eerie half-harmony.

    "It was just so mind-blowing, how lucky we got," he said Thursday. "It could have been us in the rubble."

    Back home, Susan Stutzman had been listening to the news and feared that the store had been hit. It was about an hour before her husband could get word to his family that he was OK.

    She knows he'll make the same decision again.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Things Found in the Tornado Rubble


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    Updated 3:13 p.m. EDT, Sunday, May 26, 2013

    President Obama embraces Julie Lewis, seen with her husband Scott Lewis, and their son Zack, hidden, a third-grader of the destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School seen in the background, as Obama visits Moore, Okla., Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Moore, Okla., which was utterly devastated by tornadoes and severe weather last week. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    MOORE, Okla. (AP) - President Barack Obama on Sunday visited tornado-devastated Moore, Okla., consoling people staggered by the loss of life and property and promising that the government will be behind them "every step of the way."

    "I'm just a messenger here," the president said, offering moral and monetary support to the Oklahoma City suburb where 24 people, including 10 children, were killed last Monday afternoon when the EF5 tornado struck.

    Standing with Gov. Mary Fallin and other state and federal officials, Obama noted the substantial rebuilding job ahead and said "our hearts go out to you."

    "This is a strong community with strong character," he said. "There's no doubt they will bounce back. But they need help."

    Obama urged the American people to make contributions as well, noting the loss of some 1,200 home and saying the damage was "pretty hard to comprehend."

    Shortly after his arrival on a partly cloudy day, Obama road past grassy fields strewn with scattered debris, witnessing devastation so awesome that it appeared as if garbage had literally rained from the sky. His first stop was the demolished site of the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven students were killed when the tornado turned the one-story building into a heap of bricks, broken concrete and twisted metal.

    The White House said that FEMA has already provided $57 million in rebates and incentives to help build about 12,000 storm shelters in Oklahoma. "These storm shelters can be the difference between life and death," presidential spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters accompanying Obama to Oklahoma on Air Force One.

    Obama walked along Eagle Drive, with the demolished school on his left and on his right, homes reduced as far as the eye could see to piles of rubble. Vehicles were turned upside down and toys like doll carriages and children's books were strewn with furniture and ripped out wall insulation.

    "I know this is tough," he told one school official.

    He met the Lewis family, who lost their home behind the school, telling them the important thing is they survived and could replace their things.

    "What a mess," he told their son Zack, a third grader at the shattered school. Zack's father, Scott, ran into the school just before the storm hit and ran with his terrified son back to their home's storm shelter.

    "You've got some story to tell," Obama told the boy. "This is something you'll remember all your life."

    For Obama, Sunday's visit had a familiar ring.

    Only five months into his second term, he has traveled as president over the last several years to the northeast to console people in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and visited Connecticut and Arizona to comfort people traumatized by shooting rampages. He also has undertaken his consoler-in-chief role at the site of plant explosions and mine disasters, not to mention last year's visit to support Jersey Shore people affected by Superstorm Sandy.

    On Sunday, Obama flew from Washington to Tinker Air Force Base and shook hands as soon as he descended the stairs. Fallin, the first to greet the president, had said earlier that she appreciated the visit, but the that her state also needs quick action from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    The Republican governor said so far, the agency has done a great job of speeding relief and cash assistance to affected families, but said she's concerned about the long run.

    "There's going to come a time when there's going to be a tremendous amount of need once we begin the debris clearing, which we already have, but really get it cleared off to where we need to start rebuilding these homes, rebuilding these businesses," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation." ''And we know at different times in the past, money hasn't come always as quickly as it should."

    Earnest said Obama wanted to make the trip to offer condolences and reiterate his and the nation's commitment to rebuild.

    "This is the greatest nation on Earth, and we're going to dedicate this nation's time, attention, resources and expertise to help our people in their time of urgent crisis," the spokesman said.

    Earnest also touted the federal contributions so far, including Obama's signing of a disaster declaration within hours of the storm to speed aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Earnest said that 450 FEMA personnel were working on the ground in Oklahoma and have delivered 43,000 meals, 150,000 liters of water and thousands of cots, blankets and tarps. He said 4,200 people have applied for disaster assistance, and $3.4 million in payments have been approved.

    Fallin said the money is particularly vital for the victims. "A lot of people lose their checkbooks, they lose their credit cards, they lose their driver's license, their birth certificates, their insurance papers, they lose everything, and they have no cash. And some of the banks were even hit, the ATM machines, so people need cash to get immediate needs," she said on CBS.

