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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weather Satellites Vital to NASA's Future (ContributorNetwork)

As the space shuttle program comes to a close, NASA will look to the future with robotic probes of other planets. Another major part of the space agency's mission will be to launch weather satellites to observe the Earth's always-changing weather patterns.

There are several satellites in orbit now that help scientists determine how and when weather will change on our planet.

GOES/POES

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program has satellites that stay in one particular spot in orbit over the Earth. This system uses infrared and visual photographs of the Earth's atmosphere to help scientists spot incoming weather from over the oceans.

Another system of satellites is called the Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) and are in polar orbits over the Earth. As such, satellites go over both the North and South Poles on a regular basis and take pictures and measurements.

Both satellite systems are run by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. Weather photos are downloaded to the NASA website on a regular basis for anyone to observe. Dozens of satellites are in orbit to help monitor weather from above the planet and give a bird's-eye view of atmospheric conditions.

NPP

A set of polar-orbiting satellites are preparing for launch in the near future. As a transition from older satellites to ones with newer sensing equipment, NASA will launch the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) to get ready for the next generation of climate-observing vehicles.

A series of environmental satellites will be used to detect climatological changes in the Earth. Earlier models involved two satellites called Terra and Aqua. The launch of the NPP satellite in late 2011 will provide a bridge until the launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System in 2015.

At 512 miles above the Earth , these satellites with also have polar orbits. Their main goal is to take pictures and measurements of the Earth's atmosphere in order to better understand climate change. The Earth Observing System (EOS) will also be able to measure ocean temperatures and will be able to view changes to land and ocean with more sensitive equipment and better technology than ever before.

Observing the Earth is one mission NASA has been developing since the mid-1960s with the launch of the Tiros and Nimbus series. When NASA focuses more on robotic and Earth science with the completion of the space shuttle program, weather satellites will be more important to the future of mankind on Earth.


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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tornado Sensors Should Be Installed in Buildings (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | The Holy Grail of tornado chasers is to have sensors that measure the inside of a tornado. The best way to do this, so far, has been to have mobile teams dispatched during tornado season on the Great Plains to get near enough to thunderstorms. The teams deploy sensors and then move away quickly in hopes of determining what goes on inside a tornado.

Although footage from inside a tornado is rare, National Geographic attempted to do such a thing in 2005. Because tornadoes can veer radically from place to place and don't last long, getting sensors in place is difficult and can be hit-or-miss.

Perhaps scientists are going about tornado chasing the wrong way. When humans get lost in the wilderness or become stranded in a car in a snowstorm, the first rule is to stay put and let searchers come to you. Tornado chasing should be the same way.

Installing sensors in major buildings in cities and towns across tornado alley may be a more feasible solution. As technology becomes smaller and more affordable, weather sensors should be deployed in buildings every five to 10 blocks in cities across tornado alley. Having sensors in every building would be too expensive.

Since scientists have no way of predicting when and where tornadoes strike, they can narrow down buildings that are spaced far enough apart as potential targets for sensors. Consider a line of towns and cities from Dallas, Texas, to Bismarck, N.D. as a phalanx of areas that can have sensors installed.

It's almost as if a line of troops would be deployed on the battlefield, only this time the enemy is supposed to come towards them. Installing and upgrading sensors would take massive amounts of money. Much like the SETI project that aims radio telescopes at faraway places, this tornado sensing project may not come to fruition for decades. However, it would at least increase our chances of getting an inside look at one of nature's most incredible storms.

Sensor platforms would have to be battery operated so they wouldn't lose power as the tornado approaches. Barometric readings, GPS sensors and other instruments would need to be packed into the sensor suite.

It would be a huge undertaking, but it is possible. Not every building needs to have sensors installed, just enough to make it more likely that tornado will make a direct hit on the sensors. Given enough time and tumultuous weather, it's not a matter of if the stationary sensors will detect a tornado but when.


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Emergency sirens create false alarm in Maui area (AP)

HONOLULU – Sirens used to alert residents to emergencies such as tsunamis have accidentally gone off twice in a Hawaii neighborhood in the past two days.

Maui County officials say the false alarms went off early Wednesday and Tuesday night in the working class neighborhood of Wailuku in central Maui. The area is the center for government offices and commerce, and is away from many tourist spots or resorts.

Police spokesman Lt. Wayne Ibarra says many concerned residents have called 911, but a civil defense notification says there were no emergencies when the alarms went off.

Officials say they are trying to determine what caused the sirens to malfunction.

Tsunami waves last struck Hawaii in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake across the Pacific in Japan earlier this year.


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Heat wave starts to ebb in eastern half of country (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The heat wave that has embroiled half of the continental United States in triple digit temperatures this week still had southern areas sizzling on Wednesday but spared much of the Northeast.

The National Weather Service said dangerously hot and humid weather would continue across much of the South and the south-central region, and issued heat advisories for 11 states.

"The heat wave is beginning to break down in some parts and it's not as expansive as it was yesterday," said Chris Vaccaro, spokesman for the weather service.

Counties in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia received excessive heat warnings, indicating the mix of heat and humidity could cause heat illnesses.

There will be a risk of thunderstorms through the central and southern states. Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi could see severe thunderstorms with high winds and hail.

On Tuesday, the national high in the United States was in Fort Smith, Arkansas, which hit 108 degrees as a forest raged in two counties elsewhere in the state.

Arkansas fire crews created a containment line for a 540-acre fire in Garland and Saline Counties that had raced out of control on Tuesday near the Ouachita National Forest but was nearly suppressed on Wednesday.

The Arkansas Forestry Commission has designated southern Arkansas near the Louisiana border as a high fire danger risk area. Burn bans were in effect for 35 of 75 counties in the state, a number that will likely increase, officials said.

RAIN PROVIDES RELIEF

A rainstorm that drenched Oklahoma City with a record 2.91 inches provided some temporary cooling there, but temperatures will be hovering near 100 degrees through early next week.

Oklahoma, which hit record highs on five days in June, is not unaccustomed to 100-degree temperatures in the summer, but the recent streak of hot temperatures is unusual, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Despite the recent rainfall, the city is in the midst of a prolonged drought, and mandatory restrictions on lawn watering were imposed on Monday for the first time in over a decade.

The problem isn't that the state's largest city doesn't have enough water. But the city can't process and treat it fast enough to keep up with demand, said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the city's utility department.

A northern cold front that pushed across the Great Lakes and Northeast has driven down the thermometer while making it less humid, according to the Weather Channel.

"High temperatures today range from the 'chilly' 60s and 70s from western Pennsylvania to northern New England to the hot and humid 90s in southern Virginia," said Kevin Roth, lead meteorologist for The Weather Channel.

In the South, high temperatures will mostly be in the 90s to near 105, with indices of 95 to 115.

On Wednesday morning, around 186,000 customers remained without power in the Chicago area from the severe storm that left a record 868,000 customers in the dark on Monday, according to Tony Hernandez, spokesman for ComEd, the utility company servicing the area.

(Additional reporting by Karin Matz in Chicago, Steve Olafson in Oklahoma, Suzi Parks in Little Rock; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)


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Hawaiian Airlines to Osaka as Japan demand rebounds (AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Hawaiian Airlines on Tuesday launched flights to Osaka, expanding service to Japan as US carriers conclude that passenger traffic has recovered from the March 11 quake-tsunami mega-disaster.

Hawaiian Airlines began daily service between Kansai International Airport and Honolulu, part of an Asia-focused growth strategy for the carrier that since late 2010 has started flights to Tokyo's Haneda and Seoul's Incheon airports.

Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian Airlines' president and CEO, said that passenger numbers between Tokyo and Honolulu fell 20 to 30 percent after the tsunami tragedy but "that deficit has all been eradicated at this stage."

Hawaiian Airlines announced the Osaka service in February and concluded that "the long-term prospects had not changed," with some Japanese in fact drawn to the United States thanks to the strong yen against the dollar.

Kansai International Airport, built on an artificial island in 1994, is an international gateway for the western region of Japan including Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. But the airport has faced financial woes as carriers prioritize Tokyo.

Dunkerley said that Hawaiian decided that Kansai was "a very distinct market" and that "we couldn't properly claim to be serving Japan just by serving one destination."

"Japan is not a homogenous country without any sort of differentiation," he told AFP. "It would be akin to thinking in the United States of there being no difference between New York and Los Angeles."

But while Hawaii is a favorite holiday destination for Japanese, US legacy carriers serving the continental United States initially cut back on flights in the aftermath of the earthquake.

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines temporarily shut service to Haneda airport, which they had launched with heavy promotional campaigns before the earthquake.

Haneda, primarily a domestic airport, is much closer to central Tokyo than Narita -- the main international gateway to the metropolis. Japan opened up Haneda to long-haul flights in hopes of stimulating demand, with American, Delta and Hawaiian winning the US slots.

American has resumed service to Haneda from New York and Delta from Los Angeles. But Delta has not restarted flights to Haneda from Detroit, saying that the route is heavily reliant on US East Coast business travel, which remains down.

Delta received a waiver until April 2012 from the US Department of Transportation, whose rules required carriers to use the hard-fought Haneda slots or lose them.


