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Can New Orleans Afford Levee Upkeep Bills?


A flood wall and floodgate along Lakeshore Drive and Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. (AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - In the busy and under-staffed offices of New Orleans' flood-control leaders, there's an uneasy feeling about what lies ahead.

By the time the next hurricane season starts in June of 2013, the city will take control of much of a revamped protection system of gates, walls and armored levees that the Army Corps of Engineers has spent about $12 billion building. The corps has about $1 billion worth of work left.

Engineers consider it a Rolls Royce of flood protection - comparable to systems in seaside European cities such as St. Petersburg, Venice, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Whether the infrastructure can hold is less in question than whether New Orleans can be trusted with the keys.

The Army Corps estimates it will take $38 million a year to pay for upkeep, maintenance and operational costs after it's turned over to local officials.

Local flood-control chief Robert Turner said he has questions about where that money will come from. At current funding levels, the region will run out of money to properly operate the high-powered system within a decade unless a new revenue source is found.

"There's a price to pay for resiliency," the levee engineer said from his office at the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. "We can't let pieces of this system die away. We can't be parochial about it."

On Nov. 6, New Orleans voters were faced with one of their first challenges on flood protection when they voted on renewal of a critical levee tax. The tax levy was approved, meaning millions of dollars should be available annually for levee maintenance.

Bob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California, said the region must find additional money to keep the system working properly. "If you try to operate it and maintain it on a shoestring, then it won't provide the protection that people deserve."

Many locals remain uneasy, even though Turner's agency is a welcome replacement for local levee boards that were previously derided.

"It's scary," said C. Ray Bergeron, owner of Fleur De Lis Car Care, a service station in the Lakeview neighborhood where water rose to rooftops after levees collapsed during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Before Katrina, Bergeron said the local levee boards were complacent. "They told everybody everything was fine: 'Oh yeah, it's fine. Let's go have martinis and lunch.'"

After Katrina, the locally run levee boards that oversaw the area's defenses were vilified, and quickly replaced by the regional levee district run by Turner.

Congressional investigations found the old Orleans Levee Board more interested in managing a casino license and two marinas than looking after levees. Inspections were ceremonial, millions of dollars were spent on a fountain and overpasses rather than on levee protection. And there was confusion over who was responsible for managing the fragmented levee system, U.S. Senate investigations revealed.

Still, experts generally agree the old levee board's failings did not cause the levees to collapse during Katrina. Poor levee designs by the corps and the sheer strength of Katrina get the lion's share of the blame.

Since the Flood Control Act of 1936, the Army Corps has given local or state authorities oversight of water-control projects, whether earthen levees in the Midwest or beach walls in New England.

"That's been the eternal problem with flood-protection systems," said Thomas Wolff, an engineer at Michigan State University. "You build something very good and then give it to local interests who are not as well-funded."

New Orleans is an unusual case because the area is inheriting the nation's first-of-its-kind urban flood control system.

"We've given a very expensive system to a place that may not be able to afford it over the long term," said Leonard Shabman, a water resources expert. Letting the Army Corps run it isn't much of a solution either, he added. "It's not like the corps' budget is flush."

The nation has spent lavishly on fixing the system in the seven years since Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and left 1,800 people dead.

"It is better than what the Dutch have for the types of storms we have," said Carlton Dufrechou, a member of the board of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which monitors local environmental issues.

Ensuring it remains that way could be tricky. The biggest headaches are several mega-projects with lots of moving parts, all needing constant upkeep. The corps is building them across major waterways that lead into New Orleans.

Take for instance the 1.8-mile-long, 26-foot-high surge barrier southeast of the French Quarter that blocks water coming up from the Gulf of Mexico across lakes and into the city's canals. Water from this direction doomed the Lower 9th Ward and threatened to flood the French Quarter. Maintaining this giant wall alone will cost $4 million or more a year.

"You have to get out there and do exercises, do the preventive maintenance, change out equipment over time on a particular schedule," Turner said, enumerating the challenges. "There are a lot of cases where a single thing goes wrong and that can create a failure, a complete failure where you can't close the system."

There is a mounting list of to-dos.

Already, lightning has knocked out chunks of wall. Grass hasn't grown well on several new stretches of levee. Louisiana State University grass experts have been called in to help seed them.

There are recurring problems with vibrations and shuddering on a new floodgate at Bayou Dupre in St. Bernard Parish. The corps has plans to overhaul the structure in the spring before handing it over to local control. And there will be the inevitable sinking of levees and structures, as always happens in south Louisiana's naturally soft soils. Over time, levees will have to be raised.

Col. Ed Fleming, the New Orleans corps commander, said his outfit will work to ensure the transition to local control is smooth.

"This happens with corps civil projects all over the country. That's the way it works in Iraq, Afghanistan," he said. "We have authority to build, but we have no authority to do operations and maintenance."

PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy


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Cuomo: Sandy Cost NY, NYC $32 Billion in Damages, Loss


An aerial view of the Breezy Point neighborhood, in New York on Oct. 31, where more than 50 homes were burned to the ground as a result of Superstorm Sandy. (AP)

ALBANY, New York (AP) - Top political leaders in New York put their heads together Monday on big requests for federal disaster aid as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Superstorm Sandy ran up a bill of $32 billion in the state and the nation's largest city.

The cost is for repairs and restoration and does not include an additional accounting of over $9 billion to head off damage in the next disastrous storm, including steps to protect the power grid and cellphone network.