    Among the tornado victims were 10 children, including two sisters pulled by the strong winds out of their mother's grasp, an infant who died along with his mother trying to ride out the storm in a convenience store and seven students at Plaza Towers. Many students were pulled from the rubble after the school was destroyed.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Things Found in the Tornado Rubble


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    Members of a the Shertz Fire Department and Texas Parks and Wildlife search Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Shertz, Texas, for a missing teen who was swept away in a rain swollen Cibilo Creek Saturday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

    SCHERTZ, Texas (AP) - Search teams on Sunday found the body of teenager who was swept away by floodwaters as he tried to swim across a swollen creek near San Antonio, authorities said.

    Avron Adams, 18, of Schertz, and a friend got caught Saturday in the swift waters of Cibolo Creek after about half a dozen friends swam across. One friend held onto a tree branch and got out, but Adams did not, officials said.

    David Harris, a spokesman for Schertz, said about 5:45 p.m. searchers located Adams' body near the water's edge. Harris said Adams' family has been notified.

    "The body was found near where the search and rescue dogs had identified a scent," Harris said.

    Earlier Sunday, Adams' father said he was holding out hope.

    "We're hopeful, but at this point, you just don't know," his father, Kenneth Adams, told The Associated Press as his wife stood nearby. "It's very hard. We're just keeping the faith."

    The search effort included helicopters, divers and rescue teams in inflatable boats.

    The usually dry creek in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio, had dropped about 10 feet since Saturday. Other rivers in the San Antonio area and surrounding counties continued to drop after peaking above the flood stage, but flood warnings remained in effect Sunday. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for seven counties until 6 p.m. Sunday, saying thunderstorms could produce heavy rainfall.

    Two women died Saturday after being swept away by floodwaters, some as high as 10 feet on some roads. One who was trapped in her car climbed to the roof before being swept away, and her body was found against a fence, said San Antonio Fire Department spokesman Christian Bove. Emergency officials also recovered the body of a woman in her 60s, whose car was carried away by water as firefighters were trying to rescue her. Authorities did not immediately identify the women who died.

    On Sunday, about 20 people were at a shelter set up by the American Red Cross, including some whose apartment complex roof caved in under the weight of the heavy rainfall.

    Roxanne DeLeon arrived there Sunday with her 18-month-old son, 6-year-old daughter, 15-year-old daughter and husband, a day after escaping through waist-deep water in their rented home with nothing but what they were wearing, her purse and some diapers. They didn't even have time to grab shoes.

    DeLeon said they spent the night on the floor of a relative's home because family members don't have enough room for all of them, and their insurance agent cannot provide help that would get them into a motel or apartment until after Memorial Day.

    "It feels like we're stuck," DeLeon said Sunday. "One relative can keep my son part of the day while I'm at work, but who's going to pick up my kids from school? I never thought my family would go through something like this."

    The San Antonio International Airport recorded 9.87 inches of rain Saturday, the second-highest official daily rainfall in city history.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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    Whiteface Mountain Veterans' Memorial Highway after a heavy snowfall Sunday, May 26, 2013. (AP Photo/courtesy of ORDA/Whiteface)

    WILMINGTON, N.Y. (AP) - A Memorial Day weekend storm has dropped three feet of snow on a New York ski mountain near the Vermont boarder.

    Whiteface Mountain spokesman Jon Lundin says 36 inches of white powder has blanketed the nearly 5,000-foot tall mountain in the Adirondacks. That has forced the Olympic Regional Development Authority to close Whiteface Veteran's Memorial Highway on the backside of the mountain.

    Lundin says the snow began lightly falling Saturday and steadily dropped Sunday, finishing in the evening. He didn't know if the 3-foot snowfall was a record for Whiteface.

    Burlington, Vt., National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Muccilli says the mountain experienced steady snow and gusty winds throughout the weekend.

    He says Mount Mansfield, in Stowe, Vt., had 13.2 inches of snow Sunday, the latest in the season it's ever had a foot.

    The storm system will be leaving the region as temperatures return to more spring-like levels.

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


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    Thomas Bodary, of Spring Lake, prepares to open Mayfair Boardwalk Grill on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J., Sunday, May 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is looking to get his groove back - at the beach.

    A post-Hurricane Sandy tour of the New Jersey coast line on Tuesday, gives the president a chance for a three-point play that can move him ahead of the recent controversies that have dogged the White House. With New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie at Obama's side, effective government, bipartisanship and economic opportunity will be the unmistakable message in the face of the coastal recovery.

    For Obama, the tour helps him continue redirecting the political conversation after two weeks of dealing with the fallout over the administration's response to terror attacks last September in Benghazi, Libya, the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department's review of journalist phone records as part of a leak investigation.

    The visit occurs as Congress is away for a Memorial Day holiday break, a weeklong recess that likely will silence the daily attention lawmakers, particularly Republicans, had been paying to the three political upheavals. It also comes just days after Obama started seeking to change the subject in Washington with a speech defending his controversial program of strikes by unmanned drones and renewing his push to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.

