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SKYE on AOL

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    Updated Thursday, June 13, 11:16 p.m. ET

    A strong line of thunderstorms approaches the Capitol with heavy rain and winds on Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Washington D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - A massive storm system that started in the Upper Midwest brought soaking rains and heavy winds to the Mid-Atlantic Thursday, causing widespread power outages, flash flooding and extensive flight delays, but largely failing to live up to its fierce billing.

    The severe weather was also blamed for two deaths.

    The storm came and went in the Washington, D.C., area ahead of the evening rush hour, bringing winds and thunder that knocked trees onto houses, cut power to thousands of homes and traffic signals and led to the brief closure of a bridge that connects to the beaches on Maryland's Eastern shore.

    Three tornadoes were reported in Maryland, though there were no immediate reports that they caused significant damage.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Storm System Hitting Mid-Atlantic
    "The wind was pretty bad. It was just a squall that came through really fast," said Jim Estes, director of instruction at a golf driving range in Olney, a Washington suburb where one tornado was reported.

    In Richmond, Va., a 4-year-old boy was fatally struck by a tree that toppled while he was visiting a park with his father. Capt. Emmett Williams of the Richmond police said the boy was crushed by an old yellow tulip poplar tree that became uprooted from rain-soaked grounds during heavy winds and rains. The father was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Maymont Park board member Mary Lynn Bayliss said workers with bullhorns were scrambling around the 100 acres of preserved woodlands and gardens to try to get people to safety.

    Lightning from a fast-moving storm may have sparked a fire that killed a western Pennsylvania man early Thursday, the state fire marshal said.

    And during an initial wave of morning storms, a 19-year-old woman who works as an intern at Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun, Md., northeast of Baltimore, was struck by lightning while feeding the animals. She was being treated at a hospital after a co-worker performed CPR.

    Dire predictions from forecasters, including warnings throughout the region of tornadoes and thunderstorms, led to precautions throughout several states.

    Maryland transit officials briefly closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a critical artery connecting the Baltimore-Washington area with Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore. Customers and employees of Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport were directed at one point to seek shelter, in a bathroom or in the lowest level of the terminal, amid the threat of tornadoes.

    Flightstats.com reported that hundreds of flights were cancelled and thousands more were delayed at East Coast and Midwest airports on Thursday, with the New York-Washington corridor particularly affected.

    As of Thursday night, there were about 30,000 outages in Maryland, the state emergency management agency said, and more than 300,000 in Virginia.

    The Mid-Atlantic wasn't the only region to get hit Thursday. Lightning lit up the sky over Atlanta Thursday evening, as a line of thunderstorms moved through north and central Georgia. Georgia Power reported that nearly 1000,000 customers had lost power as of 8:30 p.m.

    In North Carolina, weather forecasters and utility companies reported downed trees and more than 157,000 customers without power, mostly in the Piedmont region.

    Still, overall, the storms appear to have caused less wind damage than was feared through early Thursday, said Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. Whether they were as bad as anticipated, he said, "depends on where you live."

    He said thunderstorms took longer than expected to merge into a large line that could cause widespread damage. The merger also happened farther east than expected, which limited the potential for widespread damage in Illinois and Indiana, though those states still had pockets of severe weather.

    Even before merging, the individual storms remained powerful, Bunting said.

    Besides reports of damaging winds and preliminary tornado sightings, the weather service has received reports of hail at least an inch in diameter in locations stretching from southeast Minnesota to Virginia, he said.

    In Ohio, storms with swift, straight-line winds soaked parts of the state, knocking down trees and barns and leaving many without power Thursday as commuters dodged fallen branches on roads and faced backups at intersections where traffic lights were out.

    Straight-line winds topping 70 mph were reported and more than two dozen tornado warnings were issued as two rounds of storms pummeled the state, but no twisters have been confirmed, said Phillip Johnson, who was part of the team monitoring developments for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

    Play was suspended at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia less than two hours after the start of the first round and resumed about three hours later before another brief delay in the evening.

    In New Jersey, officials opened the state's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday morning to monitor the storm's progress. The weather service issued a flood watch for most of the state. Forecasters predicted 1 to 2 inches of rain will fall on swollen rivers and streams. As thunderstorms rumbled across the southern and central parts of the state, thousands of residents were left without power.

    In northern New York, rain sent rivers and streams over their banks, leading to evacuations and road closures.

    Early Thursday morning, thunderstorms that punched through northern Illinois caused significant wind damage, mainly in rural areas west and south of Chicago. The city was largely spared. The weather service said intense winds estimated to have reached 70-80 mph in some areas snapped large trees at their trunks or uprooted them entirely.

    Whether the storms were a derecho will take time to determine, forecasters said. A derecho is a storm of strong straight-line winds spanning at least 240 miles. The systems are distinctive and take on a comma or bow shape, and usually have a large area of very cold cloud tops not typically seen in an ordinary thunderstorm.

    "A derecho is based more on research," said Evan Bentley, a meteorologist at the weather service office for northern Indiana. "How much damage, how widespread it was." It could take days to determine whether the storms met the criteria, he said.

    Even if the storm wasn't a derecho, it still brought several tornadoes, large hail and flooding that did some damage Wednesday.

    In the small town of Belmond, Iowa, about 90 miles north of Des Moines, Duwayne Abel, owner of Cattleman's Steaks & Provisions restaurant, said a tornado demolished part of the building. No one was in the restaurant at the time.

    "I was, oh, eight miles west of town and I looked toward town and I could see a funnel cloud, having no idea it was exactly where our restaurant was," Abel said. His wife and an employee were able to get out of the restaurant and sought shelter in a basement.

    Nearly a year ago, a derecho led to two dozen deaths, caused at least $1 billion in damage from Chicago to Washington, and left more than 4 million customers without power. Winds reached nearly 100 mph in some places.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Storm System Hitting Mid-Atlantic
    Lightning, Willis Tower, Chicago

     

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    Mid-Atlantic Storms

    Hail, cracked utility poles and roads closed by flooding or downed trees were reported in the early morning hours across Ohio, the Virginias and Pennsylvania on Thursday as Wednesday's severe storms pushed into the East. The severe conditions will clear up in the mid-Atlantic this afternoon and take aim farther south.