"It's common sense; it's intelligent," Cuomo said. "Why don't you spend some money now to save money in the future? And that's what prevention and mitigation is."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had announced earlier in the day that Sandy caused $19 billion in losses in New York City - part of the $32 billion estimate Cuomo used.

New York taxpayers, Cuomo said, can't foot the bill.

"It would incapacitate the state. ... Tax increases are always a last, last, last resort."

Cuomo met with New York's congressional delegation to discuss the new figures and present "less than a wish list." The delegation, Cuomo and Bloomberg will now draw up a request for federal disaster aid.

States typically get 75 percent reimbursement for the cost of governments to restore mass transit and other services after a disaster.

Hard times were already facing the state and city governments that were staring at deficits of more than $1 billion before Sandy hit in late October. State tax receipts have also missed projections, showing a continued slow recovery from a recession that could hit taxpayers in the governments' budgets this spring. And there's the looming fiscal cliff, the combination of expiring federal tax cuts and major spending cuts that could rattle the economy.

The Cuomo administration has gained the public support of President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in New York's proposal for full reimbursement for storm damage, but state officials have privately worried about how much the state can get now.

In the city, Bloomberg is asking federal lawmakers to put up nearly $10 billion to reimburse government agencies and private businesses. That would be additional funding on an expedited basis over the $5.4 billion in standard disaster aid that the city projects it will receive from FEMA.

That FEMA money and private insurance won't cover all the public and private expenses from the storm, which included damaged streets and restaurants closed because of flooding, Bloomberg said.

"While the impact of the storm will be felt for some time and the challenges are great, I am confident that the city will rebound and emerge stronger than ever," Bloomberg wrote to the congressional delegation.

Reinsurance company Swiss Re showed the extent of private sector pain. It estimates that claims stemming from Sandy will cost the company about $900 million and that total losses from insured damage will be between $20 billion and $25 billion.

Reinsurance firms provide coverage to insurance companies for great losses stemming from events like natural disasters.

Other states are seeking federal assistance, too. FEMA has already paid out nearly $250 million in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie says the preliminary damage estimate is $29.4 billion and could rise.

PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy


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Watch: Hawaiian Volcano's Lava Pours into Ocean

December to Open with Mild Temperatures



Recent waves of Canadian air will take a break during the first weekend of December over much of the United States.

Warmer weather will soon surge northward.

The core of the warmth will be centered over the Plains states and Ohio Valley, where some places have even seen some snowflakes over the past several days.

For many, the warm-up will provide great weather to complete outdoor holiday decorating without needing a pair of gloves.

Related at AccuWeather: Slew of Storms to Slam West

Temperatures will be closing in on record high territory by Sunday from Nebraska down through Texas. Highs Sunday will be near 70 degrees from St. Louis down to Oklahoma City. Afternoon temperatures will flirt with the 80 degree-mark from Dallas to Houston.

Highs in these areas will average 10 to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year.

According to Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, "The peak of the warmth will be Sunday and Monday, although it should stay mild through the first week of December."

Aside from a few spotty showers along the Mississippi River, much of the time next weekend will be dry over the middle third of the nation with no significant storm systems.

While that is great news for those with holiday shopping or outdoor activities, the majority of this area is experiencing drought conditions and is in need of rain.

Anderson says that the main driver for the warm-up is the jet stream retreating well to the north back across southern Canada.

The jet stream is a belt of strong winds high in the atmosphere that not only often marks the path for storms, but also usually separates warm air to the south from cold air to the north.

Related at AccuWeather: A Brisk Evening for Rockefeller Tree Lighting

The warmth will not be as pronounced farther to the east, but temperatures early next week could still climb up to near 60 degrees from New York down through Philadelphia and Washington.

In these areas farther east, Anderson says that "the warm-up will be gradual, but it will feel a lot better by early next week."

For those of you that like the warmer weather, enjoy it while it lasts. Anderson hints that a colder weather pattern could move in for the second week of December, just in time for skiing interests before the holidays.



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Rich, Poor Spar at U.N. Climate Talks

Nov. 27, 2012

A general view shows the opening ceremony of the 18th United Nations climate change conference in Doha on Nov. 26, 2012. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) - The first signs of tensions emerged at the United Nations climate talks on Tuesday, as delegates from island and African nations chided rich countries for refusing to offer up new emissions cuts over the next eight years which could help stem global warming

The debate mostly swirled around the Kyoto Protocol - a legally binding emissions cap that expires this year and remains the most significant international achievement in the fight against global warming. Countries are hoping to negotiate an extension to the pact that runs until at least 2020 but several nations like Japan and Canada have said they won't be party to a new one.

Marlene Moses, chairwoman of a coalition of island countries, said she was "gravely disappointed" with rich nations, saying they have failed to act or offer up any new emissions cuts for the near term. The United States, for example, which is not a signatory of Kyoto, has said it would not increase earlier commitments to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

"In our view, these actions are an abdication of responsibility to the most vulnerable among us," Moses said.

In its current form, a pact that once incorporated all industrialized countries except the United States would now only include the European Union, Australia and several smaller countries which together account for less than 15 percent of global emissions he Japanese delegation defended its decision not to sign onto a Kyoto extension, insisting it would be better to focus on coming to an agreement by 2015 that would require all countries to do their part to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), compared to preindustrial times.

