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Monday, December 31, 2012

Climate Dice- The Seventh Roll: Lottery Numbers For Fall 2012

Blog: Climate Dice- The Seventh Roll: Lottery Numbers For Fall 2012

The winning Climate Lottery numbers for fall (SEP/OCT/NOV) 2012 were 101/44/99, and the Power Ball number was 98

The Power Ball (or overall National Climatic Data Center Ranking) number for fall 2012 came up as 98, which was the 21st warmest for any fall on record for the lower 48 states. A ranking of 1 would have been the coldest possible ranking. The National Climatic Data Center has been ranking months, seasons and years from 1 to 118 since 1895 with 1 being the coldest possible temperature average ranking and 118 being the warmest possible temperature average. In the Climate Lottery game, I've defined each individual lottery number as rankings for each month for the lower 48 states, Power Ball numbers as those for each season, and Mega Ball numbers as those for each year. As we keep seeing over and over again the Climate Lottery game is rigged towards those higher number rankings. Above average rankings have occurred for every month since (and including) June 2011 up until October 2012 when near normal conditions occurred.

There was no clear winner for fall 2012. If I can get a consensus who the winner was, I will post an update.

Well, let's play the lottery again. I wonder if we will ever see in the future a "gotcha" set of three months when temperatures are below average for an entire season across the lower 48 states. Pick three numbers between 1 and 118 (with one representing the coldest possible ranking and 118 being the highest possible ranking) for DEC 2012. The highest possible ranking will be 119 for JAN and FEB 2013. Also pick a "Power Ball" or overall ranking number for winter 2012 between 1 and 118. Please give your picks in the reply section to this blog by January 5th, 2013...I'm giving folks a bit more time this go round due to the holidays. As usual, if you wait until just before January 5th to make your picks, you can get an educated guess as to what the ranking for December will be (and also a heads-up guess for January). I'll announce another winner shortly after the National Climatic Data Center processes fall averages and rankings on my next post around March 10th, 2012. Just for kicks and grins, pick the "Mega-ball" number for 2012...if you've been following along, this should be easy.

Here's a hint for December 2012: up to this writing 1,220 daily record highs have either been tied or set while only 6 daily record lows have either been tied or set.
See: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/records/daily/maxt/2012/12/00?sts[]=US#records_look_up for the latest update.

For reference the following are links to my first six posts:

http:// http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_28110.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/climate-dice-fifth-roll-blog_2012-06-25

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26573.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_26102.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_25602.html?from=blog_permalink_mainindex

http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_23192.html?from=blog_permalink_month

Once again, the fall season, as a whole, was above long term averages, but we finally saw one month below average for the first time since June 2011...October 2012. I'll reiterate once more (I know that this is getting repetitive) that due to climate change it is unlikely for a land area the size of the contiguous United States to have below average temperatures for an entire season. I'm not going to state that there will NEVER AGAIN be another below average season for the United States, but due to man induced global warming, the chances for an entire season of below average conditions is becoming much less likely. The whole point of these posts is to demonstrate how skewed temperatures have become towards warmth due to climate change...and they were much skewed towards warmth again this fall. As stated in my fourth post, only an increase in volcanic activity from what is presently occurring at the moment can significantly slow the overall warming trend of the planet. What has happened so far this year is yet more proof of the climate dice being loaded for warmth in the United States.

Here's a breakdown of the National Climatic Center's ranking numbers for each month of the fall:

In September the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 101 (out of 118):


The jet stream was oriented such that very warm weather persisted in the West with cooler than average temperatures occurring in the Midwest. Nevertheless the overall raking for the U.S. came up as 101...well above the average of 59 and very much in the red as far as rankings go. Looking at the map you can pick out each individual state ranking. Again the overall ranking of 101 is not an average of the 48 individual state rankings; rather the ranking is a comparison of temperature averages for the lower 48 states for September since 1895.

In the last couple of months NCDC revised September's ranking from 96 to 101, so Eric Fisher with his guess of 100 was the winner for that month...good going Eric! From January to September 2012 there were 10 consecutive months having rankings above 100...a phenomena that had never occurred, so far, since 1895.

In October the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 44 (out of 118):


October 2012 was a good example of how the atmosphere can line up to produce cooler than average conditions for a large geographical area, such as the continental U.S., despite an overall warming trend across the planet due to man induced climate change. One huge event did occur at the end of the month, which many climatologists attribute to climate change: Hurricane Sandy. Meteorologist Stu Ostro of The Weather Channel has written an in depth article relating Sandy to global warming. Please see:
http://www.wunderground.com/blog/stuostro/show.html?entrynum=18


For the contest of fall 2012 Dr. Jeff Masters and I tied for the best picks for October, which was 85...good going, Jeff! Our picks were too warm, overall, for the month but they were the lowest of everyone who played.

In November the overall ranking for the lower 48 states was 99 (out of 118):


The jet stream was oriented such that there was a ridge keeping conditions very warm in the West while during the early part of November cold conditions were prevalent in the East.

Our old friend Buzz Bernard was dead on target with a prediction of 99 as his pick for November...way to go Buzz for the best pick for November!

The overall ranking for fall 2012 was 98 (out of 118)...The 21st warmest fall on record.


Nevada had its warmest fall on record. Despite cold conditions in the East, the overall ranking reflecting average temperatures was well above average for the lower 48 states.

Buzz Bernard did it again...his guess of 100 for the "Power-Ball" was closest to the ranking of 98.

I am getting all of my ranking numbers from the National Climatic Data Center.
The link for the National Climatic Data Center's Climate at a Glance Site where the rankings are archived is: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/cag3.html

I'm keeping the format on all of my charts the same as on the last three posts. The average ranking for 2012 is
59 since the coldest ranking would be 1 and the hottest would be 118. I have color coded all rankings for this post at or below 38 blue and all those at or above 79 red with rankings + or -- 19 from the median value of 59 black.