    Major cities facing the largest impact Thursday afternoon include Baltimore, Raleigh and Washington, D.C.

    UPDATES

    8:15 p.m. EDT Thursday: A Stanly County, N.C. emergency manager reports that multiple injuries have occurred as trees are downed on homes and mobile homes across the county. Shelters have opened to accommodate displaced residents. Albemarle, emergency manager cites, was hit hardest in the county.

    7:37 p.m. EDT Thursday: A severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado is within 20 miles of Atlanta, moving south toward the metro area. Click here for radar.

    7:21 p.m. EDT Thursday: Numerous trees and power lines reported down across Richmond County, N.C.

    7:00 p.m. EDT Thursday: "The heaviest thunderstorms have moved off the mid-Atlantic coast with just some lingering rain from southern New Jersey through the Delmarva Peninsula," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Edwards said. "The biggest concern through the remainder of the evening hours will be locally damaging wind gusts for the eastern third of North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and parts of northern Georgia and northern Alabama."

    6:38 p.m. EDT Thursday: Significant flight delays are being reported from Charlotte Douglas, Philadelphia, Reagan, Atlanta, JFK, La Guardia, Washington Dulles and Newark airports due to thunderstorms.

    5:37 p.m. EDT Thursday: Multiple reports of trees and utility lines down on cars and houses across Concord, N.C. as a result of thunderstorm winds.

    5:20 p.m. EDT Thursday: Baseball-sized hail reported by trained spotter in St. Marys County, Md.

    5:01 p.m. EDT Thursday: Widespread storm damage reported by emergency manager in Colonial Heights, Va. Numerous trees and electrical lines are downed. Most of the city is without power.

    4:30 p.m. EDT Thursday: Maryland Department of Highways reports that Security Boulevard is flooded and closed at the Baltimore Beltway in Woodlawn.

    4:21 p.m. EDT Thursday: According to NWS Baltimore/Washington, DC, a tornado was confirmed near Columbia, Md. at 4:06 p.m. and was moving eastward at 50 mph.

    4:15 p.m. EDT Thursday: Flash flooding reported by an emergency manager in Ilion and South Ilion in Herkimer County, N.Y. Multiple roads closed due to flooding including Route 51. Sandbags are in place to prevent additional flooding.

    3:50 p.m. EDT Thursday: A funnel cloud was observed by a trained spotter 2 miles east of Countryside, Va., at 3:31 p.m. EDT.

    2:40 p.m. EDT Thursday: With large storms just east of Johnson City, TN, winds are gusting to an estimated 65 miles per hour. Click here for radar.

    2:34 p.m. EDT Thursday: A trained spotter reported a funnel cloud reaching halfway to the ground near Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania County, Va.

    1:40 p.m. EDT Thursday: As the second round of storms ramp up, a wind gust of 75 miles per hour was recorded outside of Dorton, Ky., as reported by the monitoring stations at Mesonet.

    12:55 p.m. EDT Thursday: Up to 2 inches of rain have fallen in the Buffalo, N.Y., area. Street and lowland flooding have been reported by a trained spotter.

    12:30 p.m. EDT Thursday: According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Krissy Pydynowski, the severe storms are moving away from the mid-Atlantic and will take aim further south. Flooding will remain a concern for New York and southern New England, but the damaging wind, blinding downpours and tornado threat will be more focused on Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Virginia this afternoon.

    12:18 p.m. EDT Thursday: Multiple trees reported down from central Kentucky to along the West Virginia/Ohio border in the past hour.

    11:30 a.m. EDT Thursday: Excessive flight delays are being reported out of Dulles, Reagan, JFK, Newark, Baltimore and Philadelphia airports due to thunderstorms.

    11:04 a.m. EDT Thursday: At 9:50 a.m. this morning, lights were turned on in Gibbsboro, N.J., as dark green clouds made the sky look like dusk. Photo sent to us by Twitter user RobC_13:



    10:44 a.m. EDT Thursday: The Washington, D.C., office of the NWS stated that two waterspouts were spotted just south/southeast of Annapolis.

    10:30 a.m. EDT Thursday: An emergency manager reports that one person in Rising Sun, Md., has been injured by a lightning strike.

    10:07 a.m. EDT Thursday: A 57-mile-per-hour wind gust was recorded by a trained spotter in Woodbury, N.J.

    9:40 a.m. EDT Thursday: Emergency managers have sent multiple reports of trees downed across Frederick County, Md. In Carroll County, 4 miles west-southwest of Reese, hail as large as ping-pong balls have been reported by a trained spotter.

    9:17 a.m. EDT Thursday: Webster County, W. Va., has received 1.54 inches of rain in under 2 hours.

    8:40 a.m. EDT Thursday: The U.S. Open has suspended play in preparation of severe storms to arrive in Philadelphia. Related: Severe Storms, Rain Threaten US Open at Merion

    8:20 a.m. EDT Thursday: A trained spotter in Frederick County, Md., reports quarter- to halfdollar-sized hail.

    7:40 a.m. EDT Thursday: According to FlightStats, some airports are already reporting difficulties this morning. Flights are delayed coming out of LaGuardia, and the back up has already brought Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to a moderate level of delays. Newark is also high on the delayed list to start the day. Flight condition will only get worse as severe weather hits some of the country's biggest hubs, creating a ripple affect across other airports.

    7:20 a.m. EDT Thursday: A 911 call center in Greensburg, Pa., reports that three houses sustained minor damage following a lightning strike. They also reported minor road flooding and multiple downed trees throughout the county. One tree fell on a home.

    6:45 a.m. EDT Thursday: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is reporting that accidents have lead to lane restrictions on Route 309 northbound and I-83 northbound at North Exit 28 - PA 295.

    6:30 a.m. EDT Thursday: Current radar over Pennsylvania:



    6 a.m. EDT Thursday: Flooding is already being reported Westmoreland County, Pa., as heavy rain comes down.

    Related:
    Severe Storms Threaten Philly, DC, Norfolk Thursday
    Latest Severe Weather Watches and Warnings
    Wednesday Severe Weather Recap


    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Massive Storms Surge Through Mid-Atlantic, Midwest

     

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    Updated Thursday, June 13, 11:18 p.m.