"As we have been explaining, only developed countries are legally bound by the Kyoto Protocol and their emissions are only 26 percent," said Masahiko Horie, speaking for the Japanese delegation.

"If we continue the same, only one quarter of the world is legally bound and three quarters of countries are not bound at all," he said. "Japan will not be participating in a second commitment period because, what is important, is for the world is to formulate a new framework which is fair and effective and which all parties will join."

The position of Japan and other developed countries has the potential to reignite the battles between rich and poor nations that have doomed past efforts to reach a deal. So far that hasn't happened, but countries like Brazil are warning that it will be difficult for poor nations to do their part if they continue watching industrialized nations shy away from legally binding pacts like Kyoto.

"This is a very serious thing," said Andre Correa do Lago, who heads the Brazil delegation and is the director general for Environment and Special Affairs in the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

"If rich countries which have the financial means, have technology, have a stable population, already have a large middle class, if these countries think they cannot reduce and work to fight climate change, how can they ever think that developing countries can do it," do Lago said. "That is why the Kyoto Protocol has to be kept alive. It's the bar. If we take it out, we have what people call the Wild West. Everybody will do what they want to do. With everyone doing what they want to do, you are not going get the reductions necessary."

Many scientists say extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy's onslaught on the U.S. east coast, will become more frequent as the Earth warms, although it is impossible to attribute any individual event to climate change. The rash of violent weather in the U.S., including widespread droughts and a record number of wildfires last summer, has again put climate change on the radar.

"It's probably not a coincidence," Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice chairman of the U.N. climate panel, told The Associated Press. "Climate is defined by trends and not by single events so it's never possible to attribute a single event to a changing climate. But what is clear over time is that the climate context is evolving and in that climate context many extreme events become either more intense or more frequent. And the kind of things that we have seen in the U.S. are likely to happen more in the future, together with heat waves and that kind of thing."

Meanwhile, a United Nations report warned that thawing permafrost covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere could "significantly amplify global warming" at a time when the world is already struggling to reign in rising greenhouse gases, a U.N. report said on Tuesday.

The U.N. said the potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost has until now not been factored into climate models. It is calling for a special U.N. climate panel to assess the warming and for the creation of "national monitoring networks and adaptation plans" to help better understand the threat.

In the past, land with permafrost experienced thawing on the surface during summertime, but now scientists are witnessing thaws that reach up to 10 feet deep due to warmer temperatures. The softened earth releases gases from decaying plants that have been stuck below frozen ground for millennia.

"Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet's future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a statement.

Kevin Schaefer, of the University of Colorado National Snow and Ice Data Center, said 1,700 gigatons of permafrost exist. The lead author on the U.N. report, he warns that that melting could permanently amplify what is already a worrisome threat.

"The release of carbon dioxide and methane from warming permafrost is irreversible: Once the organic matter thaws and decays away, there is no way to put it back into the permafrost," Schaefer said.


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Watch: Four-Legged Visitor Interrupts Weather Report

10 Stunning Images of Saturn



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U.N. Climate Scientist: Sandy No Coincidence


This aerial photo taken Oct. 31 shows a collapsed house along the central Jersey Shore coast. (AP)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) - Though it's tricky to link a single weather event to climate change, Hurricane Sandy was "probably not a coincidence" but an example of the extreme weather events that are likely to strike the United States more often as the world gets warmer, the United Nations climate panel's No. 2 scientist said Tuesday.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, predicted that as stronger and more frequent heat waves and storms become part of life, people will stop asking whether global warming played a role.

"The new question should probably progressively become: Is it possible that climate warming has not influenced this particular event?" he told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of U.N. climate negotiations in Qatar.

Ypersele's remarks come as global warming has re-emerged as an issue in Washington following the devastating superstorm - a rarity for the U.S. Northeast - and an election that led to Democratic gains.

After years of disagreement, climate scientists and hurricane experts have concluded that as the climate warms, there will be fewer total hurricanes. But those storms that do develop will be stronger and wetter.

It is not correct to say Sandy was caused by global warming, but "the damage caused by Sandy was worse because of sea level rise," said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. He said the sea level in New York City is a foot higher than a century ago because of man-made climate change.

On the second day of a two-week conference in the Qatari capital of Doha, the talks fell back to the bickering between rich and poor countries that has marked the negotiations since they started two decades ago. At the heart of the discord is how to divide the burden of cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide.

Such emissions, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, have increased by 20 percent since 2000, according to a U.N. report released last week.

Van Ypersele (vahn EE-purr-say-luh) said the slow pace of the talks was "frustrating" and that negotiators seem more concerned with protecting national interests than studying the science that prompted the negotiations.

"I would say please read our reports a little more. And maybe that would help to give a sense of urgency that is lacking," he said.

Marlene Moses, the head of a coalition of island nations that view the rising sea levels as an existential threat, said that was good advice.

"These are the kind of people that it is probably a good idea to listen to," she said. "It is very much in the interest of small islands to focus on the science, which is why we have always based our positions on the latest research and why here we are calling for dramatically higher ambition."

Since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has released four reports with projections on how global warming will melt glaciers and ice caps, raise sea levels and shift rainfall patterns with impacts on floods and droughts. The panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with climate campaigner Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president.

The IPCC is set to start releasing portions of its fifth report next year. Van Ypersele would not discuss the contents except to say the report will include new research on the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, boosting previous estimates on sea level rise.