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Nigeria: At least 29 dead in rainy season floods (AP)

LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigerian emergency authorities say at least 29 people have died in weekend floods in two cities of Africa's most populous nation.

A spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday that at least 20 people died in the commercial capital of Lagos during unusually heavy rains Sunday.

Yushau Shuaib said nine more people died in the city of Katsina, which saw heavy rains Friday evening.

He said the floods displaced more than 100 people in Katsina. Lagos shut down its public schools Monday.

The agency has warned that rains will be heavier this year than last year. Last year's rains displaced about 500,000 people nationwide.

The rainy season lasts from June to September. Poor drainage systems aggravate its impact.


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Texas cattle ranchers feel burn of record drought (AFP)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AFP) – A record drought is forcing Texas cattle ranchers to send their cows to slaughter because it's too costly to keep buying feed for herds finding little forage in parched pastures.

"If I knew it would rain in the next two months, we'd buy hay or feed and carry these cows on," said Pete Bonds, who raises about 7,000 cows on his nearly 4,000-acre (1,600-hectare) ranch near Fort Worth.

The problem for ranchers like Bonds is that "only God knows when it's going to rain."

And if conditions don't improve in the next few weeks, he may have to cull as many as 1,000 cows from his herd.

Dry spells are nothing new to Texas cattlemen, the bulk of whom operate ranches that have been in their families for generations.

It's a good life for them, and for the cattle.

Unlike the cramped conditions of "factory" farms elsewhere in the country, most Texas cattle roam free on sprawling ranches, eating brush and grasses and drinking from natural creeks and man-made ponds.

But the first six months of this year have been the driest since records began to be kept in 1895.

Pastures are filled with patches of dry dirt. The grasses that are still alive crackle under foot.

And the drought which began in October has sparked one of the worst wildfire seasons on record.

More than 13,000 wildfires have burned more than 3.2 million acres in Texas where the situation has become so bad that many counties even banned Independence Day fireworks.

"Ranchers have experienced wildfires, long term drought, severe flooding, exceptionally cold winters and high feed costs for several years," said Bill Hyman, executive director of the Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas.

Their endurance is starting to wear thin, he said and they are "exiting the industry in large numbers due to losses."

"In Texas, you can't find anyone in agriculture who's not suffering," added Gene Hall, a spokesperson of the Texas Farm Bureau.

"The wheat crop is already toast, corn is in serious trouble and the cattle situation is very bad."

One of the broadest impacts has been on cotton, because Texas accounts for nearly half of the US crop.

"Cotton conditions have never been lower than they are right now for any time in the growing season," said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the US Department of Agriculture.

"It's been so hot that even irrigation in some cases is not helping the situation because of the intense heat and the low humidity. So cotton is in big trouble early in the year and it would take a major weather pattern change, which does not appear to be on the horizon," to save the crop.

Texas producers have ginned, or treated, between 4.5 and 8 million bales of cotton in the past eight years. This year, they're forecast to get just 2.5 million bales, said Kelley Green of the Texas Cotton Ginners Association.

Chuck Real has been forced to tap into stockpiles of hay that he hasn't planned on using until the winter to feel his herd of 100 cows near San Antonio.

"The Good Lord was very good to us and let us put up a lot of hay last year in the spring of 2010. That was the last time it really rained," he told AFP.

He had been hoping to hang onto his cows until they reached the ideal slaughter weight of 500 to 600 pounds. But it's likely he's going to end up having to cut his losses because it's too costly to buy feed.

"We'll have to sell them at 400 pounds because we're running out of grass," Real said.


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Friday, July 15, 2011

Rare, Severe 'Derecho' Windstorm Hits Midwest (LiveScience.com)

A severe storm is sweeping across the Midwest today with winds so strong that it has a special name: derecho.

A derecho (from the Spanish adverb for "straight") is a long-lived windstorm that forms in a straight line — unlike the swirling winds of a tornado — and is associated with what's known as a bow echo, a line of severe thunderstorms. The term "derecho" was first used over a century ago to describe a storm in Iowa. Across the United States, there are generally one to three derecho events each year.

The Midwest derecho has wind gusts between 60 and 80 mph (97 to 129 kph), according to the Weather Channel. Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois have all reported severe winds. These severe winds are the main cause of damage from the storm, said Rose Sengenberger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Ill., but added that people should be on the lookout for other dangerous weather.

"With any long-lived storm, there is also the threat of lightning and heavy rain," Sengenberger told OurAmazingPlanet.

Tornadoes are not any more likely during a derecho, Sengenberger said. Still, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for parts of southwest Michigan. Dangerous rain-wrapped tornadoes could shoot down from the squall line, said the NWS. As their name suggests, rain-wrapped tornadoes are shrouded from view by pouring rains, making them even more potentially dangerous for their ability to surprise.

A derecho is not the worst of the windstorms, however. On May 8, 2009, a rare windstorm that swept across Kansas, Missouriand Illinois was in a league of its own. An intense vortex and eyelike structure similar to what forms at the center of tropical storms and hurricanes appeared in the bow echo. The storm was so severe that it earned a brand-new name: super derecho.

The super derecho gained strength as it moved across Kansas in the early morning, spinning off 18 tornadoes and packing wind speeds from 70 to 90 mph (115 to 145 kph) when it hit Springfield, Mo. The super derecho plowed a path of destruction through the state about 100 miles (62 kilometers) wide, crossed the Mississippi River with 90 to 100 mph (145 to 160 kph) wind gusts and blew through Illinois before dissipating at that state's eastern border.


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AP coverage of Japanese disaster wins APME awards (AP)

NEW YORK – Coverage of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis along Japan's northeastern coast won awards for deadline and enterprise reporting from the Associated Press Managing Editors association Wednesday for journalism excellence by AP staffers.

"The AP managed to provide all-encompassing coverage of a disaster that became more staggering with each passing hour," the APME judges said in awarding the Deadline Reporting prize to the AP team that covered the event.

The team of reporters, photographers, interactive producers, video journalists and editors covered an epic series of disasters: the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, a giant tsunami that reduced coastal cities to ruins and a nuclear crisis unlike anything since Chernobyl.

"The danger with coverage of such a massive event is that you lose focus on the various threads that make up the whole," the judges said. "The AP never lost sight of the bigger picture, and showed the growing horror that a nation — and a world — faced. ... There wasn't a hole the AP didn't fill."

In honoring the AP team for Enterprise Reporting, a separate judging panel said, "Even while new developments were breaking daily, these AP reporters delved into the important questions of why the Japanese nuclear power industry was not as prepared as it should have been for this disaster."

AP mobilized more than 50 journalists — experts in nuclear power, science writers, veterans of disaster coverage and top editors from New York to London. The result was a breadth of coverage that produced investigations into the nuclear crisis and sparked changes, while also conveying the scale of the tragedy in the tsunami-devastated communities.

APME is an association of editors at AP's 1,400 member newspapers in the U.S. and newspapers served by The Canadian Press in Canada. It annually recognizes outstanding work by the cooperative's journalists. The awards will be presented at APME's annual conference with The Associated Press Photo Managers Sept. 14-16 in Denver.

Photographer Muhammed Muheisen, based in Islamabad, Pakistan, received the News Photos award for his series on unrest in Yemen. The judges cited his remarkable photographic eye and dramatic framing even under difficult and dangerous circumstances over a period of weeks.

Muheisen also won the John L. Dougherty Award for exemplary work by an AP staff member who is 30 years old or younger. In honoring him, the judges noted that he covered events throughout the Middle East during the past year "and he took full advantage."

"In his portfolio of 100 or so photos, he displayed incredible range — from tense action shots to powerful portraits — and each shot was more engaging than the last. His portfolio left us wanting to see 100 more," the judges said.

Christopher Sullivan of the Newsfeatures staff won the Feature Writing award for a two-part serial, "The Do-Over," the story of a middle-aged nuclear power plant worker who decides to leave his job to make a trip across America on a makeshift wagon, pulled by a team of horses. The judges said the "magnificently told story ... harkens back to the days of serial dramas full of suspense, harrowing escapades, love and even a cliffhanger."

Photographer Kevin Frayer, based in New Delhi, won the Feature Photos award for a series of black-and-white aerial views of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. The judges cited the unique aerial perspective as giving an unusual view of the Afghan countryside, showing both civilian and military aspects of life there.

Interactive producer Dave Clark was cited for Best Use of Multimedia for leading the AP Interactive Department's royal wedding coverage. "Very entertaining and clear. ... Worthy of the Royals!" the judges wrote.

Photographer Greg Bull, based in San Diego, was honored by the judges for Best Use of Video for his "really terrific video work" in covering the surge in high-speed downhill skateboarding, which has sparked a fierce debate in Southern California over what place the sport has on city streets.

Pennsylvania staffers Mark Scolforo and Michael Sirolly won the Charles Rowe Award for Distinguished State Reporting for leading the "Broken Budgets" reporting work in Pennsylvania, part of the joint AP-APME initiative on the fiscal crisis facing U.S. states and cities. "This was a terrific team effort that shed light on fat in state bureaucracy at a time of diminishing resources," the judges said.