    A wall cloud in northern Allen County drops what appears to be a funnel cloud Wednesday, June 12, 2013, just north of Fort Wayne, Ind. (AP Photo/The Journal Gazette, Chad Ryan)

    Massive thunderstorms have swept across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, knocking out power to thousands of people and causing some flash flooding in certain areas. Here's a snapshot of what is happening, state by state:

    GEORGIA

    Severe thunderstorms on Thursday left about 160,000 customers in north and middle Georgia without power. Lightning lit up the nighttime sky over Atlanta, and falling trees left two people with non-life threatening injuries in Canton. There were reports of a possible tornado in Cherokee County.

    ILLINOIS

    National Weather Service authorities reported several small tornadoes and quarter-size hail as severe weather moved across northern Illinois. Meanwhile, airlines canceled more than 120 flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Wednesday night's White Sox game was postponed, along with Northwestern University classes and finals scheduled on its Chicago and Evanston campuses. Game 1 of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup series was played at the United Center. Power outages: About 34,000 in northern Illinois.

    INDIANA

    The National Weather Service says several farm buildings near Wabash, Ind., were destroyed by 90 to 100 mph straight-line winds. Building damage and downed trees were reported after winds topping 60 mph and golf ball-size hail pelted places from Gary to Fort Wayne. Thousands of customers across northern Indiana were without power at one point, though utility officials said most had been restored by Thursday.

    IOWA

    Weather officials say preliminary reports indicate multiple tornadoes touched down in northern Iowa on Wednesday, though an official tally isn't immediately available. A team has been surveying damage in the Belmond area in Wright County, where reports indicate more than one tornado may have hit the area. There has been significant damage to a few houses and businesses on the north side of town. It includes collapsed walls, broken windows and debris.

    The team is headed to the Hampton area in nearby Franklin County, where there also have been reports of damage. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.

    MARYLAND

    Storms on Thursday caused three reported tornadoes, downed trees, tens of thousands of power outages and closed roads. Also, a 19-year-old woman was sent to the hospital after being struck by lightning.

    MICHIGAN

    Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern said about 32,000 of the utility's 1.8 million Michigan customers remained without power Thursday afternoon. Allegan and Van Buren were the hardest-hit counties, with about 14,000 outages between them. Morgenstern said many customers will have power restored by the evening, while some in the hardest-hit areas will have to wait until Friday afternoon. Many trees struck power lines, bringing them down - along with poles in some cases.

    MINNESOTA

    A storm dumped heavy rain to parts of southern Minnesota on Wednesday morning, including nearly 3.25 inches at Hutchinson airfield. Hail and wind gusts of up to 65 mph were also reported.

    NORTH CAROLINA

    A wave of storms Thursday evening downed trees and left more than 157,000 customers without power, mostly in the Piedmont region.

    OHIO

    Storms left thousands without power early Thursday in the Buckeye State. An emergency management official in Morrow County told The Columbus Dispatch late Wednesday that there were reports of two possible tornadoes in the central Ohio county. Downed trees were blocking some area roads, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

    PENNSYLVANIA

    The entire state of Pennsylvania remains under a flood watch through Thursday. Lightning from a fast-moving storm may have sparked a fire that killed a western Pennsylvania man early Thursday, the state fire marshal said. The fire happened in New Brighton, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. .

    In Ardmore, stormy weather halted the first round of the U.S. Open less than two hours after it began but it resumed about three hours later. Meanwhile, flights at Philadelphia International Airport were delayed an hour and a half to two hours.

    RHODE ISLAND

    A flood warning has been issued for areas for the Pawtuxet River and areas along the Pawcatuck River. Some areas along the Pawtuxet have already experienced minor flooding.

    VIRGINIA

    Storms were blamed for the death Thursday afternoon of a 4-year-old boy who was struck by a tree that toppled while he was visiting a Richmond park with his father, who suffered non-life threatening injuries. Statewide, more than 300,000 customers lost power.

    WASHINGTON, D.C.

    Storms came and went in Washington before the evening rush hour, bringing winds and thunder that knocked trees onto houses and cut power to thousands of homes and traffic signals. Flightstats.com reported that more than 100 flights were cancelled at the Baltimore-Washington area's three airports, and there were hundreds more flights delayed.

    WEST VIRGINIA

    The West Virginia National Guard sent personnel to assist in Roane County after several inches of rain prompted flash flooding Thursday. A county 911 center was evacuated and some roads in the Spencer area have been closed because of flash flooding.

    WISCONSIN

    A partial roof collapse at a Wal-Mart in Lake Delton left two employees with minor injuries as heavy rain and high winds spread across southern Wisconsin. Street flooding was reported in parts of the village of Boscobel in Grant County and in Portage and Pardeeville in Columbia County.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Massive Storms Surge Through Mid-Atlantic, Midwest

     

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    A weather warning sign hangs as spectators watch the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

    ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) - Phil Mickelson rolled a birdie attempt 8 feet past the hole at No. 11. Steve Stricker did the same at No. 12. Bogey. Bogey.

    And that wasn't even the stormy part.

    The horn blew at 8:36 a.m. Thursday, halting play after less than 2 hours into the first round of U.S. Open. It wasn't raining as the players began to leave the course, but soon there were thunderclaps over the Merion Golf Course, and radar showed approaching severe weather that could affect the rest of the day.

    Ian Poulter held the lead with three birdies in three holes as fans scurried toward the merchandize tents to wait out the storm. Four players were at 2 under.

    The course was already soaked with 6½ inches of rain over the past week, although sunshine Tuesday and Wednesday helped to dry things out a bit. The skies were already cloudy and a breeze rustled the trees when Cliff Kresge, a Floridian ranked No. 551 in the world, hit the first tee shot of the opening round, the first of 156 players on the historic course hosting the Open for the first time in 32 years.

    The marquee group was scheduled to tee off shortly after lunchtime - weather permitting. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are together as the top three players in the world rankings.

    Even with all the rain softening up the shortest major championship course in nine years, Merion was going to be no easy stroll for the world's top golfers. Mickelson and Stricker saw the notoriously sloping greens live up to their reputation after just a few minutes of play.

    Mickelson's early tee time presented a logistical challenge. He arrived at Merion after an overnight flight from San Diego, where he watched his oldest daughter graduate from the eighth grade.