He said the scientific backing for man-made climate change is now so strong that it can be compared to the consensus behind the principles of gravity.

"It's a very, very broad consensus. There are a few individuals who don't believe it, but we are talking about science and not beliefs," Van Ypersele told AP.

Climate change skeptics say IPCC scientists have in the past overestimated the effect of the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and underplayed natural cycles of warming and cooling. Others have claimed the authors, who aren't paid for their work, exaggerated the effects that climate change will have on the environment and on human life.

Negotiators in Doha are supposed to start talks on an elusive global treaty to rein-in emissions. They have set a deadline of 2015 to adopt that pact, which would take effect in 2020.

Among other topics, they are discussing how to help poor countries convert to cleaner energy sources and adapt to a shifting climate, as well as extending the expiring Kyoto Protocol, an agreement that limits the greenhouse emissions of industrialized countries.

The U.S. rejected the Kyoto deal because it didn't cover world-leading carbon polluter China and other fast-growing developing countries. Other rich countries including Canada and Japan don't want to be part of the extension, which means it will cover less than 15 percent of global emissions.

"Japan will not be participating in a second commitment period, because what is important is for the world is to formulate a new framework which is fair and effective and which all parties will join," Japanese delegate Masahiko Horie said.

Meanwhile, a series of recent climate reports have underscored the depth of the challenge before the U.N. climate negotiators. A report released Tuesday by the U.N. Environment Program warned current climate projections are likely too conservative because they don't factor in the thawing of permafrost - a layer of soil that stays frozen year-round in cold climates.

Lead author Kevin Schaefer, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, said 1,700 gigatons of carbon are locked up in permafrost primarily in the U.S., China, Russia and Canada. He called for further studies on the potential climate impact if it's released, saying up to 39 percent of total emissions could come from permafrost by 2100.

PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy


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Slew of Storms to Slam West Coast


Nov. 27, 2012

By Dan Depodwin, Meteorologist

The reprieve from the stormy weather along the West Coast will come to an abrupt end tomorrow, leading to yet another stretch of rainy conditions.

It has been a rather wet and stormy month of November, in many places from San Francisco to Seattle. Most locations are at or above their normal precipitation for the month and more rain is on the way.

High pressure in control of the weather over the past several days has led to a return of dry, sunnier weather, but a potent storm system lurks off the coast.

Also on AccuWeather: A Brisk Evening for Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting

As this storms pushes eastward, residents from Los Angeles to Portland will need the umbrella on Wednesday. After a brief break on Wednesday night, a soaker of a day is in store for Thursday, especially along the coast.

The persistent flow of storms is expected to continue into the weekend with the heaviest precipitation focused in northern California.

With the flow off the Pacific and a lack of cold air to the north, snow levels will remain above pass level. While snowfall will be lacking in many places, the rainfall will not. Flooding can occur in places, especially the Sacramento Valley.

Locations in California can receive over 5 inches of rain through the weekend with local amounts up to 9 inches.

As with most strong western storms, wind will be an issue along the immediate coast. Wind gusts can peak over 50 mph by Wednesday night and Thursday.

Also on AccuWeather: Where is All the Snow?

Looking ahead, the weather pattern should turn a little less stormy by the beginning of next week although it can still shower at times.

For more weather forecasts, see AccuWeather.com.


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Soaking Rains, Winds to Strike Northwest Today

Northwest Regional Weather Forecast

The main weather story for the nation Wednesday will switch to the West Coast as a Pacific storm system brings moderate to heavy precipitation and high winds to the West Coast. The first batch of the precipitation is expected early Wednesday and continue into Thursday. Moderate to heavy rain with high elevation snow is expected from the Pacific Northwest to Northern California. The Sierras can expect snow accumulations 4 to 8 inches above 6000 feet, with winds gusting to 60 mph.

RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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U.N.: 2012 on Track to be Among 10 Hottest Years on Record


A man uses his antique '57 Ford tractor to mow vegetation around his drying pond in Ashland, Neb. (AP)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) - Despite early cooling from La Niña, 2012 is on track to become one of the top 10 hottest years on record, with the U.S. experiencing extreme warmth and Arctic Sea ice shrinking to its lowest extent, the United Nations weather agency said Wednesday.

In a statement released at international climate talks in Qatar, the World Meteorological Organization said the "alarming rate" of the Arctic melt highlights the far-reaching changes caused by global warming.

"Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.

Delegates from nearly 200 countries are meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha to discuss ways of slowing climate change, including by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases that scientists say are warming the planet, melting ice caps, raising sea levels, and changing rainfall patterns with impacts on floods and droughts.

Discord between rich and poor countries on who should do what has kept the two-decade-old U.N. talks from delivering on that goal, and global emissions are still going up.

The WMO said global temperatures rose after initial cooling caused by the La Niña weather oscillation, with major heat waves in the U.S. and Europe. Average temperatures in January-October were the highest on record in the continental U.S., and the ninth highest worldwide.

Before that, a cold spell had much of the Eurasian continent in an icy grip between late January and mid-February, when temperatures in eastern Russia plunged to -50 degrees C (-58 F).

Cyclone activity was normal globally, but above average in the Atlantic, where 10 storms reached hurricane strength, including Sandy, which wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast.

Sandy wasn't the strongest cyclone, though. That was typhoon Sanba, which struck the Philippines, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula, "dumping torrential rain and triggering floods and landslides that affected thousands of people and caused millions in U.S. dollars in damage," the WMO said.