The judges also awarded the following honorable mentions:

• Deadline Reporting: AP staff for coverage of the tornadoes that swept through the South in April.

• Enterprise Reporting: Rukmini Callimachi, Marco Chown Oved and Michelle Faul for coverage of violence in Ivory Coast, and St. Louis correspondent Jim Salter for an investigation into methamphetamine use.

• Feature Writing: National Writer Allen Breed for "Sabrina's Twilight," the story of a teen-age love that isn't given a chance to mature, and National Writer Pauline Arrillaga for "A Brother's Gift," the story of one brother donating his liver to another, and the devastating consequences.

• Best Use of Multimedia: Pailin Wedel, Feilding Cage, Darrell Allen, Sean McDade, Dan Kempton and Jennifer Farrar for their Japan earthquake interactive, and the Interactive Department staff for the government shutdown interactive.

• Best Use of Video: Video journalist Rich Matthews for coverage of the U.S. border with Mexico and the war on drugs, and National Writer Martha Irvine for her story on the Chicago Urban Prep Charter Academy.

• John L. Dougherty Award: Cleveland correspondent Meghan Barr, and Feilding Cage of the Interactive Department.

• Charles Rowe Award: Sacramento, Calif., bureau for watchdog reporting, and Michael Rubinkam, based in Allentown, Pa., for continuing coverage of gas-drilling in Pennsylvania.


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The nation's weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – 2 hrs 52 mins ago

Areas of the East will see a slight bit of relief from this week's heat during the next few days.

An energetic cold front will drop across the eastern valleys and into the Southeast with bands of showers, periods of heavy rain and clusters of thunderstorms Thursday through Saturday. This much needed precipitation is expected to reach drought stricken areas from the Texas-Louisiana border eastward through Florida. As this front drops southeastward, a broad area of high pressure from the north will follow the system. A cooler airmass will accompany this system over the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys on Thursday and farther south into the Southeast by Friday and Saturday. Expect a gradual cool down throughout these areas during this period. New York and the D.C. area will drop down into the lower 80s by Friday, while Atlanta drops to the upper 80s Friday and Saturday.

Hot weather conditions with high heat index values will unfortunately continue in the Plains on Thursday. Southwesterly flow from a ridge of high pressure over the north-central region of the nation and a trough of low pressure setting up over the Pacific Northwest will kick up showers and thunderstorms from the Northern High Plains through the Central Plains. Increasing instability may lead to some severe weather development in these regions during the afternoon with damaging wind and hail.

Elsewhere, chilly weather with well below normal daytime highs will continue in the west coast states. Finally, monsoon moisture spreading across the Four Corners will create more chances of showers and thunderstorms during the afternoon.

Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Wednesday ranged from a morning low of 33 degrees at Truckee-Tahoe, Calif., to a high of 105 degrees at Duncan, Okla.


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Space Shuttle and the Weather (ContributorNetwork)

As NASA ends an era with the final launch of space shuttle Atlantis, nearly 30 years of human spaceflight and aeronautics will be examined. One important aspect of rocket launches is weather, especially when it comes to risking human lives in the name of science.

Here's a look at some concepts of weather as they pertain to NASA's space shuttle program.

Lightning Strikes

The space shuttle could suffer major malfunctions if it were struck by lightning. As such, many precautions are taken with the orbiter and its boosters if lightning is detected in the area. The U.S. Air Force provides real-time data as to weather conditions at the time of launch.

Lightning rods are all over the Kennedy Space Center, including one on the launch pad to protect the rocket as it awaits launch. Lightning strikes the launch pad about five times per year.

Challenger Disaster

The Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff Jan. 28, 1986. The cause was determined to be a failure of o-shaped rings that join the solid rocket boosters together from top to bottom. The booster on the right side leaked explosive gas because the sealed ring was too cold.

The problem with the launch was that one side of the shuttle was too cold. The solid rocket booster that malfunctioned was in shadow most of the morning. One side of the booster was 50 degrees in the sun, while the other was below freezing. As such, the rubber o-ring malfunctioned and caused the massive hydrogen gas tank to explode in-flight.

Landings

Taking off in a rocket during bad weather is not a good idea. Landings can also be delayed from bad weather but there is a limit to the amount of time a crew can spend in outer space. Eventually, food and oxygen will run out if the shuttle doesn't land.

As such, there are three landing sites selected for shuttle missions. The Kennedy Space Center in Florida offers one landing strip. Edwards Air Force Base in California is another. A third, and less-used site is at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. If the original landing site is unavailable, one of the other two sites can be used as a backup.

The space shuttle program has come to an end after 30 years of valuable service to all mankind. Weather has been a major factor in the program as scientists and engineers have found unique ways to understand how weather works as it relates to human spaceflight.


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Japan quake makes 2011 costliest disaster year (AFP)

BERLIN (AFP) – Japan's earthquake in March is set to make 2011 the costliest year to date for natural disasters, reinsurer Munich Re said on Tuesday, although the number of deaths globally is relatively low so far.

Total global losses from natural disasters for the first six months alone were $265 billion, easily exceeding the $220 billion recorded for the whole of 2005, previously the most expensive year to date, the German firm said.

The economic loss for the first half of 2011 was more than five times higher than the average of the past 10 years, Munich Re said, and more than double the total for 2010 of $130 billion.

Moreover, first-half losses are generally lower than second-half losses, which are often affected by hurricanes in the north Atlantic and typhoons in the northwest Pacific, Munich Re added.

Not all the damage will be covered by insurance companies however, with "insured losses" in the first six months some $60 billion, nearly five times the average since 2001.

"It is very rare for such an extreme accumulation of natural hazard events to be encountered," Munich Re, which is the world's top reinsurer, said in a statement.

The 9.0-magnitude quake on March 11, the strongest ever registered in Japan, caused losses of 210 billion euros, making it the costliest natural catastrophe on record, surpassing even Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005.

Katrina, which pummelled the southern United States in August and caused devastating flooding that swallowed 80 percent of New Orleans, caused $125 billion worth of damage.

Insured losses from Katrina were much higher at $62 billion, however, more than double the $30-billion bill for the Japanese quake, which also knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, leaking radiation.

The quake was also the biggest catastrophe to occur in the first half of 2011 in human terms.

At least 15,500 people died and and thousands are still missing after the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, which devastated entire cities along the northeast coast of Japan, Munich Re said.

In terms of the human cost overall, however, 2011 is relatively benign -- so far.

Natural disasters killed 19,380 people in the first six months, compared to 230,300 in 2010.

In January 2010 an earthquake in Haiti killed some 225,000 people, while more than 50,000 perished in heatwaves and forest fires in Russia. Thousands also died in earthquakes and floods in China and Pakistan.

The total number of loss-relevant natural events in the first six months of 2011 was 355, somewhat below the average for the previous 10 years of 390.

The next costliest natural disaster in the first half of 2011 was a severe earthquake that shook Christchurch, New Zealand, in February, causing $20 billion in damage and killing 181 people, Munich Re said.

Severe storms in the southern and midwest United States in April and May killed 520 people and caused $14.5 billion in damages, with insured losses around $10 billion.

Floods in Queensland in northeast Australia in December and January caused $7.3 billion in damage, $2.6 billion of it insured, and killed 35 people.


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Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Mexico rains douse flames but fuel flood fears (Reuters)

By Dennis J. Carroll Dennis J. Carroll – Mon Jul 11, 6:59 pm ET

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) – The monsoons arrived on schedule in northern New Mexico on Monday, bringing with them the promise of containing a monster wildfire that has broken records in the state.

But they also brought potential peril from flash floods, wind bursts and lightning, with possible flooding made worse by the ground-clearing fires.

"It's such a Catch-22 with the rains," said Arlene Perea, a fire information officer. "The rains are welcome, but we know there are some problems with it."

The National Weather Service on Monday put out a flash-flood watch for the fire area through at least Wednesday. Forecasters said showers and thunderstorms were expected, with hail, lightning and winds up to 45 miles per hour.

Last week, Governor Susana Martinez issued an emergency declaration to free up about $700,000 in state funds for flood mitigation efforts across the state.

The Las Conchas blaze, New Mexico's largest wildfire ever, has burned 147,642 acres since June 26 when winds knocked an aspen tree against power lines, igniting the fire in the Jemez Mountains about 12 miles southwest of the city of Los Alamos. As of mid-afternoon Monday, it was 50 percent contained.

At one point, the flames had forced the evacuation of the town of about 12,000 and lapped at the borders of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the linchpin of American's nuclear weapons industry.

The lab was shuttered for about a week amid concerns about the possible release of radioactive and other hazardous materials. Lab officials later insisted no such releases occurred.

On Monday, forestry officials seemed as hopeful as they have been since the fire began.

"We got a big rain on the fire this morning, and things are really looking good, especially on the north end," Perea said.

That area includes the Santa Clara Indian reservation where firefighters have been battling to save sacred and cultural Pueblo sites, including Chicoma Mountain, regarded as "the center of all" by many tribes.

Containment lines were said to be holding on the three sides of the mountain that were burning.