    Early on, he played like someone who didn't get much sleep. Starting on the 11th hole - one of the unorthodox arrangements in the setup at this course - he opened with a 3-putt for a bogey and put his tee shot in the rough at No. 12. But he saved par at the 12th and birdied the short par-3 13th to pull back to even par.

    Sergio Garcia was greeted with mild applause and a few audible boos when he was introduced at the start of his round. Garcia is playing his first tournament in the U.S. since his recent exchanges with Woods, which hit a low point when Garcia said he would serve fried chicken if Woods came over for dinner during the Open. Garcia has since apologized for the remark, and he was noticeably friendly to the gallery during Wednesday's practice round, stopping several times to sign autographs.

    The forecast for bad weather led to a USGA news conference Wednesday that covered topics like hail, standing water and the dreaded "potentially damaging winds." At one point during a long and otherwise straight-laced opening statement, USGA vice president Tom O'Toole spoke about the presentation of the championship trophy - then rolled his eyes skyward and added: "which we hope will be Sunday."

    The forecast also renewed calls for officials to break with U.S. Open tradition and allow players to lift, clean and replace balls in the fairway if the conditions get nasty.

    "I would be a fan of being able to clean the mud off," said Matt Kuchar, a two-time winner this year on the PGA Tour. "I think it's one of those really rotten breaks in golf. Driving it in a divot is a rotten break, but most of us can figure it out from there. You drive down the middle of the fairway and you have mud on the ball and you have no idea what's going to happen, you have no real control. It seems like a guy might be rewarded more for missing fairways in those situations, being in the rough, not picking up the mud."

    Nice try. But such protestations went nowhere fast.

    "We wouldn't be adopting that rule this week," O'Toole said. "And if it was so bad, then the obvious response to that, or consequence, would be we probably wouldn't be playing."

    Any major disruption would be a shame, given that the U.S. Open has waited 32 years to return to the course where Olin Dutra overcame a serious stomach illness to win in 1934, where Ben Hogan hit the picture-perfect 1-iron approach to No. 18 before winning in a playoff in 1950, where Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake out of his bag at the first hole of the playoff when he beat Jack Nicklaus for the title in 1971, and where David Graham became the first Australian to win the trophy in 1981.

    It would also dampen the drama of Woods' pursuit of his first major in five years, a reasonable proposition given that he's already won four times on the PGA Tour this year. And Scott's hopes of becoming the first to win the Masters and U.S. Open back-to-back since Woods in 2002.

    Thought to be too small to host an Open anymore, Merion had been off the radar for so long that many of the top names in the field - including Woods - had never played it until recently. Organizers had to be creative with the placement of hospitality tents and parking lots on the club's relatively small footprint, and ticket sales were capped at 25,000 a day instead of the usual 40,000 or so for recent championships.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Massive Storms Surge Through Mid-Atlantic, Midwest

     

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    Dark clouds are seen as a storm moves through the area with the Washington Monument in the background, Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Two additional deaths in North Carolina are being blamed on the massive storm system that started in the Upper Midwest and brought soaking rains and heavy winds to the Mid-Atlantic.

    Authorities say a volunteer firefighter died in Wilkes County on Thursday afternoon when he was electrocuted after responding to a fire when a tree fell on power lines. Wilkes County Fire Marshal Kevin Bounds says 36-year-old Tony Barker had joined the Mountain View Volunteer Fire Department last year.

    In the same county, authorities say 77-year-old Maurice Kilby died when a tree fell on him in his yard. Officials say Kilby's wife found him and called for help but he'd died by the time rescuers arrived.

    At least four people died in the storm that caused widespread power outages, flooding and flight delays.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Storm System Hitting Mid-Atlantic
    Lightning, Willis Tower, Chicago

     

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    Blackened areas defines the path of a wildfire that destroyed some homes and left others untouched in one neighborhood in the densely wooded Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, June 13, 2013. (AP Photo/John Wark)

    COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Firefighters have at least temporarily battled to a "draw" with a fast-moving fire that has already killed two people and destroyed 379 homes, giving weary authorities and residents the first glimmer of hope after three days of mounting damage, a sheriff said.

    After nearly doubling in size overnight, the fire held at about 25 square miles Thursday despite more swirling winds and bone-dry conditions, said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. "If it was a draw, then that was a victory today," Maketa said, "because we haven't had many draws lately."

    Little more than 36 hours after it started in the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs, the blaze surpassed last June's Waldo Canyon fire as the most destructive in state history. That blaze burned 347 homes and killed two people.

    The day began somberly, with Maketa drawing audible gasps as he announced the number of homes lost. But by late afternoon, a film of much-needed clouds stretched out overhead, as Maketa and other officials described determined efforts to keep the conflagration from spreading to more densely populated areas to the south and west. In one instance, Maketa said, firefighters stood with their backs literally to the wall of a rural school building and successfully fought back the flames.

    "These guys just decided they were going to take a stand and save that building," he said.

    But the relief was marred by sadness. Maketa said crews on Thursday found the remains of two people who appeared to be trying to flee. The victims were found in a garage in Black Forest and apparently died in the first hours after the fire ignited Tuesday afternoon. "The car doors were open as if they were loading or grabbing last-minute things," Maketa said.

    Earlier Thursday, residents were ordered to leave 1,000 homes in Colorado Springs. Thursday's evacuation was the first within the city limits. About 38,000 other people living across roughly 70 square miles were already under orders to get out.

    Colorado's second-largest city, with a population of 430,000, also asked residents of 2,000 more homes to be ready to evacuate.

    Gene Schwarz, 72, said he never fully unpacked after last year's fires. He and his neighbors wondered whether grassland to the north of them could be a barrier from the flames.

    "It doesn't matter because a spark can fly over from anywhere," said Schwarz.

    Black Forest, where the blaze began, offers a case study in the challenges of tamping down wildfires across the West, especially with growing populations, rising temperatures and a historic drought.

    Developers describe Black Forest as the largest contiguous stretch of ponderosa pine in the United States - a thick, wide carpet of vegetation rolling down from the Rampart Range that thins out to the high grasslands of Colorado's eastern plains. Once home to rural towns and summer cabins, it is now dotted with million-dollar homes and gated communities - the result of the state's population boom over the past two decades.