The following are the rankings so far for the 2010's:


Also, for reference, the following are "Power-Ball" and "Mega-Ball" ranking numbers for 2000 to the present.
Please see my prior posts for more charts dating back to 1900. Seasonal or Power-Ball rankings for winter are those for DEC/JAN/FEB, spring are those for MAR/APR/MAY, summer is JUN/JUL/AUG, and fall is SEP/OCT/NOV. Also, keep in mind that NCDC rankings for seasons compare seasons and are not merely an average of rankings of individual months of a season or year.



Notice that since the start of 2000 only five out of fifty-two seasons have been below average or "blue". Thirty-seven out of the fifty-two seasons since 2000 have been "red" or above average. Indeed, as stated in the last post, the climate dice are very much loaded for above average temperatures for the lower 48 states looking at recent history.

I hope that everyone will have a great winter. We'll see if this winter turns out to be colder and snowier than that of 2011/2012, which was very mild, despite December 2012 starting out so warm.

Click here to leave a comment and play the climate lottery.

Guy Walton
Lead Forecaster, the Weather Channel
"That Climate Guy"


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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Severe storms, possible tornado lash Illinois

OKAWVILLE, Ill. (AP) -- Cleanup efforts were under way Wednesday in southern Illinois after a storm pounded the region with large hail and as much of six inches of rain, and spawned an apparent tornado that overturned a tractor trailer and leveled farm outbuildings.

Okawville Police Chief Steve Millikin said a tornado that he videotaped Tuesday night on his dashboard camera clipped the northern edge of his 1,400-resident Washington County village, narrowly missing the community's downtown.

"We got lucky, to be flat honest with you," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Had it come a half mile to the south, it would have come right through town, and we would have had a mess."

Millikin said the trucker in the semi rig that was blown over on Interstate 64 was slightly injured. He also said the storm leveled a house being built and damaged roofs and farm structures.

Eyewitness reports and video appear to confirm that a tornado caused that damage, although the intensity, path and length of that twister were expected to be determined Wednesday, said meteorologist Ben Miller of the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

"We're pretty sure it's a tornado," Miller said.

Portions of southern Illinois got pelted by hail at times as big as pingpong balls, with 4 to 6 inches of rain dumped by the storm since Tuesday night causing flash flooding.

Miller said the storms were expected to hound the region perhaps into the weekend.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

American Sunscapes: St. Thomas, V.I.

 ID=1592505

Julie Quandt sent us this photo from a resort on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

"The top part of the water is the infinity pool which then overlooked the ocean below," she writes. "It was the most beautiful sunset we've ever witnessed!


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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Winds could fan deadly Calif. wildfire

Residents help battle the fire in Murrieta, Calif. Firefighters say it's too soon to determine the gender of the body found in a burned home in the Campo area on Monday. Frank Bellino, The Press-Enterprise/AP

Residents help battle the fire in Murrieta, Calif. Firefighters say it's too soon to determine the gender of the body found in a burned home in the Campo area on Monday.

Frank Bellino, The Press-Enterprise/AP

Residents help battle the fire in Murrieta, Calif. Firefighters say it's too soon to determine the gender of the body found in a burned home in the Campo area on Monday.

CAMPO, Calif. (AP) â?? A fire that killed an elderly man who refused to evacuate and burned 20 homes in rural San Diego County was smoldering Tuesday, but gusty afternoon winds could push it back to life, authorities said.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters planned an all-out effort to surround the blaze, which continued to threaten about 25 homes in the rural community of Tierra del Sol near the U.S.-Mexican border, said fire spokesman Andy Menshek. Residents of two other small communities were allowed to return home earlier.

About 80 residents remained under evacuation orders.

"That is the one remaining evacuated area," Menshek said. "That's out highest priority today â?¦ we have propane tanks, downed power lines and a lot of hotspots to mop up."

The fire, which has burned nearly 4 1/2 square miles of hilly brush land since Sunday, was 55 percent contained.

Although no active flame was showing, winds began picking up Tuesday morning and gusts of up to 40 mph could hit in the afternoon, Menshek said.

"If we get one ember over the line, the fire could take off," he said.

On Monday, the body of an elderly man was retrieved from a burned home in Tierra del Sol. Neighbors reported the man missing when they saw his only vehicle parked at the home, authorities said. His identity was not immediately released, but neighbors told U-T San Diego he was 82 and had one leg.

Reverse 911 calls notifying homeowners of the evacuation order were made by the county sheriff's department. Neighbors said the man decided to remain.

"He felt that he was going to be OK if he stayed," sheriff's Lt. Rose Kurupas told the newspaper.

"He chose to stay and that's sad," Menshek said. "That's why we issue these evacuations."

Other blazes in the West remained active, blanketing some communities in eastern Washington state with smoke. The air quality in many Wenatchee and Cashmere areas was deemed either "hazardous" or "unhealthy" by state officials.

Authorities there updated the sizes of two of the state's largest fires after more accurate mapping and burnouts to create fire lines, officials said. The Wenatchee complex of fires was reported at 82 square miles, while the Table Mountain fire had burned nearly 57 square miles.

Crews also gained ground on a 5 1/2-square-mile fire in Montana's Musselshell County, allowing residents to return to about 50 homes southeast of Roundup. That blaze was human-caused and under investigation.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Floods kill dozens in India; more than 1 million flee

(AP) GAUHATI, India (AP) -- Flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains have killed at least 30 people in India's remote northeast over the last three days, officials and news reports said Monday. More than a million people have been forced to flee their homes.

Police in Gangtok said Monday that 21 bodies were recovered after flood waters washed away a highway in Sikkim state that the men were working on. Ten thousand villagers were cut off by the heavy road damage near the town of Chungthan in the mountainous region. At least eight others were feared missing after a landslide hit another part of Sikkim.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that at least four people have been killed by flooding over the last three days in the neighboring state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The Assam state government said flood waters there have killed at least seven people and forced nearly a million to leave their homes.

Military helicopters have been dropping food supplies and helping rescue stranded villagers in the worst-hit parts of Assam, local officials said. In Tinsukhia district at least 150 people have been rescued by air force helicopters, local administrator Meenakshi Sundaram said.