    On Sunday Obama traveled to Oklahoma to view damage from the recent tornado and console victims of the deadly storm.

    For Christie, the president's appearance is yet another way to showcase his beloved Jersey Shore. The Republican has been touting it throughout the Memorial Day weekend as a destination point that is back in business and he broke a Guinness World record Friday by cutting a 5.5 mile ceremonial ribbon that symbolically tied together some of the hardest-hit towns by Sandy. The state has a $25 million marketing campaign to highlight the shore's resurgence in time for the summer season.

    Both men will reprise the remarkable bipartisan tableau they offered during Sandy's immediate aftermath when Obama flew to New Jersey just days before the election to witness the storm's wreckage. Politically, the visit plays well for both men. Christie, seeking re-election this year, will stand shoulder to shoulder with a president popular among Democrats in a Democratic leaning state. And Obama, dueling with congressional Republicans on a number of fronts, gets to display common cause with a popular GOP stalwart. (Obama has not scheduled any face time with state Sen. Barbara Buono, Christie's likely Democratic opponent in the governor's race).

    Christie, in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer on Friday, downplayed the politics, even when asked if ties to Obama could hurt him among conservatives if he were to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

    "The fact of the matter is, he's the president of the United States, and he wants to come here and see the people of New Jersey," Christie said. "I'm the governor. I'll be here to welcome him."

    To be sure, New Jersey is still rebuilding. Obama is visiting those regions that have been among the first to recover - Christie ranks the recovery of the state's famous boardwalks as an eight on a scale of 10 but concedes that in other parts of the state many homeowners are still rebuilding six months after the devastating superstorm struck. Overall, the storm caused $38 billion in damages in the state, and harmed or wrecked 360,000 homes or apartment units.

    But the coastal recovery is a big potential boon for the state where tourism is a nearly $40 billion industry.

    For Obama, coming off a week that had the IRS in the crosshairs of a scandal, the trip also offers an opportunity to demonstrate the work of another part of government that provides a foil for the IRS: the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose response to disasters has been met with bipartisan praise.

    Indeed, inside the White House, FEMA is perceived as an example of what's best about government. The agency, panned for its response under President Bush to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has made a turnaround under administrator Craig Fugate and has been commended for its work in disasters from the Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011 to Hurricane Sandy last year.

    Obama's trip Tuesday also comes two days after he toured the tornado devastation outside Oklahoma City, Okla., where FEMA has been the face of the federal government as well.

    Josh Earnest, the White House's deputy press secretary, says FEMA represents "competent, efficient government that meets the needs of the people."

    "The renaissance of the agency embodies what the president ran on," he said.

    Overall, the federal government has directed more than $14 billion so far in aid to help families, support state and local rebuilding efforts, and assist major transportation reconstruction and in community development grants to states affected by Katrina, the bulk of which has gone to New Jersey and New York.

    Even as Obama meets businesses and homeowners who have benefited from recovery work, the White House says he also plans to talk about the importance of renewing economic opportunities for middle-class families still getting their lives back. It's a message that dovetails with Obama's attempts to keep the economy prominent by highlighting economic growth after the Great Recession while also making his case for additional initiatives to keep the economy from stumbling again.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy
    Superstorm Sandy


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    Dangerous thunderstorms will once again erupt across the Plains this Memorial Day from West Texas northward into Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the western Dakotas. Some areas as far east as northern Missouri and southern Iowa will even be affected.

    Some of the cities and towns with the greatest potential for severe thunderstorms include Omaha, Neb.; Kansas City, Mo.; Wichita, Kan.; Des Moines, Iowa; Weatherford, Okla. and Odessa, Texas. All totaled, over 10 million people run the risk of strong thunderstorms during the day.

    While a major tornado outbreak is not expected, one or two of the strongest thunderstorms that develop will produce tornadoes, and these tornadoes have the potential to be particularly intense and long-lived in a few spots.

    The highest threat for tornadoes looks to be in north-central Kansas and south-central and southeastern Nebraska. This includes Hastings in Nebraska and Salina in Kansas.

    The thunderstorms that develop in the Plains on Memorial Day will also have the potential to bring hail as large as baseballs and wind gusts as high as 70 mph.

    Hail this size is capable of causing serious injury to anyone caught outside. It can also kill exposed livestock, damage or destroy crops and smash windshields.

    Wind gusts as high as 70 mph can easily uproot trees, snap branches and blow over power poles.

    There may be some thunderstorm activity leftover from Sunday night across portions of Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, but this will diminish as the morning wears on.

    AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center
    Moore Tornado Makeup: Nature's Fury

    Most of Memorial Day will be on the dry side, but as the late afternoon and evening hours approach, thunderstorms will quickly develop.

    These thunderstorms will impact many of the same areas that were affected on Sunday, and flash flooding from heavy rainfall will also be a concern.

    If you will be out and about over the Memorial Day weekend, keep an eye to the sky, especially in the afternoon and evening hours.

    Once thunderstorms develop, they will strengthen quickly, and hail, high winds and possible tornadoes will not be far away.

    Be sure to understand the difference between a watch and a warning. A watch means that an area is being monitored for dangerous weather. A warning means that dangerous weather is imminent.

    Keep in mind that lightning is one of Mother Nature's most dangerous killers. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning, even if the sun is still shining.

    Severe weather will once again threaten many of the same locations on Tuesday, so be sure to stay with AccuWeather.com as we continue to monitor this multi-day outbreak.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Tornado Devastation in Moore, Oklahoma
    Moore, Oklahoma, Tornado


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    This May 23, 2013, photo shows a view of downtown Milwaukee from the Kinnickinnic River, not far from where it connects with Lake Michigan. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

    MILWAUKEE (AP) - A century ago, the seven-story brick building a few blocks from downtown was a factory - a symbol of an era when Milwaukee and other cities ringing the Great Lakes were industrial powerhouses churning out steel, automobiles and appliances. Eventually the region's manufacturing core crumbled, and the structure became an all-but-forgotten warehouse.

    Now it's getting a makeover and a new mission. It will reopen this summer as a hive of business experimentation swarming with scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. They'll share a lab where new technologies can be tested. Office suites will host startup companies, including one devising a system for cultivating algae as biofuel, another producing a type of pavement that lets rainwater seep into the ground instead of flooding sewers.

    The center is part of a broader effort unfolding across the Great Lakes region to regain lost prosperity by developing a "blue economy" - a network of industries that develop products and services related to water, from pump and valve manufacturers to resorts offering vacations along redeveloped lakeshores.

    As growing water scarcity casts a shadow over the economic boom in warmer states, many in the long-scorned northlands are hoping they can finally make their abundance of freshwater a magnet for businesses and jobs that are now going elsewhere. The idea is either a perfect nexus of opportunity and timing, or- as some in the Sun Belt believe- just another longshot attempt by a cold and downtrodden region to reverse history.

    In the eight Great Lakes states, organizations devoted to the venture are springing up, with headquarters, government grants and binders full of Power Points and five-year plans. Universities are establishing freshwater science and engineering programs. Businesses are developing products such as advanced filtration systems for sale in countries where water isn't just scarce, but also polluted. Milwaukee has taken a pivotal role from its perch beside Lake Michigan, with $83.5 million in public and private money budgeted over the next year to support water-related businesses and research.

    "We all recognize that water has become more and more of a precious commodity," said Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee. "We have to do a much better job of promoting it."

    The Great Lakes - Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario - hold nearly one-fifth of the freshwater on the Earth's surface. But in one of the nation's most vivid anomalies, some of the saddest, most bedraggled urban wastelands sit on the shores of the vast inland seas. After the collapse of heavy manufacturing unleashed an exodus of jobs to the South and West, one proposal after another for turning things around fell short.

    But drought has gripped the Sun Belt in recent years, and federal scientists predict recurrent periods similar to the 1930s Dust Bowl if climate change models prove accurate. Worried leaders there are floating increasingly radical proposals, from billion-dollar pipelines traversing hundreds of miles to creating artificial lakes.

    "I don't like to get into an us-versus-them situation, but the drought in these other locations is going to get worse and worse and what we have to offer is going to get more and more attractive," said David Ullrich, executive director of an organization representing the Great Lakes region's mayors.

    Sun Belt leaders, while acknowledging the problem, scoff at the idea of companies choosing the Midwest instead. They say they're already working on solutions. Texas voters in 2011 authorized a $6 billion bond issue for water infrastructure, including building more than two dozen reservoirs in coming decades.

    Besides just warm weather, "We provide economic opportunity," said Tom Hayden, mayor of the Flower Mound, Texas, a Dallas suburb of 70,000 where the population has tripled in the past two decades. "We help businesses grow instead of seeing how much we can squeeze them with taxes."

    Water availability is just one factor that influences where businesses locate, said Jason Morrison of the Pacific Institute, author of a report on likely economic fallout from a drier climate. Still, he acknowledged, the outlook is disconcerting.

    "It's pretty certain that water-related risk for business will increase over the long haul in more places," he said.

    Al Henes, who runs a brewery and pub in Flagstaff, Ariz., has waterless urinals and reuses water in his beer-making operation, but worries about the future as housing developments and golf courses keep springing up. Even so, he said, he's not ready to forsake his beloved canyon country's stunning scenery and outdoorsy lifestyle.