    Untold thousands of homes in Colorado's heavily populated Front Range are at risk for fires, said Gregory Simon, an assistant professor of geography who studies urban wildfires at the University of Colorado-Denver. Many are built on windy mountain roads or cul-de-sacs - appealing to homebuyers seeking privacy but often hampering efforts to stamp out fire. Residents are also attracted by the ability to hike from their backyards and have horses.

    "Unfortunately, these environments give the appearance of being peaceful, tranquil and bucolic and natural. But they belie the reality that they are combustible, volatile and at times dangerous," Simon said.

    Nigel Thompson was drawn to Black Forest by the rural feel, privacy, lack of crime and space to raise a family.

    "A safe place for my kids to grow up, lots of room for them to run around," said Thompson, a computer programmer who moved to a house on a 60-acre lot in 1997.

    Five years later, he took in evacuees from a devastating fire in the foothills to the northwest. That drove home the fact that his family was living in a tinderbox. Thompson cut down 20 pine trees to form a firebreak around his house, which he topped with fire retardant roof tiles. He diligently cleared away brush, downed branches and pine cones.

    "It didn't make a damn difference at the end of the day," Thompson said Thursday. His home was incinerated Tuesday.

    "If you're surrounded by people who haven't done anything, it doesn't matter what you do," Thompson said. "It's interesting that you can have a house in a forest and the building code doesn't say anything about the roof design."

    That's what makes fire prevention so difficult, said Anne Walker of the Western Governors' Association.

    "Local government has ultimate authority over where homes are placed," she said. "You need to look at local ordinances and where homes are placed and what they're made of."

    El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn said the commission has tried to ensure that new developments have brush clearance and easy emergency access.

    "Sometimes it's just nature," he said. "When you have a fire like this in a semi-arid environment, there's not a lot you can do."

    Maketa said firefighters were hampered by a matted layer of pine needles and grass fuel on the forest floor - fuel called "duff." Spot fires below the trees can smolder for days and even weeks inside it, then blow up. Firefighters see dry matting, Maketa said, "and when you look 10 minutes later, it's full of flames."

    Other fires burned in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and California.

    In Canon City, 50 miles southwest of Black Forest, the 5-square-mile Royal Gorge Fire was 20 percent contained. Royal Gorge Bridge & Park officials said that of its 52 buildings, 48 are now gone. The park's suspension bridge 955 feet above the Arkansas River is still up, though the fire damaged some wooden planks. An aerial tram was destroyed.

    A lightning-sparked fire in Rocky Mountain National Park was burning on about 300 acres, less than originally estimated.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    (Getty Images)

    A rare strong coastal storm for June will bring heavy rain, gusty winds and flooding problems from New York City to Boston into Friday morning.

    It's as if Mother Nature thought it was still March or early April with a storm forecast by AccuWeather.com meteorologists to quickly spin up into a nor'easter.

    The non-tropical storm will belt areas from northern and coastal New Jersey to eastern Massachusetts with a period of windswept, drenching rain Thursday night into Friday morning.

    Many folks were already noticing the cool air accompanying the system from the eastern Great Lakes to New England.

    Enough rain could fall to cause flash, urban and small stream flooding.

    Lesser rain will generally fall over northern New England. However, there could be a few pockets of flash and small stream flooding.

    Wind gusts with the storm system, ranging between 30 and 50 mph near the coast, can topple weakly rooted trees and break large tree limbs off.



    As a result of the wind and rain, there can be significant travel delays and sporadic power outages.

    While the effects of the storm will be brief, an onshore component of the wind (north to northeast) for a time will bring coastal water levels to a foot or two above published values.

    RELATED:
    Storms, Rain Threaten US Open at Merion
    Severe Storm, Tornado Threat Southern New Jersey to Northern Georgia
    Severe Weather Center


    Minor flooding is possible at time of high tide along the north shore of Long Island, the eastern shore of Massachusetts and the vicinity of Raritan Bay, N.J.

    Fortunately, tides are not especially high during this part of the month with a first-quarter moon on June 16.

    The storm will roll off to the northeast Friday. Rough surf and seas will linger for a time along New England and Long Island.

    The storm system assisted in the formation of lines, complexes and individual severe thunderstorms farther south over the mid-Atlantic to the Carolinas on Thursday.

    The storms bring the full spectrum of severe weather ranging from damaging wind gusts, flash flooding, hail and frequent lightning to tornadoes.

    The storms have already disrupted play at the U.S. Open at Ardmore, Pa.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Storm System Hits Mid-Atlantic
    Lightning, Willis Tower, Chicago

     

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    (Getty Images)

    The threat for severe weather will shift back out to the Plains for the end of the week.

    As storm in southern Canada continues to strengthen, a cold front will move through the Plains on Friday assisting in the formation of some strong-to-severe storms.

    The front is expected to bring showers and thunderstorms from the Dakotas and Minnesota to Texas.



    However, the area at greatest risk for violent storms will be across western Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and eastern Colorado.

    The main threat with these storms will be damaging wind gusts that may be in excess of 65 mph. However, there is also a threat for isolated incidents of large hail in this region.

    RELATED:
    Severe Weather: Can It Ever Be Avoided?
    Reports of Thursday's Severe Weather
    Current Severe Weather Warnings


    Through the weekend, strong to locally severe storms will continue to fire over the Plains.

    The storm could also play a role in the fires being battled in Colorado.

    Only a small number of the storms will bring rain to a small area. Of greater concern is shifting, gusty winds produced by the storms and the risk of lightning strikes setting off new fires.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Hurricane Sandy and an extensive drought made 2012 the United States' second-costliest year for natural disasters since 1980, federal officials said today (June 13).

    Weather and climate disasters racked up $110 billion in damages across the country last year, according to a report released today by the National Climate Data Center (NCDC).

    There were 11 events in 2012 that each incurred at least $1 billion in damages, including spring tornado outbreaks in the Midwest and Texas, a derecho that plowed from the Plains to the Northeast, and the yearlong drought and its associated heatwaves and wildfires that burned more than 9.2 million acres, mostly in the West.

    All told, more than 300 people were killed in these 11 extreme weather events - 159 of those lives were claimed by Sandy.