He said river ferries were unable to reach at least one region because heavy timbers were floating down the Brahmputra river at high speed, making it very dangerous for boats.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Miriam downgraded in Pacific; Nadine spins in Atlantic

(AP) MIAMI (AP) -- Forecasters say Miriam is rapidly weakening and has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm well off Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Miriam had top sustained winds of 70 mph at 5 a.m. EDT Wednesday, down sharply from a day earlier. The storm was centered about 430 miles west-southwest of the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.

Miriam is moving northwest at 6 mph. No coastal watches or warnings are in effect and more weakening is expected.

In the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Nadine remains far from land. It is about 530 miles south-southwest of the Azores islands with top sustained winds of about 45 mph. Nadine has been spinning in the Atlantic for more than two weeks.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Zombie bees invade Washington state

A bee makes its rounds in a flower garden in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on Monday. Kathy Plonka AP

A bee makes its rounds in a flower garden in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on Monday.

Kathy Plonka AP

A bee makes its rounds in a flower garden in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on Monday.

SEATTLE (AP) -- The infection is as grim as it sounds: "Zombie bees" have a parasite that causes them to fly at night and lurch around erratically until they die.

And experts say the condition has crept into Washington state.

"I joke with my kids that the zombie apocalypse is starting at my house," said Mark Hohn, a novice beekeeper who spotted the infected insects at his suburban Seattle home.

Hohn returned from vacation a few weeks ago to find many of his bees either dead or flying in jerky patterns and then flopping on the floor.

He remembered hearing about zombie bees, so he collected several of the corpses and popped them into a plastic bag. About a week later, the Kent man had evidence his bees were infected: the pupae of parasitic flies.

"Curiosity got the better of me," Hohn said.

The zombie bees were the first to be confirmed in Washington state, The Seattle Times reported.

San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik first discovered zombie bees in California in 2008.

Hafernik now uses a website to recruit citizen scientists like Hohn to track the infection across the country. Observers also have found zombie bees in Oregon and South Dakota.

The infection is another threat to bees that are needed to pollinate crops. Hives have been failing in recent years due to a mysterious ailment called colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly die.

The life cycle of the fly that infects zombie bees is reminiscent of the movie "Alien," the newspaper reported. A small adult female lands on the back of a honeybee and injects eggs into the bee's abdomen. The eggs hatch into maggots.

"They basically eat the insides out of the bee," Hafernik said.

After consuming their host, the maggots pupate, forming a hard outer shell that looks like a fat, brown grain of rice. That's what Hohn found in the plastic bag with the dead bees. Adult flies emerge in three to four weeks.

There's no evidence yet that the parasitic fly is a major player in the bees' decline, but it does seem the pest is targeting new hosts, said Steve Sheppard, chairman of the entomology department at Washington State University.

"It may occur a lot more widely than we think," he said.

That's what Hafernik hopes to find out with his website, zombeewatch.org. The site offers simple instructions for collecting suspect bees, watching for signs of parasites and reporting the results.

Once more people start looking, the number of sightings will probably climb, Hohn said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Air Force One aborts landing

Not even Air Force One is immune from the weather.

The Air Force confirms that the president's plane had to abort an initial landing at the airport in Toledo, Ohio, because of bad weather.

The president and his party were never in danger.

"The aircraft commander made the decision to circle the airfield and landed uneventfully a few moments later when weather had lifted," the statement said. "There was no delay to the president's schedule."

Obama, who spoke at Bowling Green State University near Toledo, later had an uneventful landing at the Akron-Canton airport.

From the Toledo pool report:

"Apparently AF1 does take into account the weather.

"Just as the plane was about to land in Toledo, amid turbulence and midway through gaggle -- runway was visible -- AF1 ascended and made another pass. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, after consulting with crew, returned to press cabin and said the issue was weather related."


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Indian Ocean earthquakes triggered quakes globally

Residents flee to higher ground after tsunami warnings April 11. A quake off Indonesia's western coast shook this Thai province of Phuket. AP

Residents flee to higher ground after tsunami warnings April 11. A quake off Indonesia's western coast shook this Thai province of Phuket.

AP

Residents flee to higher ground after tsunami warnings April 11. A quake off Indonesia's western coast shook this Thai province of Phuket.

Giant earthquakes that rocked the Indian Ocean in April had global effects, triggering sizable quakes off the Oregon and Mexican coasts and elsewhere, geologists reported Wednesday.

The undersea quakes on April 11, which measured magnitude 8.6 and 8.2, struck about 300 miles southwest of Indonesia's Aceh province. The larger quake was among the 20 most powerful recorded in the past century, and the pair triggered tsunami warnings around the Indian Ocean. Those were soon canceled when only small waves washed onto coastal beaches. But their effects now appear to have been more far-reaching, an idea once seen as unlikely by geologists.

"The energy from the earthquakes radiated sideways around the planet and likely triggered many more events," says Fred Pollitz of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. He led the analysis in the journal Nature, which looked for links between the quakes April 11 and the jump in quakes of magnitude 5.5 or stronger seen worldwide in the days afterward. The number was five times higher than normal.

The Indonesia quakes were so-called slip-strike quakes in which portions of the Earth's crust slide sideways against each other. The unusual sideways motion of the quakes April 11 prevented them from raising large tsunami waves but appears to have more efficiently sent the "ground waves" they created traveling worldwide. Normally, aftershocks or quakes triggered by large quakes are contained within a relatively local zone.

"Essentially, we're seeing here the entire globe become an aftershock zone of these two earthquakes," says seismologist Aaron Velasco of the University of Texas-El Paso, who was not part of the study. " A decade ago we would have laughed at thinking there was a connection, but we see pretty clear links in this case."

One related quake was the magnitude-7.0 quake that struck in the Gulf of California on April 12. The study says the odds are 1 in 300 of a swarm of quakes like that one happening by chance so soon after the Indian Ocean events. These triggered quakes fell most heavily in regions that seismological measures show were the most stressed by ground waves from the quakes April 11.