Droughts impacted the U.S., Russia, parts of China and northern Brazil. Nigeria saw exceptional floods, while southern China saw its heaviest rainfall in three decades.

But of all the weather events in 2012, the most ominous to climate scientists was the loss of ice cover on the North Pole. In September, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado said Arctic Sea ice measured 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million sq. kilometers) - which is 18 percent less than the previous record low, set in 2007. Records go back to 1979 based on satellite tracking.

The scientists said their computer models predict the Arctic could become essentially free of ice in the summer by 2050, but added that current trends show ice melting faster than the computers are predicting.

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


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Cuomo: $9B Plan Could Safeguard NYC from Next Superstorm


A flooded escalator in the South Ferry station of the No. 1 subway line, in lower Manhattan, after Superstorm Sandy. (AP)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants huge electrical transformers in commercial buildings hauled to upper floors and wants the ability to shutter key tunnels, airports and subways from floodwaters as part of a $9 billion plan to safeguard New York City from the next superstorm.

He also wants to require health facilities to have backup power on high ground instead of on lower floors or in basements.

The outline of Cuomo's $9.08 billion plan was part of briefing materials provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The plan is part of the briefing Cuomo gave to New York's congressional delegation on Monday detailing $32.8 billion in damage and losses suffered by the state and the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city suffered $19 billion of that.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is forcing the issue into the traditional discussion that's usually focused on a request for federal aid to cover basic recovery after a disaster. He said Tuesday government must also take preventive measures to avoid future loss of life and billions of dollars more in damage.

"Why don't you spend some money now to save money in the future?" Cuomo said. "And that's what prevention and mitigation is."

The briefing includes what Cuomo considers the highest-priority prevention and mitigation needs. Further measures such as a sea wall to knock down hurricane-driven waves before they erode beaches and create a destructive surge into the city and on Long Island are being considered by Cuomo's NYS 2100 Commission.

Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, said it's something that needs to be pursued.

"Now, how much we're going to get, we have to see," he said. "But I think if we can show it will save money, it makes more sense."

King said the hurdles in Washington include the coming fiscal cliff Congress and President Barack Obama's administration hope to avoid and other states that had disasters but didn't get aid to fend off future disasters.

Other cities have taken similar measures, such as a medical campus in Houston that has 100 submarine doors to cut off floodwaters, elevated subway entrances and flood gates in Bangkok and steel walls in Washington that can block a 17-foot rise in the Potomac River.

Cuomo is taking a chance on pushing for the unconventional prevention aid, particularly at a time when Washington is facing its own fiscal crisis. The federal government traditionally covers only the cost to a state to get through and recover from disaster.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and a key to the disaster funding effort, on Monday said it won't be an easy task.

"This will be an effort that lasts not weeks but many months, and we will not rest until the federal response meets New York's deep and extensive needs," he said.

The more immediate priorities include $2.7 billion to elevate massive electrical transformers in commercial buildings. The record storm surge from Superstorm Sandy last month flooded a hospital and many Manhattan buildings with their electrical components in basements and on ground floors, contributing to power losses and delaying restorations.

Cuomo proposes another $5.8 billion to prevent flooding in key tunnels and keep saltwater from sensitive subway signal and power systems. Additional transportation priorities include building improvements to airports after LaGuardia Airport was underwater and closed for days.

Cuomo also would require secondary power sources for key health care facilities statewide and relocate generators to safer ground at hospitals and nursing homes.

The high priorities also include permanent protection for beaches, not just replenishing eroded sand. That along with better protecting Yonkers and Long Island sewage treatment plants is estimated at $407 million.

PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy


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NYC to Atlanta Could Face Snowy Winter


By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist

Sandy is a sign of what is to come for the East during winter of 2012-2013 with an active coastal storm track expected, AccuWeather meteorologists agree.

In reviewing the original winter forecast, meteorologists now expect more weak, fast-moving snowstorms and cold for the Midwest than previously forecast. Meteorologists originally forecast a near-normal season for lake-effect snow in the Great Lakes, but they now forecast above-normal snow for some areas.

Meanwhile, California and the Southwest may be drier than the region was initially forecast for the winter.

Sandy a Sign of What is to Come

Above-normal snow is forecast for the I-95 cities, including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., this winter with an active coastal storm track expected.

"[Sandy] gave us an idea of what can happen off the East Coast if we get phasing to take place," AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok explained. "And we also saw a couple storms, not as extreme as Sandy, but have a similar impact. So, that is a little bit of a prelude of what we think can happen."

Also on AccuWeather: A Brisk Evening for Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting

Phasing refers to a northern branch of the jet stream meeting with the southern branch of the jet stream, allowing big storms to impact the East. Think of it as two smaller rivers merging together into one larger one.

Originally a weak El Niño, which is classified by above-normal water temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean, was forecast. Now meteorologists expect a neutral phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) for the winter, which is characterized by near-normal water temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean.

During a neutral phase of ENSO, there can be times when the northern branch of the jet stream is dominant across the U.S., and other times when the southern branch of the jet stream is dominant. The chance for the different branches to phase together for big storms in the East also exists.

Pastelok predicts that hotspots for rapid development of storms may be off the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts this winter due to warm water temperatures.

"I think that is something we are going to see here happen on occasion, especially in January, we feel, and maybe once in December and February," Pastelok said. "We'll have to watch for exploding, rapid development of storms at the last minute."