    Sandy by far was the most costly event of the year, with $65 billion in damages. The gigantic storm, which at one point had tropical storm-force winds extending almost 500 miles (800 kilometers) from its center, made landfall on the Jersey Shore on Oct. 29. It caused a record storm surge, historic flooding and widespread power outages along a huge stretch of the East Coast.

    Last year's severe, yearlong drought, meanwhile, was estimated to have cost about $30 billion in damages, much of it due to widespread harvest failure. For most of 2012, more than half the country was affected by the drought, which covered the largest area of any drought since the 1930s, according to the NCDC's report.

    The costliest year on record for natural disasters was 2005 - the year Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf - with $160 billion in damages. According to the NCDC, 2012 also ranks second for number of billion-dollar disasters, just behind 2011, which saw 14 such events.

    Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    (AP Photo/dpa, Stephanie Pilick)

    This year's spring seemed more like a never-ending winter for much of the country, and it wasn't just in their imaginations. The chilly weather was the coldest spring since 1996, the National Climate Data Center (NCDC) said today (June 13).

    Fourteen states east of the Rockies had spring temperatures that ranked among their 10 lowest since record-keeping started more than 100 years ago. In Alaska, residents of Galena were evacuated in May after lower-than-normal spring temperatures slowed the annual melting of Yukon River ice, causing an ice jam that flooded the town.

    The low temperatures also meant fewer tornadoes than average struck in May. However, two devastating EF-5 tornadoes plowed through towns in Oklahoma. The powerful twisters, one of which was the widest ever recorded, killed more than 20 people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. "We saw some very high impact tornado situations, but it's been a very slow spring compared to the last decade," said Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at the NCDC.

    Jet stream shifts

    Shifts in the jet stream, partly seasonal and partly caused by high-latitude weather systems, were responsible for the unusual spring chill, according to the NCDC. The jet stream pattern brought cold Arctic air to the Midwest and East.

    The chilly season followed a string of warmer-than-normal springs, part of the natural variation expected as the climate warms, Arndt said. "We won't stop having colder-than-normal episodes even as the world continues to warm," Arndt told LiveScience.

    Even though this spring was significantly colder than previous years, overall, the year-to-date average national temperature of 43.6 degrees Fahrenheit (6.4 degrees Celsius) was 0.2 F (0.3 C) above the 20th-century average, the NCDC report said.

    Plains drought improves, West still parched

    Snow and rain soaked the Plains this spring, taking the edge off a lingering drought. Iowa had its wettest spring on record, with 8.84 inches (22.45 centimeters) of precipitation, according to the NCDC report. Above-average precipitation in May also contributed to flooding along several major rivers in the Midwest, including the Mississippi River and the Illinois River, the NCDC said.

    But the cold and wet spring stopped west of the Rockies. Drought continues to parch the West, where it was warm and dry from January through May. California saw only 29 percent of its average precipitation for January through May, the report said. Areas of extreme drought increased in southeastern Colorado and New Mexico. [Dry and Drying: Images of Drought]

    "This is still a big drought event, and it's likely going to be one of the major weather and climate stories of 2013," Arndt said. "It's going to continue to present major problems this year."

    Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

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

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

     

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    Derecho

    As severe storms moved from the Plains into the Midwest and Ohio Valley Wednesday, strong winds battered houses and knocked down trees and power lines from Minnesota to Illinois. Numerous tornadoes and funnel clouds were reported. In the late evening, the complex barreled toward Chicago, knocking out power to thousands and resulting in hundreds of cancelled flights.

    By Thursday morning, severe storms had crossed into the east, plowing forward to heavily populated areas such as Philadelphia, New York City and Atlanta with the same destructive energy.

    After a similar, but stronger event, officially declared a derecho, occurred last year, many are wondering what defines the term. Does strict criterion exist, or has it become another buzzword indicative of a strong storm?

    RELATED:
    Thursday Morning Storms: Low-End Derecho
    Derecho: The Land Hurricane


    According to the National Weather Service, a derecho is a "widespread, long-lived storm that is associated with a band of rapidly move showers or thunderstorms." Often, according to the NWS, the system will produce damage comparable to that from a tornado, but is typically in one direction along a straight swath. This is called straight-line wind damage.

    By the National Weather Service definition, a storm must match certain criteria to be considered a derecho:

    1. The wind damage swath must extend more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers), and also

    2. must include wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length

    While some believe both of these criterion were met June 12-13, others think the language of the definition is vague and can be met by mesoscale systems that are not derechos.

    "When you look at the definition, it's clear except for one word, 'most.' That leaves it up for interpretation. The one thing that I think is crystal clear, though, is that discussing the possibility of it occurring was obviously appropriate," said AccuWeather.com Expert Meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

    "I think the problem was that people were gravitating more toward the characterization of the event instead of focusing on on its impacts," he said.

    In a blog post by the Capital Weather Gang, the Washington, D.C.-area weather group, has even gone as far as to call the term a "huge distraction."

    "Stop focusing on whether it's a derecho or not," they wrote.

    But ultimately, the decision to name a complex a derecho is made by the NWS. And the agency did, on Thursday, officially deem the events that occurred on June 12-13, 2013, a low-end derecho.

    The severe weather event met the basic criteria, they said, as it moved over 600 miles, averaging 47 miles per hour and resulted in more than 150 damaging winds reports.

    "For many people in the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic region, the term 'derecho' brings to mind the June 29, 2012, event and the resulting impacts. This isn't surprising, since past experience (especially in the recent past) strongly influences peoples' perception of risk," according to Bill Bunting, a meteorologist with NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

    "Derechos occur across a spectrum of intensities and impacts, and it's important to know that each event is different. The more important message is to focus on the forecasted impacts from any one severe weather event, and not on its classification."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Massive Storms Surge Through Midwest, Mid-Atlantic
    Lightning, Willis Tower, Chicago

     

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    Jasen Dill, left, and Judy Pohlod discuss returning to their homes, which made it through the fire safely, as a storm passes overhead in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Michael Ciaglo)

    COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Firefighters advanced against a monstrous wildfire outside of Colorado Springs, expanding containment lines and lifting evacuation orders for thousands of anxious residents in the most destructive blaze in state history, which has destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed two people.

    "I think if you look at it as a fight, we got our tails kicked for a couple of days," El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said Friday afternoon. He called Thursday a "draw," then gave what's been one of the most optimistic updates since the wildfire exploded this week. "I think today we delivered some blows, and we've got some good news to give out."