Perea said firefighters had not been plagued by lightning strikes or high winds, and were being kept out of canyons where rainwaters could flow dangerously unimpeded over scorched earth stripped of ground-hugging vegetation.

On the southern end of the blaze, where little rain had fallen as of Monday afternoon, firefighters also were protecting other Pueblo holy sites and ancestral ruins from both fire and possible flooding, said David Schmitt, a fire information officer.

"They are trying to keep the fire intensity low so it doesn't take out the canopy, which will act as a buffer when the rains do come," Schmitt said.

He said there were several flare-ups Monday and over the weekend, but all were well within the fire's containment lines.

Fire lines also were holding north of Los Alamos and the nearby Pajarito Mountain ski resort.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Greg McCune)

(This story corrects the spelling of the mountain in last paragraph)


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Wyoming joins Northern Rocky states seeking disaster aid (Reuters)

CODY, Wyoming (Reuters) – Governor Matt Mead asked on Tuesday for a presidential disaster declaration in Wyoming to free up federal funds to repair roads and bridge damaged by harsh winter weather and flooding.

Mead became the third governor in the Northern Rockies to seek such a declaration stemming from floods, landslides and washouts during a spring and early summer marked by runoff from heavy rains and the melting of a record mountain snowpack.

Damage to public infrastructure, including highways, bridges and sewer treatment systems, is projected to run in the millions across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Citing figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mead said damage in Wyoming alone was estimated to total more than $4 million, with the cost of emergency repairs to highways and interstates put at an additional $2.8 million.

Any general disaster declarations in the state would be granted by President Barack Obama county by county. Mead also asked the U.S. Agriculture Department to declare farm disasters in two counties.

Earlier in the season, a presidential disaster was declared in Montana, where severe storms and flooding on tributaries of the Missouri River racked up an estimated $8.6 million in damage. A presidential disaster declaration was approved for Idaho in May for damage pegged at $4.4 million.

Jeff Kitsmiller, meteorologist in Montana for the National Weather Service, said La Nina, a weather pattern characterized by colder ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific, was behind the harsh weather in the Rocky Mountain West.

"It's an almost historic La Nina. For the Northern Rockies, that results in a lot of winter snow and spring rain," he said.

La Nina, also blamed for this year's devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and elsewhere and for a severe drought in the southwestern United States, has left snow in high elevations of the Rockies at levels Kitsmiller described as "off the charts" in some spots.

He said forecasts show the La Nina pattern could make a comeback in the region this winter.

"We'd see a lot more of the same: more snowfall, more precipitation," he said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)


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AP coverage of Japanese disaster wins APME awards (AP)

NEW YORK – Coverage of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis along Japan's northeastern coast won awards for deadline and enterprise reporting from the Associated Press Managing Editors association Wednesday for journalism excellence by AP staffers.

"The AP managed to provide all-encompassing coverage of a disaster that became more staggering with each passing hour," the APME judges said in awarding the Deadline Reporting prize to the AP team that covered the event.

The team of reporters, photographers, interactive producers, video journalists and editors covered an epic series of disasters: the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, a giant tsunami that reduced coastal cities to ruins and a nuclear crisis unlike anything since Chernobyl.

"The danger with coverage of such a massive event is that you lose focus on the various threads that make up the whole," the judges said. "The AP never lost sight of the bigger picture, and showed the growing horror that a nation — and a world — faced. ... There wasn't a hole the AP didn't fill."

In honoring the AP team for Enterprise Reporting, a separate judging panel said, "Even while new developments were breaking daily, these AP reporters delved into the important questions of why the Japanese nuclear power industry was not as prepared as it should have been for this disaster."

AP mobilized more than 50 journalists — experts in nuclear power, science writers, veterans of disaster coverage and top editors from New York to London. The result was a breadth of coverage that produced investigations into the nuclear crisis and sparked changes, while also conveying the scale of the tragedy in the tsunami-devastated communities.

APME is an association of editors at AP's 1,400 member newspapers in the U.S. and newspapers served by The Canadian Press in Canada. It annually recognizes outstanding work by the cooperative's journalists. The awards will be presented at APME's annual conference with The Associated Press Photo Managers Sept. 14-16 in Denver.

Photographer Muhammed Muheisen, based in Islamabad, Pakistan, received the News Photos award for his series on unrest in Yemen. The judges cited his remarkable photographic eye and dramatic framing even under difficult and dangerous circumstances over a period of weeks.

Muheisen also won the John L. Dougherty Award for exemplary work by an AP staff member who is 30 years old or younger. In honoring him, the judges noted that he covered events throughout the Middle East during the past year "and he took full advantage."

"In his portfolio of 100 or so photos, he displayed incredible range — from tense action shots to powerful portraits — and each shot was more engaging than the last. His portfolio left us wanting to see 100 more," the judges said.

Christopher Sullivan of the Newsfeatures staff won the Feature Writing award for a two-part serial, "The Do-Over," the story of a middle-aged nuclear power plant worker who decides to leave his job to make a trip across America on a makeshift wagon, pulled by a team of horses. The judges said the "magnificently told story ... harkens back to the days of serial dramas full of suspense, harrowing escapades, love and even a cliffhanger."

Photographer Kevin Frayer, based in New Delhi, won the Feature Photos award for a series of black-and-white aerial views of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. The judges cited the unique aerial perspective as giving an unusual view of the Afghan countryside, showing both civilian and military aspects of life there.

Interactive producer Dave Clark was cited for Best Use of Multimedia for leading the AP Interactive Department's royal wedding coverage. "Very entertaining and clear. ... Worthy of the Royals!" the judges wrote.

Photographer Greg Bull, based in San Diego, was honored by the judges for Best Use of Video for his "really terrific video work" in covering the surge in high-speed downhill skateboarding, which has sparked a fierce debate in Southern California over what place the sport has on city streets.

Pennsylvania staffers Mark Scolforo and Michael Sirolly won the Charles Rowe Award for Distinguished State Reporting for leading the "Broken Budgets" reporting work in Pennsylvania, part of the joint AP-APME initiative on the fiscal crisis facing U.S. states and cities. "This was a terrific team effort that shed light on fat in state bureaucracy at a time of diminishing resources," the judges said.

The judges also awarded the following honorable mentions:

• Deadline Reporting: AP staff for coverage of the tornadoes that swept through the South in April.

• Enterprise Reporting: Rukmini Callimachi, Marco Chown Oved and Michelle Faul for coverage of violence in Ivory Coast, and St. Louis correspondent Jim Salter for an investigation into methamphetamine use.

• Feature Writing: National Writer Allen Breed for "Sabrina's Twilight," the story of a teen-age love that isn't given a chance to mature, and National Writer Pauline Arrillaga for "A Brother's Gift," the story of one brother donating his liver to another, and the devastating consequences.

• Best Use of Multimedia: Pailin Wedel, Feilding Cage, Darrell Allen, Sean McDade, Dan Kempton and Jennifer Farrar for their Japan earthquake interactive, and the Interactive Department staff for the government shutdown interactive.

• Best Use of Video: Video journalist Rich Matthews for coverage of the U.S. border with Mexico and the war on drugs, and National Writer Martha Irvine for her story on the Chicago Urban Prep Charter Academy.

• John L. Dougherty Award: Cleveland correspondent Meghan Barr, and Feilding Cage of the Interactive Department.

• Charles Rowe Award: Sacramento, Calif., bureau for watchdog reporting, and Michael Rubinkam, based in Allentown, Pa., for continuing coverage of gas-drilling in Pennsylvania.


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Japan and South Korea at Risk from Typhoon Mo-an (ContributorNetwork)

Japan and South Korea could see damage from a typhoon that is gearing up in the Pacific this week. A tropical storm that has gained power and reached typhoon status to become Typhoon Ma-on could unleash flooding and destruction upon two countries already reeling from natural disaster.

By the end of the week Ma-on could wreak havoc on the southern part of Korea and southwestern Japan, bringing the potential for high winds and heavy rains at the site of the already-battered tsunami and nuclear disaster site in Honshu, Japan and adding to flooding that has been slamming South Korea.

According to Accuweather.com, the tropical storm turned typhoon is expected to strengthen and intensify during the weekend. It was classified as a full-fledged typhoon on Wednesday. Ma-on is expected to veer north, bringing heavy flooding and damaging winds to parts of Japan and South Korea.

Japan and South Korea have already seen plenty of disaster this year and the Korean peninsula is currently dealing with devastating floods that have caused landslides and flooded farmland and more than 350 homes. Rainfall in the western South Korea region topped 15 inches over two days early this week. One area in southwestern South Korea saw 19 inches of rain late last week and the previous weekend saw a 24-hour period of rain that measured 13 inches on Jinju.

As of Monday, 12 people had already died from the most recent torrential rain in South Korea after being crushed by landslides. The end of June saw Typhoon Meari bring excessive rain that has contributed to the flooding that is still going on in the Korean peninsula. Another typhoon will only add to that misery.

Japan's northeast has suffered this year already after the 9.0 Tohoku Earthquake in March that spawned a deadly tsunami and brought about nuclear crisis within the country. Damage from a typhoon will only stretch the resources of a country that is already struggling to recover.