Earthquake experts hotly debate a possible link between the magnitude-9.1 Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004 that killed 230,000 people and a large increase in quakes since, says Georgia Tech earthquake expert Zhigang Peng. The triggered events seen from the quakes April 11 don't settle that debate, he says, but the analysis "provides a hope for scientists to search for further evidence, or lack of evidence, to link those great earthquakes."

For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lovebugs at their worst this season

A pair of Lovebugs are seen as they mate on a sweet potato vine leaf in Port Charlotte, Fla. Nina Greipel, AP

A pair of Lovebugs are seen as they mate on a sweet potato vine leaf in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Nina Greipel, AP

A pair of Lovebugs are seen as they mate on a sweet potato vine leaf in Port Charlotte, Fla.

A trip to see Louisiana State University's football team go up against an opponent in Tiger Stadium means at least two car washes for Adam Young.

That's one after he arrives in Baton Rouge and another when he returns to Shreveport-Bossier City, La.

Young isn't a neat freak. Rather, he's just playing good defense against one of the South's most prolific pests: the lovebug.

Twice a year -- March and September -- the winged insect emerges from a dormant stage, taking to the air en masse. In the process, thousands of lovebugs end up on windshields, headlights and radiator grilles.

"I went through a whole gallon of windshield wiper solution," Young said
of a recent trip down south. "When you are going 80 mph on Interstate 49, it sounds like you are driving through rain."

Gulf Coast states -- Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- are seeing more lovebugs this fall than in previous seasons. Reasons for the influx vary, entomologists say, but generally wet, hot and humid conditions are ideal for breeding.

In Texas, more rain following drought conditions in years past may explain why there seems to be more lovebugs. The numbers appear to be so great that Mike Merchant of Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension Service in Dallas says he recently received a phone call from a friend living in the Houston area who had lovebugs covering an exterior wall of his home.

"It's the worst he's ever seen them down there," Merchant said.

Lovebugs -- so nicknamed because they are often found mating in flight -- are black flies with a reddish-orange thorax. A little less than half an inch long, the flies live for about a week but are abundant for a month or so as new adults emerge, according to AgriLIFE.

The flies, which eat decayed plant matter, essentially are harmless, Louisiana State University AgCenter extension agent Bennett Joffrion said.

It can be a different matter when the bugs are clogging up a radiator or splattered on car paint.

"You don't want to leave it on your vehicle for any length of time; they tend to have an acidic nature," Joffrion said.

Bath also reports for The (Shreveport, La.) Times

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Stubborn drought maintains grip on lower 48 states

Central Illinois farmers harvest their soybean crops on Sunday in Farmingdale, Ill. With the U.S. enduring its worst drought in decades, corn and soybean prices have soared this summer. Seth Perlman AP

Central Illinois farmers harvest their soybean crops on Sunday in Farmingdale, Ill. With the U.S. enduring its worst drought in decades, corn and soybean prices have soared this summer.

Seth Perlman AP

Central Illinois farmers harvest their soybean crops on Sunday in Farmingdale, Ill. With the U.S. enduring its worst drought in decades, corn and soybean prices have soared this summer.

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The nation's worst drought in decades consumed a larger portion of the lower 48 states last week with the Midwest corn harvest in full swing, according to the latest update by a drought-tracking consortium released Thursday.

The U.S. Drought Monitor's new map shows 65.5 percent of the contiguous U.S. experiencing some form of drought as of Tuesday, creeping up from 64.8 percent a week earlier. The portion of the U.S. in extreme or exceptional drought â?? the two worst classifications â?? rose three-quarters of a percentage point to 21.5 percent.

The latest update did not reflect storms that pounded portions of Missouri and Illinois this week, in some areas dumping as much as 7 inches of rain that growers embrace as potentially beneficial to soybean crops still in the fields. Farmers also welcome moisture in the fall and snow in the winter that softens the soil and provides needed saturation for the next planting season.

Storms were expected in portions of the nation's midsection into the weekend, with some states needing the rain more than others.

The latest map released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln showed that the area of Iowa, the nation's biggest corn producer, deemed to be in exceptional drought rose from 2.4 percent last week to 2.5 percent. The area of land subject to that most severe classification increased 2.3 percentage points in Nebraska to 73.25 percent, while conditions in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana did not change.

Over the next few days, "unfortunately little if any rain is expected to fall across the hard-hit drought areas in the eastern Dakotas, eastern Nebraska and the Upper Mississippi Valley/Upper Great Lakes region," Anthony Artusa of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center wrote in Thursday's update.

The forecast rain will have no impact on the already-matured corn crop currently being harvested.

As of Monday, 39 percent of that crop had been brought in from the fields â?? three times more than by this date in the previous five years due to early planting, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. More than 54 percent of the corn crop in Illinois has been harvested, while Iowa has harvested 37 percent and Missouri 80 percent.

About 51 percent of the U.S. corn crop is classified as being in poor or very poor shape, essentially unchanged from a week earlier, the USDA said. A year ago, 20 percent of corn in the fields was listed that way.

Twenty-two percent of the U.S. soybean crops have been harvested, with 34 percent considered poor or very poor, the USDA said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

This year's Harvest Moon rises Sept. 29

A full moon captured July 18, 2008. NASA/Sean Smith

A full moon captured July 18, 2008.

NASA/Sean Smith

A full moon captured July 18, 2008.

If you've ever wondered what, exactly, a harvest moon looks like, poke your head outside Saturday. That's when this year's harvest moon will rise.

The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox,

which this year was on Sept. 22.

It's different from the other full moons because it rises at roughly the same time for several nights running, giving more light.

"In the days before tractors with headlights, having moonlight to work by was crucial to getting the harvest in quickly before rain caused it to rot," says Alan MacRobert, an editor at Sky &Telescope magazine.

The harvest moon will rise this year at 11:19 p.m. ET.

On average, the moon rises 50 minutes later each day than it did the day before. However, at this time of year, because of the angle of the moon as it orbits Earth, "the moon is rising at roughly the same time it rose the night before," says Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

So for about three days in a row, the full moon is coming up just after the sun sets.

"This brings a great deal of light into the early evening sky, which was important for the people harvesting because it extended the period of useful work time they could work in the fields," Krupp says.