    Aided by a surprise rain shower and slower fire movement, crews increased containment to 30 percent, up from the 5 percent the previous day. That meant evacuation orders could be lifted for neighborhoods east, north, and west of the fire - areas where as many as 5,000 people are estimated to live, Maketa said.

    The fire began Tuesday during record-setting heat and tinder-dry conditions. Officials have warned it still could flare up again if the weather shifts. So far, 473 homes have been destroyed.

    Crews say they were better prepared to take on the flames because of lessons learned fighting last year's Waldo Canyon Fire, a similarly devastating blaze that devoured hundreds of homes and killed two people only a few miles away.

    When the Black Forest, a thickly wooded rural region north of Colorado Springs, began to burn, authorities swiftly evacuated tens of thousands of people from an area larger than the Denver metropolitan area.

    They immediately began hand-counting destroyed houses to get information out to nervous homeowners. And they rushed federal troops and aircraft into action, cutting the red tape that had grounded those resources a year ago as smoke clouds billowed over Colorado.

    Within an hour, El Paso County had its emergency operations center up and running and summoned aircraft from nearby Peterson Air Force base. Rep. Doug Lamborn called the federal center in Idaho that coordinates western firefighting to speed up the process of clearing the planes. Gov. John Hickenlooper mobilized the Colorado National Guard, and troops began to help secure the rapidly growing evacuation zone.

    The cause of the blaze is under investigation, but Maketa said authorities believe it was human-caused.

    Before the fire got out of hand, authorities evacuated people miles away, sending deputies door-to-door to ensure everyone left. They remembered the speed at which last year's fire spread.

    The latest blaze raced through the rural reaches of the metro area, doubling in size overnight. The bodies of two people were found inside their garage Thursday, their car doors open as if they had been about to flee.

    Some Waldo Canyon evacuees endured days without knowing whether their houses survived. So Maketa sent deputies in at night to survey neighborhoods. It was a painstaking, risky process as ashes smoldered around them while they strained to determine the addresses of charred properties. About 24 hours later, the department began releasing the addresses of houses that were lost.

    It might take two weeks to get a perfect count, however.

    The rainfall in the burn area Friday made officials giddy. Hickenlooper toured the zone and said he was happily drenched.

    "I'm soaking wet and I'm a little chilly, but I've never been so happy to say this," he said.

    The fire zone remained at 25 square miles, thanks to lighter winds and firefighters' efforts to stamp out flare-ups. Sheriff's deputies patrolling for looters directed crews to dozens of hot spots.

    The fact that the state's two most destructive wildfires have happened within a year - and in close proximity to each other - is a reminder of the challenges of tamping down wildfires across the West, especially with growing populations, rising temperatures and a historic drought.

    Developers describe Black Forest as the largest contiguous stretch of ponderosa pine in the United States - a thick, wide carpet of vegetation rolling down from the Rampart Range that thins out to the high grasslands of Colorado's eastern plains. Once home to rural towns and summer cabins, it is now dotted with million-dollar homes and gated communities as a result of the state's population boom over the past two decades.

    Waldo Canyon was one of the last subdivisions in Colorado Springs, bumping up directly against the pine-clad wilderness of the Rocky Mountains.

    Other fires burned in Colorado, California and New Mexico. A southern New Mexico fire reached the historic mining town of Kingston, but an official said crews protected buildings there.

    In Canon City, 50 miles southwest of Black Forest, the 5-square-mile Royal Gorge Fire was 40 percent contained and evacuation orders were lifted. A 350-acre fire sparked by lightning in Rocky Mountain National Park was 30 percent contained.

    Meanwhile, crews were fighting a lightning-sparked fire near Rifle, on the state's Western Slope. The fire was less than 1 square mile, and it was threatening structures, but it was unclear how many.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    While the threat of severe weather has ended for the U.S. Open at Ardmore, Pa., there will be additional showers and the risk of thunderstorms this weekend.

    The weather will be rather cool over southeastern Pennsylvania going into the weekend.
    Saturday appears to be a near-perfect day for golf and just about any outdoor plans.

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER:


    Abundant sunshine is on tap with a light breeze and low humidity Saturday. Showers should avoid the region this day.

    The chance of a shower or thunderstorm passing over the area will increase Sunday afternoon as a system rolls in from the Midwest then crosses the Appalachians.


    A southwest breeze will kick up Sunday as well.

    Despite the risk of a shower or thunderstorm Sunday afternoon, most of the time will be free of rain at Merion this weekend.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Storm System Hits Mid-Atlantic
    Lightning, Willis Tower, Chicago

     

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    A cold front cutting through the Plains will spark up strong to severe storms from eastern Colorado, central Missouri and southern Wisconsin.

    Some of the major cities most at risk for severe weather Saturday include Denver.; Kansas City, Neb.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Chicago.

    These storms will produce localized wind gusts of 60 mph which can uproot trees and snap off branches, causing power outages.


    Additionally, quarter to ping-pong ball-sized hail can also occur. Hail this size can cause injury to livestock and property.

    Along with the damaging winds and hail will come torrential downpours which can cause flash flooding and reduced visibility.



    The storms could also play a role in battling the wildfires in Colorado.

    Only a few storms in this region will bring a substantial amount of rainfall to help combat the fires. However, of greater concern is shifting, gusty winds produced by the storms and the risk of lightning strikes setting off new fires.

    Most of these thunderstorms will fire in the afternoon and evening hours.



    If you need to be out and about, keep a keen eye to the sky and watch for rapidly changing conditions that may occur with these thunderstorms.

    Those traveling Interstate 80 through Nebraska, Interstate 70 through Kansas and Chicago toll roads sure to heed any watches or warnings that arise. Remember a watch means conditions are favorable for severe weather, while a warning means severe weather is imminent or occurring.

    More severe weather will develop across similar areas on Sunday.

    ALSO ON ACCUWEATHER:
    VIDEO: Narrow Escape From Black Forest Fire in Colorado
    Firefighters Gain Some Control Over Black Forest Fire
    Breaking Weather: Texas Flood Concerns

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    This undated artist rendering shows the proposed storm surge barrier that would be installed in New York's Newtown Creek as part of a sweeping blueprint unveiled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for protecting New York from rising seas, storms and other extreme weather and climate threats. (AP Photo/NYC Mayor's Office)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Efforts to curb global warming have quietly shifted as greenhouse gases inexorably rise.