Ma-on could elevate to super typhoon status while in the open sea and it is expected to intensify while in the Philippine Sea as it continues its westerly path. It is expected to turn north or northwest which will bring it in direct line with southern Japan and southern Korea. If Ma-on does not turn northward, a direct westerly path will take it to Taiwan.

Tammy Lee Morris is certified as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and is a trained Skywarn Stormspotter through the National Weather Service. She has received interpretive training regarding the New Madrid Seismic Zone through EarthScope -- a program of the National Science Foundation. She researches and writes about earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and other natural phenomena.


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Severe Storm Causes Two Deaths in Wisconsin (ContributorNetwork)

Severe storms moved through Wisconsin and Minnesota on Friday, resulting in tragedy in one Wisconsin county where countless people were camping and getting ready for the holiday weekend. One 11-year-old girl was killed when a tree fell on her after it was struck by lightning. The Associated Press reported that the girl was from Minnesota but did not release her name.

According to Wisconsin Emergency Management Agency, the girl was camping in Burnett County with her family when the storm hit. The Agency reported that two deaths resulted from this storm. The other death occurred when a local man suffered a heart attack but it was not clear if the heart attack was related to the storm.

More than three dozen other people in northwestern Wisconsin were injured by the storm and reports stated that this weather event brought 80 mile per hour winds, softball size hail and plenty of damage. Campgrounds, lakes, rivers and state parks suffered damage from downed trees. The storm knocked out power to thousands of homes in eastern South Dakota and western Wisconsin.

This round of storms affected areas that normally have smaller populations but due to the Fourth of July holiday, thousands of visitors had already started packing the campgrounds that were hit by the storm.

This year has already seen excessive weather events that have grabbed headlines and plenty of attention. A number of EF-5 tornadoes have struck at various locations in the United States and caused extreme death and destruction. Town names such as Joplin and Tuscaloosa have become synonymous with severe weather due to this year's tornado season. Historically, Wisconsin has not been known for having a high number of storm fatalities or injuries.

For example, 2010 statistics from the National Weather Service show that the state experienced six storm-related fatalities last year and 50 injuries. In contrast, Oklahoma had the highest number of injuries in 2010 with 410 while Tennessee had the highest number of deaths at 53.

Wisconsin EMA reported that several counties had storm damage and power outages from this storm. The agency stated that the hardest hit counties in northwest Wisconsin were Douglas, Burnett and Washburn counties where there were reports of at least two homes destroyed. WEMA reported that a hanger in Solon Springs had one wall collapse due to the storm causing the building to fall on a small single engine plane. It was reported that the high winds blew away the roof of the hanger building.

Tammy Lee Morris is certified as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and is a trained Skywarn Stormspotter through the National Weather Service. She has received interpretive training regarding the New Madrid Seismic Zone through EarthScope--a program of the National Science Foundation. She researches and writes about earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and other natural phenomena.


View the original article here

Friday, July 8, 2011

Floods damage homes, disrupt traffic in Denmark (AP)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Authorities say heavy rains have flooded hundreds of homes and several streets in Denmark's capital, disrupting traffic and delaying trains.

Jeppe Ilkjaer, a spokesman for the rescue services company Falck, says his organization has received calls from more than 1,000 home owners in Copenhagen whose cellars have been flooded following the rains late Saturday.

The Danish Road Directorate says the floods have forced it to close four major freeways surrounding the city Sunday and have delayed trains in the region.

No one has been injured by the floods, which also have disrupted telephone lines to Copenhagen police.

Rescue Services said 150 millimeters (6 inches) of rain fell over the Copenhagen area on Saturday and more heavy showers are expected Sunday evening.


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Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Surveillance Video Footage Captures Joplin Tornado's Fury (ContributorNetwork)

East Middle School in Joplin, Mo., was completed two years ago to serve the students in a growing city. A brand-new facility was part of a larger move by the district to create modern buildings to foster a better learning environment for kids in Joplin.

New surveillance video released by the school system shows the building took a direct hit from the massive EF5 tornado that tore through the city May 22, 2011.

Posted to the Joplin Globe's YouTube page, the nearly six minute video shows four views of the tornado's destruction.

The first view is of the inside of the commons area. On the edge of the screen you can see doors leading to the outside of the building, which is seen in another view later in the footage. It appears to be a quiet day as school was thankfully not in session on Sunday evening. There even appears to be brightness outside as there is no indication from this initial view that there is something wrong about to happen.

Lights began to flicker as power begins to fluctuate, probably due to power lines being whipped around outside. About 40 seconds into the footage, the brightness outside suddenly goes away. Lightning flashes can be seen on the floor, reflected from outside. Then debris flies inside, water rushes over the floor and benches that were stationary are moved several feet.

For a about 10 seconds, there is a lull in the wind and then suddenly the same debris that got blown into the commons area gets swirled around and almost sucked out as the tornado moves by. Then the full force of the winds are felt and the view ends.

The second view is of the main entrance, starting at 1:48 into the video. You see lighting outside and then a door has its glass blown out. Within 90 seconds, the ceiling gets ripped off and the camera falls down and dangles towards the floor. Even though it's about two hours until sunset, it is pitch black outside.

The auditorium was one of the hardest hit parts of the school. Again, the camera was mounted on the ceiling as it viewed the destruction around it.

The last view captures the twister's fury outside the school near the commons area that was viewed inside at the beginning of the video. Again, it starts out looking like a bright day with just a little rain at the 4:05 mark, but then the images turn for the worse. Lightning is seen in the distance and then it turns very dark. Metal is whipped around and you can sparks from power lines as the tornado wreaks its havoc on the school in the last part of the video.

You can also see video of what the damage looked like after the tornado had gone through. There is footage of the main entrance and the heavily damaged gymnasium.

If there had been students at the school, the tornado could have been much more tragic.

I'm still wondering when, and if, there will be footage from Joplin's traffic light cameras. There are traffic monitoring cameras throughout the city to monitor conditions on Joplin's roads. The camera system surely would have picked up some kind of storm damage in the city and could provide clues as to how cars would have swirled through the debris.


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Mass. town hit by tornado cancels July 4th event (AP)

MONSON, Mass. – An Independence Day tradition has been cancelled in a Massachusetts town devastated by a tornado last month.

Summerfest chairman Steve Slozak says there was a lot of sadness when he announced the event couldn't happen this year in Monson. But he told The Boston Globe for Saturday editions that while people were hoping Summerfest would pull the community together, the tornado has already done that.

Summerfest began in 1979 and can draw nearly double the town's population of 8,500. It features events such as a frog-jumping competition, a soap box derby and a parade.

Slozak says several organizing committee workers lost their homes to the tornado and traffic patterns were a mess. He says it didn't seem right to ask the overworked police and fire departments to set up for the event.


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New Surveillance Video Footage Captures Joplin Tornado's Fury (ContributorNetwork)

East Middle School in Joplin, Mo., was completed two years ago to serve the students in a growing city. A brand-new facility was part of a larger move by the district to create modern buildings to foster a better learning environment for kids in Joplin.

New surveillance video released by the school system shows the building took a direct hit from the massive EF5 tornado that tore through the city May 22, 2011.

Posted to the Joplin Globe's YouTube page, the nearly six minute video shows four views of the tornado's destruction.

The first view is of the inside of the commons area. On the edge of the screen you can see doors leading to the outside of the building, which is seen in another view later in the footage. It appears to be a quiet day as school was thankfully not in session on Sunday evening. There even appears to be brightness outside as there is no indication from this initial view that there is something wrong about to happen.

Lights began to flicker as power begins to fluctuate, probably due to power lines being whipped around outside. About 40 seconds into the footage, the brightness outside suddenly goes away. Lightning flashes can be seen on the floor, reflected from outside. Then debris flies inside, water rushes over the floor and benches that were stationary are moved several feet.

For a about 10 seconds, there is a lull in the wind and then suddenly the same debris that got blown into the commons area gets swirled around and almost sucked out as the tornado moves by. Then the full force of the winds are felt and the view ends.

The second view is of the main entrance, starting at 1:48 into the video. You see lighting outside and then a door has its glass blown out. Within 90 seconds, the ceiling gets ripped off and the camera falls down and dangles towards the floor. Even though it's about two hours until sunset, it is pitch black outside.

The auditorium was one of the hardest hit parts of the school. Again, the camera was mounted on the ceiling as it viewed the destruction around it.

The last view captures the twister's fury outside the school near the commons area that was viewed inside at the beginning of the video. Again, it starts out looking like a bright day with just a little rain at the 4:05 mark, but then the images turn for the worse. Lightning is seen in the distance and then it turns very dark. Metal is whipped around and you can sparks from power lines as the tornado wreaks its havoc on the school in the last part of the video.

You can also see video of what the damage looked like after the tornado had gone through. There is footage of the main entrance and the heavily damaged gymnasium.

If there had been students at the school, the tornado could have been much more tragic.

I'm still wondering when, and if, there will be footage from Joplin's traffic light cameras. There are traffic monitoring cameras throughout the city to monitor conditions on Joplin's roads. The camera system surely would have picked up some kind of storm damage in the city and could provide clues as to how cars would have swirled through the debris.