    "You guys get a little colder up there," Henes said dryly. Recalling childhood winter visits with his grandmother in Michigan, he added: "Some of my words would just freeze in my mouth and fall on the ground and shatter."

    Milwaukee reflects the grandeur of the lake region's past as well as its decline and the quest to rebuild. A downtown statue of "The Fonz" evokes wistful memories of "Happy Days" prosperity, when more than half of the adult workforce had factory jobs with manufacturers like Allis-Chalmers, now defunct. Some warehouses and storefronts still sit empty, and the remnants of beer giants Schlitz, Pabst and Blatz have been turned to other uses.

    Though brewing is a shadow of its former self here, local leaders are newly mindful that the industry, which used huge volumes of water, attracted other businesses that still remain vibrant. Worldwide, water technology- pumps, valves and more- generates $500 billion a year and is growing rapidly, said John Austin, director of the Brookings Institution's Great Lakes Economic Initiative.

    The Milwaukee-based Water Council, a research and networking organization, now has more than 100 members, including the brewer MillerCoors. The technology center is expected to host a half-dozen startups at a time, with frequent turnover as companies grow and move to bigger locations.

    John Gurda, a local historian, said it's about time Milwaukee gave up chasing the same high tech medicine and computer software companies sought by every other city.

    "The strength of this (water-oriented) strategy is that it's playing to Milwaukee's natural and historical strengths."

    But Austin, the Brookings analyst, said economic revival also depends on doing more to make the region's 10,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline and many rivers and inland lakes a draw for tourists and for service companies that want a beautiful setting.

    During the first half of the 20th century, the steel plants, paper mills and auto factories that employed millions along the lakes also left behind blight. The Lake Michigan city of Gary, Ind., is riddled with the hulks of abandoned buildings and the Grand Calumet River bottom is caked with a 20-foot-deep layer of gunk including toxic PCBs.

    An Obama administration initiative has pumped more than $1 billion into Great Lakes environmental cleanup, and a regional partnership has raised hundreds of millions to beautify Gary's industrial waterfront.

    "People will pay more for an office with a water view," Austin said. "But not if it's a cesspool."
    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Breathtaking Images of Islands, Rivers and Seas from Space


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    A firefighter battles another wildfire earlier this month near the farmland along a hillside in Point Mugu , Calif. Friday, May 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

    SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) - Thousands of Memorial Day campers were sent scampering out of the mountains by a wildfire that was fanned by the wind into an ominous spectacle hanging over nearby Santa Barbara.

    The fire broke out about Monday afternoon in Los Padres National Forest about 15 miles north of Santa Barbara, and hours later had grown to 1,000 acres - or 1.5 square miles - amid winds of about 20 mph, U.S. Forest Service officials said. It was 5 percent contained.

    Paradise Road and the many campgrounds along it were closed, forcing between 4,000 and 6,000 of campers, many already clearing out at the end of the holiday weekend, to evacuate, officials said.

    The fire was threatening about 50 homes, many of them cabins and vacation rentals, and 50 to 75 residents had evacuated, county fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

    A huge plume of gray and white smoke rose over the mountains and hovered over Santa Barbara, where many residents were flooding Facebook and Twitter with photos.

    A U.S. Forest Service garage and two vehicles had burned, Sadecki said.

    The National Weather Service said the winds may get worse as night falls, but fire officials said they may also get help from the weather.

    "We're hoping the temperatures drop and the humidity rises," Sadecki said.

    The American Red Cross set up an evacuation center at Santa Barbara City College and another was set up for horses stalled in the area's many stables.

    U.S. Forest Service firefighters got help from crews from around the region along with water drops from two helicopters and four planes, though the aircraft had to be grounded at times, first because of winds and later because of darkness.

    The county has issued an air quality warning because of the smoke and wind, advising people to limit time spent outdoors and to avoid outdoor exercise altogether.

    To the south, a fire in San Diego County wilderness has scorched 900 acres of dry brush but was not a threat to homes or buildings.

    The blaze southeast of Julian was sparked around midday Sunday and was 43 percent contained Monday night. Fire officials were investigating whether it was set intentionally.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space


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    Many homes remain damaged and mostly untouched since Superstorm Sandy hit the coastline, in this May 5, 2013 photo in Ortley Beach, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Seven months after Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross still hasn't spent more than a third of the $303 million it raised to assist victims of the storm, a strategy the organization says will help address needs that weren't immediately apparent in the disaster's wake.

    Some disaster relief experts say that's smart planning. But others question whether the Red Cross, an organization best known for rushing into disasters to distribute food and get people into shelter, should have acted with more urgency in the weeks after the storm and left long-haul recovery tasks to someone else.