The moon may look bigger and seem closer, but it's not, says David DeVorkin, a senior curator at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Generally, photos of harvest moons are taken with telephoto lenses, distorting the size. The harvest moon can appear more reddish, though, because of coloration caused by dust in the atmosphere, but it depends on where you are.

The change in the time of moonrise "has to do with the angle along which the moon is traveling in its orbit," Krupp says. At the fall equinox, "the angle is very shallow, so it doesn't go so far below the horizon and as a result comes up again at about the same time."

The harvest moon isn't the only one to have a name, though few are remembered now. The new moon after the harvest moon was typically called Hunter's moon, because it aided hunters stalking night game as fall deepened.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

'Daughter of Isaac' could hit Gulf Coast

It could be stormy deja vu all over again for the Gulf Coast this weekend, as remnants of Hurricane Isaac meander in the Gulf of Mexico just off Pensacola, Fla.

This area of disturbed weather "could become a tropical depression as early as Thursday, though Friday is more likely," says Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters. He adds that the storm would probably make landfall along the Florida Panhandle or west coast of Florida on Sunday.

If the disturbance reaches the 39-mph threshold to become a named storm, the "daughter of Isaac" would be called Nadine.

Regardless of whether it becomes a named storm, bad weather is likely along the Gulf Coast for the next several days.

"Very humid air, combined with the disturbance, will unleash downpours and the potential for flash flooding from part of the Louisiana coast to the Florida Panhandle," reports AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Elsewhere in the tropics, Hurricane Leslie became the sixth hurricane of the season far out in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday afternoon, and could hit Bermuda over the weekend and eastern Canada next week, the National Hurricane Center reported. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Leslie had sustained winds of 75 mph, and was crawling to the north at 2 mph. The hurricane was 460 miles south southeast of Bermuda.


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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer 2012 was the USA's third-hottest on record

The USA just endured its third-hottest summer on record, and it looks like the fall is on track to be warmer than average too, scientists reported Monday.

States in red (Wyoming and Colorado) had their warmest summer on record, while all the states in orange had one of their top-ten warmest summers on record. No states saw a below average summer for temperatures. National Climatic Data Center

States in red (Wyoming and Colorado) had their warmest summer on record, while all the states in orange had one of their top-ten warmest summers on record. No states saw a below average summer for temperatures.

National Climatic Data Center

States in red (Wyoming and Colorado) had their warmest summer on record, while all the states in orange had one of their top-ten warmest summers on record. No states saw a below average summer for temperatures.

For the entire year to date, the nation is having its warmest year since records began in 1895, said the report by the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

About 80 million Americans sweltered through 100-degree temperatures at some point this summer, the climate center noted in its report.

The warmth should continue for much of the nation over the next several months: "We're looking at a warmer-than-average fall," especially east of the Rockies, AccuWeather meteorologist Jack Boston said.

He adds that cooler-than-average temperatures should be confined to the far west this fall, however, with mountain snows possible by early October.

With the El Niño climate pattern now in effect, "the best chances for above-normal temperatures this fall are in the northern tier of the nation," mainly east of the Rockies, forecaster Jon Gottschalck of the Climate Prediction Center said.

Seven of the 10 hottest summers in U.S. history have occurred since 2000. Average summer temperature:

Year / Avg.:

1936: 74.64

2011: 74.49

2012: 74.41

2006: 74.36

1934: 74.18

2002: 73.96

2010: 73.95

1988: 73.92

2007: 73.90

2003: 73.53

Source: NOAA

El Niño is a periodic warming of Pacific Ocean water temperatures that influences weather in the USA and around the world.

The summer heat this year really ramped up in July, which ended up as the hottest month in U.S. history.

"The heat was widespread in July," scientist Jake Crouch of the National Climatic Data Center said. The worst of the heat eased a bit in August, he said, which prevented the summer from being the hottest on record.

The climate center defines summer as June 1-Aug. 31. Seven of the 10 hottest summers in U.S. history have occurred since 2000, and the nation has experienced its second- and third-warmest summers in back-to-back years.

This may be a signal of climate change: "All of this fits into the longer-term warming trend," Crouch told the environmental group Climate Central.

Other highlights of summer:

•The average U.S. temperature during the summer was 74.4 degrees, which was 2.3 degrees above the long-term (1901-2000) average. Only 1936, at 74.6 degrees, and 2011, at 74.5 degrees, were warmer.

•Two states — Colorado and Wyoming — had their warmest summer on record.

•As for rainfall, the nation saw extremes this summer: Nebraska and Wyoming had their driest summer on record, while Florida had its wettest summer.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

American Sunscapes: Destin, Fla.

"A glow outside our condo in Destin, Fla., coaxed me outside onto the balcony," says Susan Stanley, the photographer. "The glorious sunset made it look as though the sky and the ocean were on fire!"

Send us your favorite American Sunscapes photo from your area or vacation spot. We'll select the best to appear in American Sunscapes. We will notify you if yours has been picked.

A few guidelines:

1. Please submit only one photo.

2. It should be recent (this year) and it must be your original work on which you control all the rights.

3. Include a sentence or two of description about where the photo was taken.

4. Don't forget to send us your name, so we can give you a photo credit. Include your e-mail address and/or phone number (which we will NOT publish) in case we have any questions.

5. E-mail the photo (with the word 'sunset' in the subject line) to OnDeadline@usatoday.com


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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rain aids battle against California wildfire

LOS ANGELES – Rain arrived Wednesday to help in the assault on a 3,800-acre fire in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

A firefighter covers his face against the heat of advancing flames at the Williams fire in the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday north of Glendora, Calif. By David McNew, Getty Images

A firefighter covers his face against the heat of advancing flames at the Williams fire in the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday north of Glendora, Calif.

By David McNew, Getty Images

A firefighter covers his face against the heat of advancing flames at the Williams fire in the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday north of Glendora, Calif.

Remnants of Tropical Storm John brought the precipitation and darkened the skies over the Angeles National Forest where firefighters have been working on steep slopes since Sunday to put out a blaze in chaparral that hasn't burned in 15 or 20 years.