View the original article here

Tornado Sensors Should Be Installed in Buildings (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | The Holy Grail of tornado chasers is to have sensors that measure the inside of a tornado. The best way to do this, so far, has been to have mobile teams dispatched during tornado season on the Great Plains to get near enough to thunderstorms. The teams deploy sensors and then move away quickly in hopes of determining what goes on inside a tornado.

Although footage from inside a tornado is rare, National Geographic attempted to do such a thing in 2005. Because tornadoes can veer radically from place to place and don't last long, getting sensors in place is difficult and can be hit-or-miss.

Perhaps scientists are going about tornado chasing the wrong way. When humans get lost in the wilderness or become stranded in a car in a snowstorm, the first rule is to stay put and let searchers come to you. Tornado chasing should be the same way.

Installing sensors in major buildings in cities and towns across tornado alley may be a more feasible solution. As technology becomes smaller and more affordable, weather sensors should be deployed in buildings every five to 10 blocks in cities across tornado alley. Having sensors in every building would be too expensive.

Since scientists have no way of predicting when and where tornadoes strike, they can narrow down buildings that are spaced far enough apart as potential targets for sensors. Consider a line of towns and cities from Dallas, Texas, to Bismarck, N.D. as a phalanx of areas that can have sensors installed.

It's almost as if a line of troops would be deployed on the battlefield, only this time the enemy is supposed to come towards them. Installing and upgrading sensors would take massive amounts of money. Much like the SETI project that aims radio telescopes at faraway places, this tornado sensing project may not come to fruition for decades. However, it would at least increase our chances of getting an inside look at one of nature's most incredible storms.

Sensor platforms would have to be battery operated so they wouldn't lose power as the tornado approaches. Barometric readings, GPS sensors and other instruments would need to be packed into the sensor suite.

It would be a huge undertaking, but it is possible. Not every building needs to have sensors installed, just enough to make it more likely that tornado will make a direct hit on the sensors. Given enough time and tumultuous weather, it's not a matter of if the stationary sensors will detect a tornado but when.


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3 dead in Mexico as tropical storm breaks up (AP)

MEXICO CITY – Mexican authorities confirmed three deaths from Tropical Storm Arlene on Friday as remnants of the storm continued dumping rain over the country's central highlands.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that rain could continue for 48 hours causing life-threatening flash floods and mudslides as the system moved toward the Pacific.

The Atlantic season's first tropical storm came ashore over Mexico's central Gulf coast early Thursday morning, bringing heavy rains to a wide swath of the country over the course of the day but causing only sporadic damage.

In the coastal state of Tamaulipas, a 54-year-old man whose name was not available was electrocuted to death by a downed powerline and a fisherman drowned in the Vicente Guerrero dam, on the border with the United States, civil protection officials said.

Rescuers in helicopters flew water and food on Friday to the Tamaulipas township of Nuevo Tantoan, where 200 people were cut off by two rivers that swelled around them, said Pedro Benavides, the state's civil protection director.

They also reported that, further inland in Hidalgo state, 27-year-old Armando Acosta Monroy was pulled from his home after it collapsed from heavy rains, but died after being taken to a medical center. There were at least six landslides along a highway in that area.

Continuous rain fell in Mexico City and its metropolitan area, where the Remedios River, which carries sewage water, overflowed in the suburb of Ecatepec.

The mayor of Ecatepec, Indalecio Rios, asked residents in three flooded neighborhoods to move into government shelters, according to the newspaper El Universal.

But even coastal towns in Veracruz and Tamaulipas states appeared to have escaped serious damage beyond minor flooding in low-lying neighborhoods. Drought-stricken areas of Tamaulipas, suffering from the worst dry spell in 50 years, were mainly grateful for the rain.


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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Six dead in Mexico in wake of Tropical Storm Arlene (AFP)

HIDALGO, Mexico (AFP) – At least six people were confirmed dead in Mexico after Tropical Storm Arlene drenched much of the country with heavy rains and left thousands homeless, officials said.

The first named storm of the Atlantic season barreled ashore along Mexico's Gulf coast on Thursday, dumping several centimeters (inches) of rain in areas still recovering from last year's wettest season on record.

Three people died in Hidalgo state, where swollen rivers burst their banks forcing more than 1,000 people to evacuate their homes, Civil Protection force director Miguel Garcia said.

Two people died in Tamaulipas state, including a bricklayer who was struck by a live electrical cable that snapped in strong winds.

Much of the country was subjected to the foul weather, including the capital Mexico City and its outskirts, where a child's death Friday was blamed on the storm, and the Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco.

Mexico's Weather Service said at least a dozen districts in central and northern Mexico were on alert for "intense and occasionally torrential" rains from the remnants of Arlene, whose winds weakened substantially after heading inland but still carried heavy moisture.

Some 278,000 people were left homeless or otherwise impacted by the storm, according to provisional tallies.


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Earthquake hits northwestern Japan, no tsunami warning issued (Reuters)

TOKYO (Reuters) – An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.5 hit central Japan on Thursday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The epicenter of the earthquake was in Nagano prefecture, the agency said, adding that no tsunami warning had been issued.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Chris Gallagher)


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It's official: Record June runoff to swollen Missouri River (Reuters)

OMAHA, Neb (Reuters) – It has been obvious for a while from flooding downstream but now it is official: The swollen Missouri River received a record amount of rainfall and snowmelt runoff in June.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers said in a report released on Friday that June runoff into the river was 13.8 million acre-feet of water, topping the previous record set in 1952. It was the most runoff since the agency began keeping records in 1898.

What's more, the combined total runoff for May and June fell just short of the normal total runoff for an entire year.

Record water releases to relieve pressure on six reservoirs from Montana through South Dakota have strained flood defenses along the Missouri River and continued to breach a few levees downstream.

(Reporting by Kyle Peterson and David Hendee; Editing by Greg McCune)


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Severe Storm Causes Two Deaths in Wisconsin (ContributorNetwork)

Severe storms moved through Wisconsin and Minnesota on Friday, resulting in tragedy in one Wisconsin county where countless people were camping and getting ready for the holiday weekend. One 11-year-old girl was killed when a tree fell on her after it was struck by lightning. The Associated Press reported that the girl was from Minnesota but did not release her name.

According to Wisconsin Emergency Management Agency, the girl was camping in Burnett County with her family when the storm hit. The Agency reported that two deaths resulted from this storm. The other death occurred when a local man suffered a heart attack but it was not clear if the heart attack was related to the storm.

More than three dozen other people in northwestern Wisconsin were injured by the storm and reports stated that this weather event brought 80 mile per hour winds, softball size hail and plenty of damage. Campgrounds, lakes, rivers and state parks suffered damage from downed trees. The storm knocked out power to thousands of homes in eastern South Dakota and western Wisconsin.

This round of storms affected areas that normally have smaller populations but due to the Fourth of July holiday, thousands of visitors had already started packing the campgrounds that were hit by the storm.

This year has already seen excessive weather events that have grabbed headlines and plenty of attention. A number of EF-5 tornadoes have struck at various locations in the United States and caused extreme death and destruction. Town names such as Joplin and Tuscaloosa have become synonymous with severe weather due to this year's tornado season. Historically, Wisconsin has not been known for having a high number of storm fatalities or injuries.

For example, 2010 statistics from the National Weather Service show that the state experienced six storm-related fatalities last year and 50 injuries. In contrast, Oklahoma had the highest number of injuries in 2010 with 410 while Tennessee had the highest number of deaths at 53.

Wisconsin EMA reported that several counties had storm damage and power outages from this storm. The agency stated that the hardest hit counties in northwest Wisconsin were Douglas, Burnett and Washburn counties where there were reports of at least two homes destroyed. WEMA reported that a hanger in Solon Springs had one wall collapse due to the storm causing the building to fall on a small single engine plane. It was reported that the high winds blew away the roof of the hanger building.

Tammy Lee Morris is certified as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and is a trained Skywarn Stormspotter through the National Weather Service. She has received interpretive training regarding the New Madrid Seismic Zone through EarthScope--a program of the National Science Foundation. She researches and writes about earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and other natural phenomena.


View the original article here

Joplin Residents Live to Describe Inside of Massive Tornado (ContributorNetwork)

The Joplin Globe reports a rare occurrence and yet another amazing story to come out of the EF5 tornado that destroyed large part of Joplin, Mo. Three amateur storm chasers were out trying to track the storm May 22, 2011, when the tornado grew too big for them to chase.

As Eric Parker, his sister Kaylee Parker and their friend Mac Wright were taking shelter from the tornado at a local liquor store, Kaylee Parker was able to get a glimpse of the inside of the mammoth twister.

"I look up and saw these vortexes, and saw debris flying the in the air. It looked like I could see blue sky at the top," Kaylee told the Globe .

Her description sounds like it's from a movie. If you've seen the movie "Twister " you know exactly what Parker is talking about. Towards the end of the movie, both main characters witness the inside of a huge F5 tornado which matches Parker's view from the inside of the storm.