    "The Red Cross has never been a recovery operation. Their responsibility has always been mass care," said Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that monitors aid groups. "Stick with what you're good at."

    Storm victims could have used more help this past winter, said Kathleen McCarthy, director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York.

    "People were cold. Homes mildewed. There wasn't enough decent housing," she said. "Given the lingering despair, it's hard to understand the argument that 'We are setting that money aside.'"

    As Americans open their wallets to assist tornado victims in Oklahoma, the Red Cross is again emerging as one of the most important relief organizations on the ground and also one of the most prodigious fundraisers for victims. As of Thursday, it had raised approximately $15 million in donations and pledges for the tornado response, including a $1 million gift from NBA star Kevin Durant and numerous $10 donations, pledged via text.

    The Red Cross was also the No. 1 recipient of donations after Sandy. The organization said it still had $110 million remaining from its pool of storm donations as of mid-April, which were the most recent figures available.

    Red Cross officials pledged that all the money in its Sandy fund will eventually be spent on the storm recovery and not diverted to other disasters or used to support general Red Cross operations.

    Over the next few months, the Red Cross expects to spend as much as $27 million of its remaining Sandy donations on a program providing "move-in assistance" grants of up to $10,000 to families displaced by the storm. About 2,000 households have been assisted by the program so far, with an additional 4,000 waiting for an eligibility determination.

    Part of the delay in spending, officials said, is to wait to see how the hardest-hit states allocate a $60 billion pot of federal relief dollars and address gaps in the government aid package.

    "We are waiting to see where the greatest need is going to be over time," said Josh Lockwood, CEO of the Red Cross Greater New York Region. "We are more concerned with spending our resources wisely rather than quickly."

    Some disaster relief experts said holding funds in reserve was indeed a smart move.

    Much of the toughest and most expensive relief work after a natural disaster comes not during the initial months but during the long-term rebuilding phase after the public's attention has waned and new donations have stopped flowing, said Patrick Rooney, associate dean at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

    "It would be splashier, perhaps, to spend the money right away while the media is still there and the donors are still looking," he said. "But the important needs, from the cost perspective and the recipient perspective, take place after the headlines are gone and after the cameras are gone."

    Red Cross officials noted that a year after a tornado killed 158 people in Joplin, Mo., it found itself providing a new round of mental health services to survivors. The cholera epidemic that killed thousands of people following a massive earthquake in Haiti, where the Red Cross was also criticized for not spending donations faster, also didn't start until nearly a year after the disaster.

    The Red Cross says it is planning substantial grants to other nonprofit groups doing Sandy recovery work and is doing much of its current work in conjunction with charitable partners with local ties.

    Red Cross volunteers working in conjunction with the organizing group New York Cares are going out several days a week to muck and clean flooded homes and remove mold. Red Cross staff and caseworkers have been holding "unmet needs roundtables" in hard-hit communities, trying to identify victims not covered by traditional aid programs.

    "Our experience shows that as the recovery goes on, the needs of survivors will evolve," said Roger Lowe, Red Cross senior vice president. "It's important to make sure some money is available for those needs no one can predict right now."

    Other organizations that raised large sums for the relief effort have also held back money while they evaluated the wisest way to spend it.

    The Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, led by Mary Pat Christie, the wife of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, raised $32 million after the storm but didn't begin awarding grants on a large scale until April. So far, it has given about $11 million, with the biggest grants going to local organizations building or repairing housing.

    The United Way, which raised $9.7 million in a Sandy recovery fund for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and some parts of Pennsylvania, said it has spent about $4 million of that total to date, though another $2.5 million is set to go out soon.

    "We always knew, from the very beginning, that our fund and our resources would be for longer-term strategies," said United Way of New York City President Sheena Wright. "We feel good about the timeframe."

    That strategy of holding some cash to spend later contrasts with the approach taken by the Robin Hood Foundation, which was in charge of distributing more than $70 million raised by a Dec. 12 benefit concert by Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and other music royalty.

    That fund was depleted entirely by April, with grants given to 400 relief organizations ranging from food banks to legal services to volunteer rebuilding groups.

    Robin Hood spokeswoman Patty Smith said the foundation moved as fast as it could because it believed that delays in government aid were leaving big gaps in services.

    Red Cross officials say they have the ability to meet both long-term and short-term needs, noting the organization has served 17 million meals and snacks, distributed 7 million relief items, mobilized 17,000 workers and volunteers, and provided 81,000 overnight stays.

    Its efforts won over early critics like Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, who assailed the Red Cross response in the days immediately after the storm but now praises it as having provided vital help.