With the showers came the risk of dry lightning, which has already started more than 50 fires in California this summer, said National Weather Service specialist Stuart Seto.

The latest fire started northeast of Los Angeles and was 24 percent contained before the rains came, officials said. It was expected to be fully surrounded on Sept. 13.

There were nearly 1,300 firefighters on hand despite the treacherous terrain and slopes between 30 percent and 80 percent. At least five firefighters have sustained minor injuries.

A 25 percent chance of thunderstorms continues in the area through Thursday, Seto said.

Temperatures will decrease a few degrees, but uncomfortable humidity will rise from 20 percent in the morning to as much as 70 percent later in the day, Seto said.

The moisture is the last hurrah from the storm from the south, which got churned up in a low pressure system approaching from the north, Seto explained.

Firefighters can also expect winds from the southwest of about 15 mph, he said. Winds on the fire front could be different, he said, since fires create their own winds.

By the weekend, a high-pressure system should arrive, clearing the skies and raising temperatures a few degrees but lowering humidity, Seto said.

On the fire lines, crews have eight air tankers, 10 helicopters, 68 engines, eight dozers and 11 water tenders.

Firefighters are still looking for a cause. A burned car was found in the area, but it was unknown if the car caused the fire or was just destroyed by it.

As many as 12,000 people were asked to leave the area over the busy Labor Day weekend. About 25 residents of the nearby community of Camp Williams refused to leave.

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Near-disaster in La. raises questions about evacuations

AMITE, La. – With Hurricane Isaac still pouring down, a park ranger in southern Mississippi spotted an alarming sight: two 100-foot hunks of earth missing from the downstream face of Percy Quin Dam, the only barrier holding back the Tangipahoa Lake from the dangerously rain-swollen Tangipahoa River.

Firefighters pump water out of Lake Tangipahoa in an effort to relieve pressure on Percy Quin Dam, which faced the threat of flooding after being inundated with rains from Hurricane Isaac. By Matt Williamson, AP

Firefighters pump water out of Lake Tangipahoa in an effort to relieve pressure on Percy Quin Dam, which faced the threat of flooding after being inundated with rains from Hurricane Isaac.

By Matt Williamson, AP

Firefighters pump water out of Lake Tangipahoa in an effort to relieve pressure on Percy Quin Dam, which faced the threat of flooding after being inundated with rains from Hurricane Isaac.

A few phone calls later, amid National Weather Service and media reports that the dam would fail, the Tangipahoa, La., parish president Gordon Burgess, just over the state line and downstream of the lake, called for nearly half of the rural parish to evacuate. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sent 200 buses to fetch evacuees and helicoptered with Burgess over Mississippi to survey the earthen dam himself.

Now, 10 days later, the dam still holds and the crisis has ended. Evacuees — the few thousand that there were — have returned to their homes. Tangipahoa is $6 million in the hole for its disaster response and evacuation.

And Burgess, parish president for 26 years, says he'd make the same decision all over again.

"I'd rather say we wasted our efforts than have someone lose a life," Burgess says. "What if we lost one person? It was worth it not to lose a life."

The near-disaster has prompted Mississippi to push forward with long-delayed plans to rebuild the 1930s-era dam, but it also raises questions about when officials should order evacuations and whether anyone will listen.

"You're erring on the side of caution," says Barry Scanlon, president of Witt Associates, a disaster management consulting firm founded by former FEMA administrator James Lee Witt. "A few more hours of stalled Isaac and it may not have turned out so well."

Evacuations are costly, disruptive and wearying. New Orleans, bolstered by a new levee system, told its residents to stay put, while south of the city the parish president of Plaquemines told most of the parish to get out ahead of the storm surge. In coastal Mississippi, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said after the storm inundated the city that he wishes he had ordered a mandatory evacuation.

"These are not decisions that a governor or mayor make lightly," Scanlon said. "They understand how much it will disrupt the community. They understand the cost."

Burgess of Tangipahoa is still tallying the costs, but he estimates the parish of 120,000 spent about $6 million. About 1,300 people evacuated to local shelters at schools and churches. Some residents sought refuge with friends and relatives on higher ground.

"In 26 years, no, I've never ordered an evacuation to this magnitude from the Mississippi line to Lake Pontchartain — 54 miles. That'll make you sit up and take notice," Burgess says. "We didn't know exactly how many people would be affected, whether it would be 1,000 or 10,000. It's a tough call, a tough call."

To the south, New Orleans wrestled with the fraught possibility of not calling for a mandatory evacuation during a hurricane for the first time since Hurricane Katrina broke the city's levees and flooded 80% of the city in 2005.

An evacuation order in New Orleans now triggers a hurricane plan that directs residents to 24 pickup points across the city, sends buses to fetch them and transports them to shelters, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in an interview. A similar evacuation before Hurricane Gustav in 2008 moved thousands of residents out of the city and more than a million out of southern Louisiana.

New Orleans requires mandatory evacuation if a storm reaches Category 3 status, with 111 mph or greater winds, five days before it is expected to hit land. Hurricane Isaac clocked in as a weak Category 1 storm with winds churning at 80 mph. But the categories measure only wind and don't factor in rainfall and storm surge. So on Monday, Aug. 27, less than 24 hours before Isaac struck, Landrieu was still weighing a mandatory evacuation.

"It's a very difficult call to make," Landrieu said. "The unpredictability of this storm's path and (storm) surge made it that much more difficult."

Ultimately, New Orleans battened down and weathered the storm, closely monitoring its newly refurbished $14.5 billion hurricane protection system of levees, barriers and floodgates. That system was incomplete when Gustav struck.

Ordering an evacuation — or not — is an imprecise science, Landrieu said.

"Some of it is guess work. Some of it is good planning. Some of it is making the best call with the best science you can get," Landrieu said. "But sometimes storms don't present themselves that cleanly."

Evacuating each time a storm threatens can be economically and psychologically crippling to a city, especially after taxpayers spent billions on protection system, said Richard Campanella, a Tulane University geographer who has studied the improvements.