There are other factors that influence snowfall amounts for the winter besides the presence of storms. Enough cold air must meet with large East Coast storms for snow to fall in the I-95 corridor.

Also on AccuWeather: Where is All the Snow?

AccuWeather meteorologists expect that blocking will be in place at times during the winter. Blocking is a term that meteorologists in the Northeast use to describe areas of high pressure that dominate eastern Canada or Greenland, forcing cold air to reach the U.S.

Pastelok describes blocking as a contributor to huge East Coast snowstorms in three ways.

First, blocking brings the cold air. Second, it helps to lower pressure off the Southeast coast to allow storms to form. Finally, it slows the eastward progression of storms, helping them to slow down, strengthen and dump heavier snow.

More Clippers, Cold Shots for the Midwest

A higher frequency of clipper systems is expected for the northern Plains and Midwest compared to what meteorologists were expecting early in the fall.

Clipper systems are fast-moving storms, originating from Alberta, Canada, that carry little moisture. Light to moderate snow usually falls on the northern edge of the clipper system track.

Below-normal snowfall was previously forecast for eastern portions of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois. AccuWeather meteorologists now expect near-normal snow in this zone due to more frequent clippers.

Cold shots following the clipper systems will hold temperature departures down more too. With more cold crossing the Great Lakes, this change also impacts the forecast for lake-effect snow in some areas.

"With more clippers, we may see a moderate season [of lake-effect snow] predicted overall for the Great Lakes, but there could be a few areas that could be a little bit heavier off of Lake Superior and northern Lake Michigan," Pastelok said. Above-normal snow is forecast for the typical snowbelts across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northern portions of Lower Michigan as a result.

California, Southwest Drier Than Previously Forecast

In general, the storm track across the Southwest may be more relaxed than meteorologists originally anticipated. Since precipitation amounts are expected to be lower, temperatures can be higher.

However, the potential exists for an occasional storm of significance across Southern California. Near-normal precipitation is predicted across Southern California with a few spots which may receive above-normal precipitation.

North of the storm track, it will be drier.

"San Francisco and central coast of California should expect to be drier than normal for the winter," Pastelok said.

For more weather forecasts, see AccuWeather.com.

RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth


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Watch: Monster Tornado Tears Through Italian Town


A massive tornado ripped through the southern Italian town of Taranto on Wednesday morning, injuring 20 workers at the ILVA steel plant. One worker was also reported missing. The tornado also moved into the port city from the sea, damaging a warehouse and lighthouse and knocking down a chimney at the docks.

Watch sparks fly at :47, when it appears an electrical generator may have blown.

RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes


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The Daily Rush: The First Woman to Surf in Iran


Easkey Britton surf en Iran- http://marionpoizeau.com from marion poizeau on Vimeo.

The quest to find better waves has taken surfers all over the world, but there are still plenty of firsts waiting to be achieved. Case in point: Irish surfer Easkey Britton recently became the first woman to surf in Iran.

She fashioned a hijab wetsuit for the occasion and found pretty good waves rolling in off the Indian Ocean in southern Iran. This video promotes a documentary about the journey.

"The moment we landed, people were incredibly welcoming and Iran has an amazing heritage," she told the BBC.


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Storms Bring Flooding, Damage Risk to California


By Alex Sosnowski, Expert Senior Meteorologist

A series of drenching, powerful storms is lining up from the Pacific Ocean and will roll onshore in the West Coast through the weekend.

The storms bring a risk to lives and property in Northern California.

The first of the storms and the most mild-mannered of the bunch was reaching the Pacific coast Wednesday.

Successive storms will arrive about one-and-a-half to two days. The pattern will not break off until early next week.

According to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark, "The cumulative effect of the storms has the potential to bring flash, urban and stream flooding, as well as mudslides and debris flows to Northern California."

A foot or more of rain could fall in some areas, loosening debris on hillsides and potentially washing away portions of secondary roads.

"In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the mountains in the North Bay region, in the foothills and mountains east of the Sacramento Valley and northernmost San Joaquin Valley, 8 to 12 inches could fall with local amounts of 16 to 18 inches," Clark said.

While any non-destructive rain is welcomed in the lower elevations, enough rain will fall to cause travel delays and disruptions.

However, it could end up being worse than that if the rain hits as expected in the valleys and mountains.

"This amount of rain and runoff over the five-day period would certainly cause major hydrological problems along streams and smaller river with flooding; this includes the Delta Region," Clark said.

Also on AccuWeather: Where is All the Snow?

Much less rain will fall over Southern California, but each storm can bring a period of clouds and showers to the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego. Little or no rain is forecast to reach the deserts.

The combination of light rain and oil buildup on paved surfaces can make for very slick roadways.

Rounds of heavy rain will also fall along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and part of British Columbia.

While the rain may not be as intense as that of Northern California, the Northwest has been hit hard with drenching rain prior to Thanksgiving. As a result, it may not take as much rain to cause flash flooding and mudslides.

Significant rain and mountain snow is also forecast to reach into the interior Northwest and northern Rockies.

Rounds of strong wind gusts will accompany each storm and hammer coastal areas from northern California to Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

The strong winds, mainly from the south and southeast, can down trees and power lines.
According Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, "Localized gusts can reach between 60 and 80 mph along the slopes and over the ridges of the Coast Ranges and Cascades and in the gaps between some of the mountains due to local effects."