    "They've come a long way since Day One," Molinaro said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy
    Superstorm Sandy


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    A plume of ash and smoke rise from the Copahue volcano, as seen from Caviahue, in the Argentine province of Neuquen, Friday, May 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Government of Neuquen, Tony Huglich)

    SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - Chilean and Argentine officials issued a red alert Monday for the increasingly active Copahue volcano bordering the two countries and ordered the evacuation of about 3,000 people.

    Chilean Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick said the increased activity could lead to an eruption and officials would soon begin evacuating 2,240 people, or 460 families, within a 15.5-mile radius.

    "This evacuation is obligatory; it's not voluntary," Chadwick told reporters.

    Chile's Emergency Office said the evacuation could last about 48 hours, but could be delayed because of heavy rains.

    The nearly 10,000-foot volcano sits in the Andes cordillera, overlapping Chile's Bio Bio region and Argentina's Neuquen province.

    Argentine officials raised their alert level to red Monday afternoon due to higher seismic activity and ordered the evacuation of about 600 people from the town of Caviahue to the neighboring city of Loncopue.

    "The volcano is not erupting yet, but as a preventive measure we've decided to evacuate the population," the Neuquen Crisis Committee said.

    "There are no ashes in Caviahue. The vapor plume has descended, but in the last days, seismic activity has increased. That's the reason behind the change of alert in Argentina and Chile."

    Copahue registered high seismic activity in December when its ash cloud billowed almost a mile high.

    The volcano had a major eruption in 1992, according to the Chilean Mining Ministry's Sernageomin geology unit. It became highly active with blasts and gases in 2002, in its strongest activity in more than 20 years.

    Chile has more than 3,000 volcanoes the Andes and about 500 of them remain active.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Volcanic Eruptions Seen from Space


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    In this Sunday, April 14, 2013 file photo, hikers make their way along the banks of the Colorado River in Black Canyon south of Hoover Dam, near Willow Beach, Ariz. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

    Top water decision-makers from seven Western states plan to join conservation groups and Indian tribes in San Diego on Tuesday to begin hammering out rules for squeezing every useable drop from the overtaxed Colorado River.

    The work meeting hosted by federal water managers comes amid dire predictions for the waterway. The U.S. interior secretary five months ago issued a call to arms and declared that the river already described as the most plumbed and regulated in the world would be unable to meet demands of a growing regional population over the next 50 years.

    "We're looking at a very significant chance of declaring a shortage in the Colorado Riverbasin in 2016," Michael Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said in an interview in advance of the conference.

    "We really need to get to specifics, technical liabilities and the political feasibility of projects," he said.

    Connor heads the federal agency responsible for what he called the most litigated and fought-over resource in the country. He said data projects 2013 will be the fourth-driest year in the Colorado River basin over the past 100 years. Last year was the fifth-driest year on record.

    The river provides drinking water, power and recreation for some 40 million people in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. Its largest reservoirs - Lake Mead near Las Vegas and Lake Powell near Page, Ariz. - are projected to drop to 45 percent capacity by September, Connor said.

    Mexico also has a stake in the river, and U.S. and Mexican officials signed a pact in November for new rules on sharing Colorado River water, including a deal that lets Mexico store water in Lake Mead. The deal provides for international cooperation to ensure that river water reaches the Gulf of California for the first time in decades.

    Anne Castle, assistant interior secretary for water and science, called Tuesday's conference at a U.S. Geological Survey office near San Diego International Airport the start of a "next steps" process.

    Castle said she hopes more ideas and practical solutions will surface to deal with shortages predicted by a study released by the bureau in December.

    The report looked at supply and demand of Colorado River Basin water. It said that by 2060, with the Southwest's population expected to swell, the river won't be always able to serve all the residents, businesses, ranchers, Native Americans and farmers who rely on it.

    "This 'next steps' process may serve as a template for the way to implement the analysis being done in all these basin studies," Castle said in a conference call. "Part of that is bringing together all the diverse interests that will be represented."

    Castle said a Ten Tribes Partnership representative of Native American groups and several regional environmental advocates were expected to attend. Plans call for organizing a trio of work groups representing municipal, agricultural and conservation interests.

    Jennifer Pitt, head of the Environmental Defense Fund's Colorado River Project, said groups including Western Resource Advocates, Protect the Flows and Nuestro Rio want to see more water banking, along with more efficient use of existing urban water supplies, the reuse of waste water, better watershed management and improved agricultural techniques.

    "Communities that depend on the Colorado River - for water supply or as the foundation of a $26 billion recreation economy - cannot afford to wait," Pitt said in a statement.

    Save The Colorado representative Gary Wockner said he also planned to attend.

    When the Colorado River was tamed by dams and canal water allocations were made nearly a century ago, agricultural interests gained broad water and irrigation rights that helped transform California's vast arid Imperial Valley east of San Diego into one of the most productive winter fruit and vegetable, cotton and grain farming regions in the country.