"If we're going to build this infrastructure to such high degrees and put all this money into it, we need to have enough faith in it that it's going to hold," Campanella said.

"The right decision was made."

On the Mississippi/Louisiana border that Thursday morning, nothing about the situation was clear.

Geologist and dam safety engineer Mike Meadows, of Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) told the park manager Thursday morning to call the local emergency manager and notify the National Weather Service. Then he drove the two hours from Jackson to Pike County with dam safety engineer Natalie Sigsby, to inspect the dam, said James MacLellan, director of dam safety for the Mississippi DEQ.

Before Meadows and Sigsby arrived around 9 a.m., the National Weather Service in New Orleans warned of flash floods in southwestern Pike County, downstream of the Tangipahoa River after local emergency management and law enforcement officials reported that the Lake Tangipahoa Dam is "expected to fail."

Meadows and Sigsby surveyed the 2,300-foot long, 25-foot high dam and concluded "all we can do is monitor the situation" until the rain stopped and the river crested, MacLellan said. Once the water stopped rising, the engineers could use pumps to lower the water level to relieve pressure and dig a channel to direct water around the dam.

"If the dam was going to breach, there was nothing that could have been humanly done to stop it," MacLellan said.

But, he said, early signs indicated the dam would hold.

"A slide is a nervous situation. We don't like to see it because there's not much we can do," he said. "But there was still 50 feet of clay between the water and the slide. It's a serious concern, but there are scarier situations."

Col. Jeff Eckstein, commander of the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a civil engineer, arrived that afternoon with two engineers. The real danger, Eckstein said, would come if the water overtopped the dam and washed away more of the earthen dam.

"The water was rising. You could see the two slides. It did not look good, but you could tell it was not about to fail," Eckstein said.

MacLellan called media reports an overreaction.

"CNN was saying the dam had failed and there was a huge wall of water heading to Louisiana," he said. "Next thing we knew, there was a helicopter from Louisiana flying overhead of the dam."

In Tangipahoa, Burgess and other parish officials were dialed in to the state's daily emergency briefing when they saw media reports that the dam was about to fail. Not long after, the governor's office called and told Burgess to order a mandatory evacuation for people living a half-mile on either side of the river — an order that the parish estimated would affect 30,000 to 40,000 people.

The governor promised to send 200 buses, 39, Humvees, 27 high-water vehicles, 19 boats, 14 ambulances and 300 National Guard troops.

"Good gracious. It took me about 10 minutes to get my bearings," Burgess said. "In 12 hours, my parish might be inundated with water."

Tangipahoa Parish had experienced flooding before. In 1983, the raging river had taken out the two-lane bridge in Amite that connects one side of the parish to the other, said parish spokesman Jeff McKneely.

Burgess and his staff began calling local mayors, media and community organizations to spread the word. Parish offices filled with media from around the nation.

"My phone was ringing off the wall. We've got 100 or 200 lines. Seems like they all lit up at the same time," he said. "People would say, 'My place didn't get any water in the 1983 flood so I'm not going to leave.' And we would plead with them to get out of harm's way."

The updates on the parish website on Aug. 29 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. offer a glimpse of the quickly changing information that spread among the states, the emergency managers, local officials and the media.

The first alert warns of "imminent failure" of the dam at Lake Tanipahoa. A second alert says Mississippi's emergency management agency had notified the state and parish government that the dam "is failing." The third alert notes that the dam "is damaged but has not failed."

When Jindal arrived, he took Burgess in his helicopter to see the dam.

"Looking at the dam, it was close to breaching. It had about 100 feet of slough. I was thinking, gosh, that could happen any minute," Burgess said.

At a press conference after the flight, Jindal said Mississippi officials had told him the dam was still sound, but he urged residents to evacuate anyway "because we don't know that for a fact."

Meanwhile, MacLellan had asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to draw up new inundation maps that would show how far the water would go if the dam broke, so Louisiana would have an accurate way to determine which communities should evacuate. A National Guard combat engineer unit was dispatched to clear a forest and dig down through 30 feet of hillside to create a 600-foot long channel that would divert water around the dam arrived Thursday afternoon.

On Friday morning, dam engineers decided they needed to drop the lake at least eight feet below to lift pressure and make repairs on the dam, MacLellan said. Since then, huge pumps on loan from the Army Corps of Engineers pumped 140,000 gallons a minute, dropping the lake about a foot a day. A week later, MacLellan said, the dam was stable and ready for reconstruction.

Even without the dam breach, Tangipahoa suffered from serious flooding and 1,500 homes were damaged, McKneely said. The parish did not overreact, he said.

"I don't think you'll ever hear anyone say this was 'just' a Category 1," McKneely said.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Bermuda braces for approaching Hurricane Leslie

HAMILTON, Bermuda – Tourists postponed holidays in Bermuda and locals stocked up on emergency supplies as Hurricane Leslie slowly approached the wealthy British Atlantic territory on Thursday.

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass over or near Bermuda on Sunday. AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass over or near Bermuda on Sunday.

AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass over or near Bermuda on Sunday.

Hotel cancellations have been reported across the territory, which is popular with tourists for its pink sand beaches and with businesspeople as an offshore financial haven.

Leslie's center was forecast to pass to the east of Bermuda on Sunday morning, possibly as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of nearly 105 mph.

On Thursday, it was barely moving northward at about 2 mph over open ocean, centered some 430 miles south-southeast of Bermuda. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was expected to intensify on Friday.

South shore beaches were closed as the approaching storm whipped up surf and residents stocked up on food, propane, tarp, flashlights and water.

"It's great to see people are not waiting until the last minute. We only have three empty shopping carts left at the moment," said Henry Durham, the boss at Gorham's hardware store.

Some were relatively unfazed since the territory enforces strict building codes to withstand rough weather. Homes must be built with walls at least 8 inches thick and be able to withstand 150 mph wind gusts. Many power and phone lines run underground.

British software developer Toby Crawford and thousands of other expatriate workers in Bermuda gradually got ready for the hurricane's pounding rains and driving winds.