Scientists from the National Weather Service say the tornado was so wide, an eye could have formed that was several hundred yards wide. Much like the eye of a hurricane, the middle of a slow-moving tornado provides a dramatic and relative calm for a few seconds before the wall of the tornado hits again. This wall barrier also contains the highest winds in the tornado.

Radar hits near enough to tornadoes over the past 10 years have provided meteorologist with a computerized look at the inside of a tornado. Eyewitness accounts verify the radar's probing of the twisters.

As rare as this sight is for human eyes, others in Joplin reported seeing the same blue sky inside the funnel. It was a scarce combination of the size, damaging winds and slow movement of the tornado that allowed witnesses to both survive and see the tornado. Once debris was pulled away from houses where people were taking shelter, they could see the full fury of the storm.

All of these stories, eyewitness accounts and scientific appraisals of the tornado that hit Joplin will hopefully make our scientific understanding of nature's most powerful storms. If knowledge gained from the event saves one human life in the future, then the 150 people who died would not have done so in vain.

Even six weeks after the tornado struck, more amazing stories continue to come out of the debris. Every person's story is valuable and worth repeating in memory of those lives that were lost.


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The nation's weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – Sun Jul 3, 5:03 am ET

The Northeast will experience some scattered rains Sunday as a cold front pushes west to east from Virginia through Maine. Morning and afternoon rain will be followed by evening clearing as the front moves offshore.

Another area of precipitation will move through the Plains and may be accompanied by some strong thunderstorms and large hail. Texas, however, will not receive any rain, prolonging an already devastating drought.

In the West, scorching hot weather will prevail as a strong high pressure system dominates. Temperatures will remain well into the 100s, with some areas of the Southwest pushing above 110 degrees. Hot weather also will stretch into California, bringing summer conditions to the region after last week's unseasonably strong storm.

Temperatures in the Northeast will be in the 70s and 80s, while the Southeast and Southern Plains will see readings in the 90s and 100s. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states ranged Saturday from a morning low of 28 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont., to a high of 113 degrees at Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.

___

Online:

Weather Underground: http://www.wunderground.com

National Weather Service: http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov

Intellicast: http://www.intellicast.com


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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Japan's 'Super Cool Biz' Concept Saves Energy After Quake (ContributorNetwork)

TOKYO -- Since the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in northern Japan in March, the power industry in Japan has taken huge hits as the levels of available electricity has plummeted in Tokyo, the country's largest city.

The disasters have critically disabled the country's nuclear power plants, many of which have been taken off line for inspection or repair. That leaves a critical power shortage in the northern and eastern parts of the country, where the government has both requested and mandated power-saving measures that have already gone into effect all over. Even the relatively unaffected areas of southern and western Japan are helping by conserving.

The official word for this special electricity cutback is setsuden, which means saving power. This is not just regular conservation, however; this is a country pitching in to help each other recover from the recent trials and tribulations of life.

The Japanese government has mandated that companies reduce their overall energy consumption by at least 10 percent.

Even in the warm summer months, this means that in most offices, the thermostat is set at 28 degrees Celsius, or 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Air conditioning uses a massive amount of electricity, and it is a concrete area in which companies can save.

In past summers, to mildly conserve energy, companies instituted the concept of "Cool Biz," meaning that employees of private companies and government offices can dress down, forgoing the normal attire of shirts, ties and jackets for plain, short-sleeved shirts, thus making everyone comfortable in the higher office temperatures.

This summer, the government has instituted "Super Cool Biz," and it encouraged even higher office temps along with suggesting polo shirts and sandals, going so far as to allow printed Hawaiian shirts as proper office attire. This is quite a change from the normal, buttoned-up black suits of normal Japanese businessmen. In addition, many retail outlets are reducing the lighting in their stores and even convenience stores are reducing the number of refrigerated cases for drinks. All over the city, buildings with more than one elevator are turning off one car in order to encourage energy savings. Signs proclaiming the health benefits of taking the stairs have cropped up everywhere.

In addition to saving energy at the office, the Japanese people are going out of their way to conserve energy at home. In a country where most women run a load of laundry every day, people have changed their washing habits to allow for fuller loads when they launder. In addition to turning up their air conditioning at home, citizens are using remote controls less often, unplugging unused appliances and turning off unnecessary lights.

One of the biggest concessions the Japanese people have made at home is in the bathroom, however. Toilets have become luxury items in recent years, performing a myriad of washing functions in addition to having heated seats. But now people are making the ultimate sacrifice of turning off or unplugging these extraneous functions, all in the name of saving energy.

Japan is a nation made up of stoic, community-minded people. They go about their daily lives and do all of these energy saving measures for the good of the country as a whole. Their attitude and fortitude is to be admired. Far beyond the current crisis, the extreme green practices of Japan could be emulated by other developed nations.

Aimee Weinstein is an American freelance writer who lives in Japan.


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On Fourth of July, Earth Is Farthest from the Sun (SPACE.com)

The weather forecast for this year's Fourth of July holiday in the United States calls for high temperatures across much of the country's central and southern states, with some places expected to surpass 100 degrees for the American holiday. So it may come as a surprise that despite this heat, the planet is actually about as far away from the sun as it ever gets.

At about 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) on the Fourth of July, the Earth will reach that point in its orbit where it is farthest from the sun. Called aphelion, this location in Earth's orbit puts the planet about 94.5 million miles (152 million kilometers) from the sun. That's about 3.1 million miles (4.9 million km) more than the Earth's closest distance to the sun (called perihelion), which occurred on Jan. 3. 

The exact difference in the distance between Earth's closest and farthest points from the sun is 3,104,641 miles (4 996 435 km), or 3.28 percent, which makes a difference in radiant heat received by the planet of nearly 7 percent. The average distance between the Earth and sun is about 93 million miles (150 million km). [10 Extreme Planet Facts]

Closer doesn't necessarily mean hotter

If you ask most people in the Northern Hemisphere which month of the year they think the Earth is closest to the sun, they may likely say it happens in June, July or August, some of the hottest months of the year.  

But our warm weather doesn’t relate to our distance from the sun. It's because of the 23.5-degree tilt of the Earth's axis that the sun is above the horizon for different lengths of time at different seasons. The tilt determines whether the sun's rays strike us at a low angle or more directly. 

At New York's latitude, the more nearly direct rays at the summer solstice of June 21 bring about three times as much heat as the more slanting rays at the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Heat received by any region is dependent on the length of daylight and the angle of the sun above the horizon.

So there are noticeable differences in temperatures that are registered over different parts of the world, including the Southern Hemisphere, where it is winter right now.

A climate fallacy

When I attended Henry Bruckner Junior High School in The Bronx, my earth science teacher, Mr. Shenberg, told all of us that because Earth is farthest from the sun in July and closest in December, that such a difference would tend to warm the winters and cool the summers … at least in the Northern Hemisphere. 

And yet the truth of the matter is that the preponderance of large land masses in the Northern Hemisphere works the other way, and actually tends to make the winters colder and the summers hotter.   

Interestingly, the times when the Earth lies at its closest and farthest points from the sun roughly coincide with two significant holidays. When Earth is closest to the sun around New Year's Day and farthest from the sun around Independence Day.

Depending on the year, the date of perihelion can vary from Jan. 1 to 5, while the date of aphelion can vary from July 2 to July 6.

So while you're out in the Fourth of July sun this holiday, take a moment to appreciate the celestial dance the Earth is making at the exact same time and enjoy the sunshine.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y.


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Tornado destruction exposes Joplin residents to crime (Reuters)

KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) – The historic May 22 tornado not only deprived thousands of Joplin, Missouri, residents of their homes and belongings but made them vulnerable to crimes like identity theft and contractor fraud.

Federal, state and local authorities have banded together to warn citizens about the potential for crime. Arrests have already been made for looting destroyed homes.

"We don't want to see anyone re-victimized who has already been victimized by the tornado," said Bridget Patton, FBI spokeswoman in Kansas City.

The tornado killed 156 people and destroyed some 8,000 homes and other buildings in Joplin. It was the deadliest tornado in the United States in more than 60 years.

The unusually large scope of the disaster warrants the extensive alert to possible criminal acts, Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Missouri, said.

The FBI recently organized a meeting in Joplin attended by representatives of 13 law enforcement jurisdictions, Patton said. The agency has created a task force to field and investigate fraud and other complaints.

"Experience tells us that following each disaster, unscrupulous individuals, contractors, businesses and even government employees try to take advantage of the disaster and unduly profit," said Robert J. Nixon, supervisory special agent for the FBI in southwest Missouri.

One concern is that criminals will try to get federal disaster relief funds meant for victims by assuming their identities, officials said.

PHONY GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES

Joplin police investigated reports from tornado victims who had been approached by persons who said they were government representatives, said police spokesman Chuck Niess.

"They had fake government credentials and were trying to get personal information," Niess said. There have been no charges in the ongoing cases, he said.

Police warn that some con artists posing as government officials will request a processing fee to secure disaster relief payments or loans. Others have pretended to be safety inspectors who try to collect for repairs they said were required immediately, police say.