Those traveling along Highway 101 and portions of I-5 in the Northwest should stay alert for sudden crosswinds due to the local effects throughout the series of storms.

Snow levels will trend upward after the first storm Wednesday and will not trend downward until Sunday. However, yards of snow will fall at elevations above 7,500 feet in the northern Sierra Nevada with several feet of snow possible in the Cascades above 4,000 feet.

The snow will generally be well above pass levels in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.

This magnitude of snow in such a short period of time will raise the risk of avalanches.

The series of storms will generate rough seas through the weekend.

Offshore waves of 20 to 25 feet will occur.

Due to the wind direction, the worst of the near-coast wave action, beach erosion and damaging surf will be in south-facing areas from Monterey Bay, Calif., to Vancouver Island, B.C.

For more weather forecasts, see AccuWeather.com.

RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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Residents Battle High Water in South Dakota Town


A sheep grazing in a yard in Waubay, S.D. (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)

WAUBAY, S.D. (AP) - Standing along a South Dakota waterfront shored up with boulders, Kevin Jens peered at the placid lake and reminisced about a road that led to a popular place to fish and picnic nearby but now lies underwater after being swallowed up by rising waters.

"There's an island under there," the mayor of Waubay said, breaking into an uncomfortable laugh and pointing to a grove of dead trees jutting from the water about a mile away.

At a time when much of the Upper Midwest wrestled with the worst drought in decades, residents in this northeastern South Dakota community that sits among a chain of glacial lakes are raising roads, draining fields, moving their homes or leaving town. The dry weather has stabilized lakes, but homeowners in the town of about 550 are still dealing with a wet cycle that started in the early 1990s and has slowly gobbled up houses and land.

Waubay has seen its population drop by more than 100 since 2000, and residents fear losing the town that was founded as a railroad stop 130 years ago.

"What really makes them worry is where is our tax base and where is our revenue going to come from in the future," Jens said.

Waubay native Rick Breske said residents are "trying hard to do the best we can to deal with the situation."

"I give a lot of credit to the people who aren't picking up and leaving," he said.

Waubay is in the middle of what is believed to be a closed basin, with no natural outlet. The 10 major bodies of water in the chain are: Bitter Lake, Blue Dog Lake, Enemy Swim Lake, Hillebrands Lake, Minnewasta Lake, Pickerel Lake, Rush Lake, Spring Lake, Swan Pond and Waubay Lake.

The water has no place to go other than from one body to the next. Bitter Lake, south of Waubay, has grown from about 5 to 32 square miles in the last two decades. Waubay Lake, north of the town, has ballooned from about 8 to 27 square miles.

On a recent ride through Waubay, Jens called attention to a row of vacant, boarded-up modular homes surrounded by weeds. The 16 units were built for low-income Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe members, but residents have scattered to other communities and there are no plans to revive the development.

"Nobody has lived in here for well over a year now," said the mayor, who also grew up in the town. "It's depressing. It was beautiful down here. Kids used to play behind these houses, in nice green, cut grass."

Breske estimates the flooding has cost him as much as $90,000, from building berms and moving rock to money lost on land. He eventually moved his house to higher ground on the west side of town.

"A lot of people took buyouts. We decided to move," he said. "We've spent a lot of money remodeling over the years and like our house."

Jens made water his No. 1 issue when he ran for mayor in 2000, but not because residents were worried about too much of it. He promised better water quality and infrastructure, and delivered with a water and sewer project soon after being elected.

The area was facing a wet cycle, but a stretch of dry weather in the early- to mid-2000s had most residents thinking the worst was over.

"We let our guard down," Jens said.

Minor flooding hit in 2009 after a winter of heavy snow, but the major water struggles started in 2010. The main lift station has since flooded and one of the town's two motels has gone out of business. Houses have moved or been demolished or placed on stilts, and thousands of acres of farm and pasture land are underwater.

U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Dan Driscoll said there was no way to predict the abrupt changes in the last decade. He compares the chain flooding to that of Devils Lake, N.D., though Waubay's is on a smaller scale. Devils Lake has grown from about 46,230 surface acres to more than 200,000 acres and has risen more than 30 feet in the last 20 years.

Devils Lake residents have been dealing with a steady catastrophe for two decades, and Waubay has been more of a roller-coaster ride with the worst coming in the last few years. And while Devils Lake has received more than $1 billion from federal, state and local agencies to store water, build up roads and dikes and add a second outlet, Waubay has gotten less than $150,000 in state and federal help.

"As far as what the future holds, obviously none of us really have that answer," said Driscoll who's based in South Dakota. "As far as advice, I guess that's not really my business, but if I lived alongside that area I certainly wouldn't count on (the water) going down."

About 20 Waubay homes remain below the federally established minimum flood plain level of 1,810 feet above sea level and will be bought out or moved. Census figures show the estimated median house value in Waubay in 2009 was $46,259, compared to $126,200 statewide.

The lift station serving the southern part of town sits 25 feet below lake level, next to a road that has been raised 7 feet. The station has been reinforced with concrete so it won't become buoyant and pop out of the ground. Huge boulders surround the facility to ward off wind and waves.

The high water has brought some prosperity, with many seasonal residents from Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska spending money to flood-proof their cabin property and much of the construction work going to local firms.

Tourists also have not stayed away. Gary Peterson, owner of the town's only remaining hotel, said business is good. Outdoor enthusiasts make up half of his occupancy.