    Tension has grown in recent years along with the sprawl of thirsty cities including Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

    The seven river basin states responded by forging agreements on allotments in 2003 and guidelines for sharing the pain of shortage in 2007.

    Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority and a delegate to Tuesday's meeting, called the issues facing river users daunting, but not insurmountable.

    A key concern in southern Nevada is the water level of Lake Mead - already marked in some places by 100-plus feet of white mineral "bathtub ring" showing the effect of years of drought. The reservoir is Las Vegas' major source of drinking water.

    "These discussions aren't going to be easy," Mulroy said. "But the longer we have to work through some really gnarly issues, the better."

    Tuesday's meeting comes two months after an annual report by the advocacy group American Rivers labeled the Colorado River the most endangered waterway in the nation. The listing drew an endorsement from Castle at the time for bringing visibility to the problems of drought and overuse.

    Castle said Friday that the Interior Department recently released $8.3 million for programs under the ongoing WaterSMART effort. The acronym stands for Sustain and Manage America's Resources for Tomorrow.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought


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    AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman

    Dangerous thunderstorms will develop again on Tuesday across the Plains from Texas to the Dakotas. Violent storms could even reach as far east as Ohio and the Midwest.

    Nearly 50 million people across the nation will have some risk for severe thunderstorms, including those in major cities like Chicago, Ill.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Detroit, Mich.; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis, Mo.; Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pa.

    While the tornado threat will not be as great as some recent days, a few tornadoes cannot be ruled out, especially across western Nebraska, western Kansas and the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas.

    The greatest impacts from Tuesday's severe weather look to come mainly in the form of very large hail and damaging thunderstorm wind gusts.

    Hail could reach sizes as large as baseballs in western Nebraska, western Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles.

    This kind of hail is capable of causing serious injury to anyone caught outside. It can also kill exposed livestock, damage or destroy crops and smash windshields.

    Elsewhere, hail larger than quarters is possible from Missouri into Illinois and eastward to perhaps Pittsburgh and Erie in Pennsylvania.

    Hail of this size is still capable of damaging or denting vehicles and causing injury to people or animals that are exposed.

    Winds gusts greater than 60 mph are possible throughout the threat region, and this kind of wind could easily topple trees, power poles and lift any unsecured objects.

    These thunderstorms will also impact some of the same areas that were affected in recent days, and flash flooding from heavy rainfall will also be a concern, especially across parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

    If you will be out and about on Tuesday, keep an eye to the sky, especially in the afternoon and evening hours.

    Plains Severe Weather Outbreak Includes Tornadoes Wednesday, Thursday
    Central Plains Flash Flood Risk Continues
    Severe Weather Center

    Once thunderstorms develop, they will strengthen quickly, and severe weather will likely follow soon after.

    Be sure to understand the difference between a watch and a warning. A watch means that an area is being monitored for dangerous weather. A warning means that dangerous weather is imminent.

    Keep in mind that lightning is one of Mother Nature's most dangerous killers. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning, even if the sun is still shining.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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    AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

    Midsummer heat will arrive just a few days after the unofficial start of the season.

    After shivering cold over the Memorial Day weekend, starting Wednesday, record-challenging heat will blast into some areas of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, before spreading to the East later in the week.

    While some people may welcome the heat, for a number of people it may be a little tough to adjust to after days of cool conditions.

    Some locations will experience a 50- to 55-degree temperature rise compared to morning lows this past weekend to afternoon highs Wednesday to Friday.

    High temperatures at or above 90 degrees are forecast on one or more days.

    A few locations could have clouds and rain one day, followed by 90-degree temperatures and blazing sunshine the next.

    In some cases, temperatures will challenge or break record highs during the period from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic coast.

    Even areas that received accumulating snow in upstate New York and New England this past weekend will feel the heat.

    Photos: Memorial Day Weekend Snow in New England
    Plains Severe Weather Outbreak Wednesday-Thursday Could Bring Tornadoes
    Temperature Maps

    The surge of heat will be preceded by a period of clouds, showers and thunderstorms in part of the region during the Tuesday to Wednesday time frame.

    During the weekend, the heat will be chopped down over the Midwest by an advancing zone of thunderstorms associated with a cold front. The storms could be locally severe.

    The cold front and storms would reach the Appalachians Saturday night and Sunday then the I-95 corridor Monday.

    As a reminder, because of the slow spring in the region, water temperatures are still quite chilly at the beaches, lakes and unheated pools. The cold water can quickly bring on muscle cramps and increase the risk of drowning. Parents and guardians are urged to keep a close eye on their kids. Always swim with a companion.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave


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