Ledford of the U.S. Attorney's Office said no federal charges have been filed in connection with any Joplin crimes but there have been some investigations, which he declined to detail.

One potential crime is identity theft of victims whose credit card, banking and other personal records were tossed to the wind by the tornado or left exposed in destroyed homes. Police advised people to close all accounts immediately, Niess said.

Authorities also have advised caution when giving to organizations that profess to be raising money for victims.

People should be wary of e-mail fund-raising drives, high-pressure personal pitches, requests for cash rather than checks, and organizations with names similar to well-known charities, officials said.

Another scam could be attempted by contractors for cleanup or repairs. They may be unlicensed, uninsured or unqualified or may seek to overcharge and be paid in cash only, police said. The state attorney general has warned contractors they will be prosecuted for any attempted price-gouging.

Police have made some arrests for looting destroyed homes or businesses, which continues to be a problem six weeks after the tornado, Niess said.

"It's almost a non-stop issue," Niess said. "Every thing is still all open and stuff is laying around."

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)


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Falling tree kills Wis. man in severe hail storm (AP)

KENOSHA, Wis. – A powerful storm system raced through the upper Midwest Thursday night, killing a Wisconsin man when a tree collapsed onto his motorcycle, pelting Chicago skyscrapers with golf ball-sized hail and packing winds so strong they spun a grounded military cargo plane.

Several injuries were reported in Kenosha, Wis., where winds between 70 and 80 mph downed or damaged hundreds of trees and knocked out power to some 22,000 homes and businesses by early Friday, authorities said.

The 31-year-old man who died was riding his motorcycle on a local road at 8:12 p.m. CDT when he was struck by the tree, according to a news release from the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Two other residents were injured when they touched live electrical wires, and a woman was treated for a broken hip after she was struck by debris from a shed, authorities said.

"We are continuing to assess the damage in the city," Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman. "It may take several days to clean-up debris."

The storm raced down through Lake Michigan coastal communities, ducking further inland before reaching the Windy City and losing strength once it moved into Indiana, said David Beachler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chicago. He said a gauge on the beach in Waukegan Harbor, a Chicago suburb about 10 miles south of the Wisconsin border, registered a hurricane-strength wind gust of 94 mph.

David Mann, a manager at Batten International Airport in Racine, Wis., said a wind gauge there registered a gust of 82 mph and that the storm caused a C130 military plane on display to pivot 45-50 degrees.

As the storm moved southward into Chicago, it dumped heavy rain and hail the size of golf balls and even baseballs, said Casey Sullivan, a weather service meteorologist.

Lake County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Kent McKenzie said the storm felled trees into buildings and power lines, and that there were several reports of trees damaging recreational vehicles camped at Illinois Beach State Park, north of Waukegan. Emergency workers freed several people trapped by a tree in a vehicle at the park, but no one was hurt, McKenzie said.

It was hot in the area on Thursday, and temperatures were expected to reach the upper 90s on Friday.


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Mexico confirms 11 dead from Arlene and aftermath (AP)

MEXICO CITY – Mexican authorities have confirmed 11 deaths from Tropical Storm Arlene and the aftermath of floods, mudslides and overflowing rivers in central Mexico and Gulf Coast states.

State civil protection officials say five people in Hidalgo, two young children in Mexico state and a rescue worker and woman in Veracruz were killed. Most died after being buried alive in their homes by mudslides or drowning in heavy currents while trying to cross swollen streams.

The state officials confirmed the deaths Saturday. They are in addition to two people killed in Tamaulipas on Friday.

The Atlantic season's first tropical storm dumped heavy rains for two days since Thursday. Weather reports warned of moderate to heavy rains for the rest of the weekend.


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Joplin Tornado May Cost Insurance Companies $2 Billion (ContributorNetwork)

Insurance claims numbers for the Joplin tornado are starting to come in and the statistics are mind-boggling. The Missouri Department of Insurance says more than $500 million worth of insurance claims have been paid out, nearly two-thirds of it to homeowners. More than $34 million has been paid in auto insurance claims. Businesses have received nearly $160 million for their properties.

In all, nearly 15,000 claims have been filed so far with another 2,000 expected. John M. Huff, director of the Dept. of Insurance, said those numbers will climb.

"This will be the largest insurance event in Missouri history, and these numbers confirm that the insurance industry is playing a vital role in Joplin's recovery. This is half a billion dollars already reinvested into the local economy, and we expect it to be three to four times that amount by the time all claims are settled," Huff says.

That means the final cost to insurers will be between $1.5 billion to $2 billion. That figure alone doesn't take into account trash removal, FEMA money or disaster assistance from various non-profit agencies being poured into Joplin's relief efforts.

Nor does the figure take into account volunteer hours spent helping to clean up debris. The economic impact of the tornado will be staggering no matter how you crunch the numbers.

In terms of time, in about 30 minutes the massive EF5 tornado destroyed billions of dollars of construction. Houses and stores that took years to build up as Joplin expanded to the east were destroyed in minutes or even seconds because of high winds.

It's difficult for me to wrap my mind around such a thing. In a year of huge disasters like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it's still hard to believe that something on this earth can destroy human lives in mere seconds.

Compared to other billion-dollar disasters in U.S. history, the tornado outbreak of May 22 to May 27 was highly destructive. The tornado did more damage than Hurricane Dolly in 2008. The outbreak from May 22 to May 27 may reach $7 billion in total damage.

The National Weather Service states disaster estimates, if they hold through the rest of 2011, will make 2011 the worst year on record since the government tracked insurance losses. Data goes back to 1980 for such disasters that have cost billions of dollars.

So far in 2011, nearly $32 billion has been lost in eight separate weather-related events. Last year, only three major events saw more than a billion dollars in damage. Hurricane season hasn't even gotten to its peak yet and it's expected to be more active than normal.

The statistics show what Americans already know about 2011--it's a bad year for weather extremes.

William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.


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Monday, July 4, 2011

US nuclear lab to reopen after wildfire threat ends (AFP)

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Officials at the Los Alamos National Laboratory said they will re-open the nuclear research center on Wednesday after it was closed in late June due to an encroaching wildfire.

The site in the southwestern state of New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was developed during World War II, "appears to have escaped serious damage from the Las Conchas fire," read a lab statement Sunday.

The site "will re-open to employees on Wednesday, July 6" following "the largest wildfire in New Mexico history," the statement read.

"Only senior leaders and essential services will be be permitted at the Lab on Tuesday," it added.

Flames reached laboratory property on June 27, but caused no damage. However the lab closed down temporarily, in part because the nearby town of Los Alamos, where half the lab employees live, was forced to evacuate.

All hazardous and radioactive materials were accounted for and protected during the shutdown, as were key lab facilities such as its proton accelerator and supercomputing centers, officials said.

Firefighters on Sunday gave the all-clear for the town of Los Alamos, and the 10,000 residents that had been ordered to leave began streaming back home.

The fire, the largest in New Mexico history, currently measures more than 121,000 acres (49,000 hectares). As of Sunday, it was 11% contained and had destroyed dozens of homes, according to the government-run New Mexico Fire Information website.


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Japan begins power restrictions (AFP)

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan on Friday began restricting electricity consumption in the Tokyo and Tohoku regions, more than three months after a tsunami sent nuclear reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The power-saving drive, which for many began shortly after the huge March 11 quake and tsunami but which became official Friday, will last through the peak summer months to September to cut blackout risks after the loss of capacity.

Large companies that violate the decree to cut useage by 15 percent will face fines of up to one million yen ($12,400). Smaller users and households have also been asked to voluntarily cut power use by 15 percent.

To cope, Japan has taken its annual summer "Cool Biz" campaign -- aimed at limiting air conditioner use and encouraging workers to ditch jackets and ties -- to a new level.

Factories have changed shifts to make use of cooler evenings, early mornings and lower-demand weekends, prompting nursery schools to also open weekends to cater for the needs of working parents.

Companies such as Sony have brought their business days forward by an hour in order to finish earlier.

Railway operators have increased train services in the early morning to coincide with moves by Japanese firms to start the work day earlier.

The power-saving restrictions will be in effect through to September 22 in Tokyo Electric's service area and through September 9 in Tohoku Electric's territory.

Hospitals providing emergency treatment and shelters for evacuees from the March 11 disaster are exempted. The reduction target will be relaxed to up to 10 percent for medical, nursing-care and transportation service providers.

On Wednesday temperatures soared to 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) in Tokyo and air conditioner use pushed consumption to 93 percent of capacity, raising fears that the capital may yet face blackouts as the summer heats up.

Even utilities not directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami have not restarted nuclear reactors that were undergoing maintenance at the time, due to objections from local governments amid a wave of anti-nuclear sentiment.

Only 19 of Japan's 54 reactors are now operating, with more due to shut down for regular checks. Japan usually generates about 30 percent of its power from nuclear plants.

Ratings agency Moody's on Friday said it had downgraded the ratings of nine Japanese utilities, citing increased regulatory uncertainty following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

There are worries that restrictions on power consumption may slow the country's recovery from recession, after the earthquake and tsunami hammered Japanese production and the economy contracted by an annualised 3.5 percent in January-March.


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