    The conversation is no longer solely about how to save the planet by cutting carbon emissions. It's becoming more about how to save ourselves from the warming planet's wild weather.

    It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement last week of an ambitious plan to stave off New York City's rising seas with flood gates, levees and more that brought this transition into full focus.

    After years of losing the fight against rising global emissions of heat-trapping gases, governments around the world are emphasizing what a U.N. Foundation scientific report calls "managing the unavoidable."

    It's called adaptation and it's about as sexy but as necessary as insurance, experts say.

    It's also a message that once was taboo among climate activists such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

    In his 1992 book "Earth in the Balance," Gore compared talk of adapting to climate change to laziness that would distract from necessary efforts.

    But in his 2013 book "The Future," Gore writes bluntly: "I was wrong." He talks about how coping with rising seas and temperatures is just as important as trying to prevent global warming by cutting emissions.

    Like Gore, government officials across the globe aren't saying everyone should just give up on efforts to reduce pollution. They're saying that as they work on curbing carbon emissions, they also have to deal with a reality that's already here.

    In March, President Barack Obama's science advisers sent him a list of recommendations on climate change. No. 1 on the list: "Focus on national preparedness for climate change."

    "Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point," Bloomberg said in announcing his $20 billion adaptation plans. "The bottom line is: We can't run the risk."

    On Monday, more than three dozen other municipal officials from across the U.S. will go public with a nationwide effort to make their cities more resilient to natural disasters and the effects of man-made global warming.

    "It's an insurance policy, which is investing in the future," Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California, who is chairing the mayors' efforts, said in an interview Friday. "This is public safety. It's the long-term hazards that could impact a community."

    Discussions about global warming are happening more often in mayors' offices than in Congress. The Obama administration and local governments are coming up with thousands of eye-glazing pages of climate change adaptation plans and talking about zoning, elevation, water system infrastructure, and most of all, risk.

    "They can sit up there and not make any policies or changes, but we know we have to," Broward County, Florida, Mayor Kristin Jacobs said. "We know that we're going to be that first line of defense."

    University of Michigan professor Rosina Bierbaum is a presidential science adviser who headed the adaptation section of the administration's new National Climate Assessment. "It's quite striking how much is going on at the municipal level," Bierbaum said. "Communities have to operate in real time. Everybody is struggling with a climate that is no longer the climate of the past."

    Still, Bierbaum said, "Many of the other developed countries have gone way ahead of us in preparing for climate change. In many ways, the U.S. may be playing catch-up."

    Hurricanes, smaller storms and floods have been a harsh teacher for South Florida, Jacobs said.



    "Each time you get walloped, you stop and scratch your head ... and learn from it and make change," she said. "It helps if you've been walloped once or twice. I think it's easier to take action when everybody sees" the effect of climate change and are willing to talk about being prepared.

    What Bloomberg announced for New York is reasonable for a wealthy city with lots of people and lots of expensive property and infrastructure to protect, said S. Jeffress Williams, a University of Hawaii geophysicist who used to be the expert on sea level rise for the U.S. Geological Survey. But for other coastal cities in the United States and especially elsewhere in the poorer world, he said, "it's not so easy to adapt."

    Rich nations have pledged, but not yet provided, $100 billion a year to help poor nations adapt to global warming and cut their emissions. But the $20 billion cost for New York City's efforts shows the money won't go far in helping poorer cities adapt, said Brandon Wu of the nonprofit ActionAid.

    At U.N. climate talks in Germany this past week, Ronald Jumeau, a delegate from the Seychelles, said developing countries have noted the more than $50 billion in relief that U.S. states in the Northeast got for Superstorm Sandy.

    That's a large amount "for one storm in three states. At the same time, the Philippines was hit by its 15th storm in the same year," Jumeau said. "It puts things in context."

    For poorer cities in the U.S., what makes sense is to buy out property owners, relocate homes and businesses and convert vulnerable sea shores to parks so that when storms hit "it's not a big deal," Williams said. "I think we'll see more and more communities make that decision largely because of the cost involved in trying to adapt to what's coming."

    Jacobs, the mayor from South Florida, says that either people will move "or they will rehab their homes so that they can have a higher elevation. Already, in the Keys, you see houses that are up on stilts. So is that where we're going? At some point, we're going to have to start looking at real changes."

    It's not just rising seas.

    Sacramento has to deal with devastating droughts as well as the threat of flooding. It has a levee system so delicate that only New Orleans has it worse, said Johnson, the California capital's mayor.

    The temperature in Sacramento was 110 degrees Fahrenheit this past week. After previous heat waves, cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have come up with cooling centers and green roofs that reduce the urban heat island affect.

    Jacobs said cities from Miami to Virginia Beach, Virginia, are coping with mundane efforts: changes in zoning and building codes, raising the elevation of roads and airport runways, moving and hardening infrastructure. None of it grabs headlines, but "the sexiness is ... in the results," she said.

    For decades, scientists referenced average temperatures when they talked about global warming. Only recently have they focused intensely on extreme and costly weather, encouraged by the insurance industry which has suffered high losses, Bierbaum said.

    In 2012, weather disasters - not necessarily all tied to climate change - caused $110 billion in damage to the United States, which was the second highest total since 1980, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week.

    Now officials are merging efforts by emergency managers to prepare for natural disasters with those of officials focused on climate change. That greatly lessens the political debate about human-caused global warming, said University of Colorado science and disaster policy professor Roger Pielke Jr.

    It also makes the issue more local than national or international.

    "If you keep the discussion focused on impacts ... I think it's pretty easy to get people from all political persuasions," said Pielke, who often has clashed with environmentalists over global warming. "It's insurance. The good news is that we know insurance is going to pay off again."

    Describing these measures as resiliency and changing the way people talk about it make it more palatable than calling it climate change, said Hadi Dowlatabadi, a University of British Columbia climate scientist.

    "It's called a no-regrets strategy," Dowlatabadi said. "It's all branding."

    All that, experts say, is essentially taking some of the heat out of the global warming debate.

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