The fishing has never been better.

"Bitter Lake, for example, was just a big slough for many, many years," Peterson said. "Now it is a huge lake with walleyes in it now and the fishing is wonderful."

The lakes including Bitter Lake, which has dropped a foot, have been stabilized because of the dry weather. But that's little solace for many residents. Breske, for one, said he won't be fooled again.

"They all feel really good because it's a dry cycle and the water is going down," he said. "We've still got plenty of water. And it will rise again."

RELATED ON SKYE: 10 U.S. Cities Most at Risk from Rising Sea Levels


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What We Know About Sandy One Month Later


Burned-out homes in the Breezy Point section of the Queens borough New York after a fire. (AP)

Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on parts of the U.S. East Coast a month ago Thursday after tearing through the Caribbean. In the weeks since, the storm's scope has come into sharper focus.


Sandy killed at least 125 people in the United States. That includes 60 in New York - 48 of them in New York City - 34 in New Jersey and 16 in Pennsylvania. At least seven people died in West Virginia, where the storm dropped heavy snow. Sandy killed 71 people in the Caribbean, including 54 in Haiti.


Sandy is being blamed for about $62 billion in damage and other losses in the U.S., the vast majority of it in New York and New Jersey - a number that could increase. It's the second-costliest storm in U.S. history after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, which caused $128 billion in damage in inflation-adjusted dollars. Sandy caused at least $315 million in damage in the Caribbean.


Sandy damaged or destroyed homes and businesses, more than 72,000 in New Jersey alone, Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday. In Cuba, the number of damaged homes has been estimated at 130,000 to 200,000.

Disaster Aid

New York is seeking $42 billion in federal aid, including about $9 billion for projects to head off damage in future storms. New Jersey is seeking nearly $37 billion in aid, including $7.4 billion for future projects. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with congressional leaders Wednesday to encourage quick action on storm aid.


The National Hurricane Center now says tropical force winds extended 820 miles at their widest, down from an earlier estimate of 1,000 miles. Sandy's pure kinetic energy for storm surge and wave "destruction potential" reached a 5.8 on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 0 to 6 scale, the highest measured.

Down the Road

Governments are seeking money to help head off future disasters, as climate scientists continue to predict rising sea levels and the potential for more bad storms. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants electrical transformers in commercial buildings hauled to upper floors; the ability to shutter key tunnels, airports and subways; and to require hospitals to have backup power on high ground instead of on lower floors or in basements.

PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy


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Does 'Born-Again' Nebula Foreshadow Death of Our Sun?


Credit: Main image: X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton; optical: NSF/NOAO/KPNO; inset: NASA/CXC/IAA-CSIC/M. Guerrero et al; optical: NASA/STScI

New images of a "born-again" planetary nebula give a glimpse of what our sun might look like in 5 billion years when it transforms into stellar giant near the end of its life cycle.

Scientists created the new stunning new view of the planetary nebula Abell 30 by combining visible-light images from the Hubble Space Telescope and X-ray observations from the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra space telescopes. The Abell 30 nebula is located 5,500 light-years from Earth.

The term "planetary nebula" is somewhat of a misnomer that dates back to the 18th century when astronomers thought these glowing blobs looked like distant gas giants. A planetary nebula is actually made up of the shells of stellar material ejected from dying stars that have passed through the red giant phase after starting to run out of fuel.

About 12,500 years ago, a slow and dense stellar wind began stripping off the outer layers of the dying star at the heart of Abell 30, giving rise to the large, expanding sphere of gas seen in this image, with hydrogen represented in blue and oxygen in red.

But the new images show that the star experienced a brief rebirth 850 years ago, violently spewing knots of helium and carbon-rich material and accelerating the stellar wind to its present speed of over 8.7 million miles per hour, according to the researchers. This fast wind caught up with the slower wind and clumps of previously ejected material, forming complex structures like the delicate comet-like tails and flower-like patterns seen near the central star in this image.

Our sun may die out in similar fashion in a few billion years, swelling to a red giant that will engulf Mercury, Venus, and possibly Earth, before becoming a planetary nebula. The act will unleash a strong stellar wind and harsh radiation that will destroy any planets in our solar system that have managed to survive.

The research is detailed in a recent edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

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Gallery: Amazing Nebula Photos From Chandra & Hubble
Top 10 Star Mysteries
Stars: The Life And Death Of Stellar Fusion Engines | Video

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RELATED ON SKYE: Newly released images from space


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Moscow Blanketed by Major Early Snowfall


A bulldozer removes snow in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, early Thursday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) - A large, early snowstorm raging in Moscow disrupted flights and created havoc on the roads on Thursday.

Yelena Temakina, chief of the forecast department at Moscow's Meteorological Office, said 8 inches of snow had fallen in 24 hours. That is half of Moscow's typical amount of snow for the whole of November.

Moscow's City Hall said it expects the snowstorm, which is due to continue at least until Friday morning, to be the biggest in November in 50 years.

The roads in the capital have been clogged up since early Thursday morning and about 70 flights from Moscow's largest airport, Domodedovo, were disrupted overnight. On Thursday, all three of the capital's airports were working normally.

Motorists complained about the lack of efforts to clear the snow from the streets. In one section of Moscow's beltway the traffic was paralyzed for at least 18 miles on Thursday afternoon, according to the traffic tracker Yandex.Probki.

RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth


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