"The landlord assures me we have a very sturdy roof," said Crawford, who moved to Bermuda from London a year ago with his wife, Michelle. "I'm looking forward to it, having not experienced one before."

Michelle Crawford said the couple will do their best to combat boredom while being confined to their apartment in Pembroke, near the capital of Hamilton.

"I have to admit we've opted for the alcohol route as well. We've heard that people have hurricane parties, but so far Toby and I are just planning to hole up at our house with books, board games and wine," she said.

On Wednesday, when Leslie was forecast to nearly make a direct hit, National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief urged all residents to "prepare for the worst."

Swells from Leslie have been affecting Bermuda, the U.S. East Coast, the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The swells could cause life-threatening surf and rip currents.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Michael on Thursday strengthened to a Category 3 storm, the first of the Atlantic hurricane season.

It was not a threat to land and was spinning over open ocean about 980 miles west-southwest of the Azores.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

USGS: Small earthquakes rattling California not related

The small earthquakes that rattled Central and Southern California late last week aren't related to each other, nor are they predictors of larger, more dangerous quakes, scientists say.

Neither the earthquakes near Fresno (orange dot, upper left) nor the ones near Los Angeles (orange dot in L.A.) were on the San Andreas Fault (thick red line). U.S. Geological Survey

Neither the earthquakes near Fresno (orange dot, upper left) nor the ones near Los Angeles (orange dot in L.A.) were on the San Andreas Fault (thick red line).

U.S. Geological Survey

Neither the earthquakes near Fresno (orange dot, upper left) nor the ones near Los Angeles (orange dot in L.A.) were on the San Andreas Fault (thick red line).

"As far as we know, they aren't related," says Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo.

Two quakes — magnitude 4.0 and 4.1 — struck Fresno County on Friday morning. And about six hours earlier, a magnitude 3.4 quake was felt by thousands of people in Beverly Hills.

Kate Hutton, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, said Sunday that she doesn't see how an earthquake as small as the magnitude-3.4 temblor in Beverly Hills could trigger a quake as far away as Fresno County. "That's too far," she said. However, she points out that Beverly Hills was struck by a magnitude-3.2 quake last Monday, and that was probably a foreshock of the 3.4 quake Friday.

Neither the Fresno quakes nor the Beverly Hills quakes were on the famed San Andreas Fault, which runs through California.

"California has quakes all the time," says Caruso. On average, Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes each year, many so small they cannot be felt, the U.S. Geological Survey reports.

No damage or injuries were reported in Friday's earthquakes. Caruso says significant damage usually occurs only at magnitude 5.5 and above. There haven't been any significant quakes in Southern California since Friday, Hutton said.

Additionally, while a small earthquake may temporarily ease stress on a fault line, it does not prevent a larger quake, according to the California Geological Survey.

Nor are the small quakes indicators of bigger events, says John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Could the quakes have been triggered by Thursday's big, magnitude-7.6 quake in Costa Rica?

"There might be some controversy about whether they are related, but actually we are too far away from Costa Rica for one quake to influence another that much," Hutton said.

Vidale concurs: There wasn't enough energy in the Costa Rica quake to trigger other quakes as far away as California, he says. Costa Rica and Southern California are about 2,700 miles apart.

Also, on Aug. 25, an earthquake "swarm" was reported in the California desert near Brawley, a few miles north of the Mexican border. Only minor damage was reported. Again, that swarm can't be tied into Friday's quakes, Caruso says.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tropical Storm Leslie slowly moves past Bermuda

HAMILTON, Bermuda – Tropical Storm Leslie's outer bands buffeted Bermuda with gusty winds and rain Sunday as it slowly edged past the wary British enclave on a path that was expected to take it to Canada's Newfoundland later in the week.

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass east of Bermuda on Sunday afternoon or evening. AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass east of Bermuda on Sunday afternoon or evening.

AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass east of Bermuda on Sunday afternoon or evening.

The government reopened the L.F. Wade International Airport in the early evening after keeping it closed for most of the day due to tropical storm winds. Major airlines already had canceled flights to the British Atlantic territory of about 65,000 inhabitants.

As Leslie gradually spun away from Bermuda into the northern Atlantic, the Bermuda Police Service said there were no reports of any major damage or injuries. Bus services resumed.

But scattered power outages affected hundreds of customers, and some roads were littered with tree branches and other debris. At least one street pole fell in central Hamilton.

Government officials were breathing a sigh of relief since Leslie had several days ago been forecast to be a Category 2 hurricane as it passed Bermuda, possibly as a direct strike.

"Despite a few power outages and cancelled flights it will be business as usual tomorrow. I would ask the public to remain cautious as there may be loose tree limbs and debris, and the ocean is still dangerous for swimming," said National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief.

Schools will not hold classes Monday, and sea ferry services were suspended while the fleet and docks are inspected.

Most residents of Bermuda, a financial haven and tourist destination about 600 miles off the U.S. East Coast, were taking the effects of the storm in stride. The territory has tough building codes and its people are used to strong storms.

"It's an excuse for a lazy day at home," said Natasha Hector, a resident of Bermuda's Southampton parish who is originally from Oxfordshire, England.

Tia Smith hunkered down at home Sunday in Hamilton parish with her husband, Tim; 5-year-old daughter, Willow; and 1-year-old son, Rowan. She said they dutifully prepared for a hurricane in recent days.

"Just a quiet day of movies and board games for us," she said.

Philippa Raven, who is visiting from London, said she was enjoying watching the storm from her friends' hilltop home.

"It's a good view and it's quite nice just watching it outside when you are cozy inside," said Raven, who arrived in Bermuda on Thursday.

Bermuda was forecast to get from two to four inches of rain from Leslie.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm had weakened slightly early Sunday, and it maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. Tropical storm winds extended up to 195 miles from its center. By late afternoon, it was about 175 miles east-northeast of Bermuda and moving north at 14 mph.

U.S. forecasters said Leslie could regain hurricane strength Tuesday over open ocean as it was expected to approach Newfoundland.

As Leslie moves northward, swells kicked up by the storm will affect Bermuda, the U.S. East Coast, the Canadian Maritimes, the northern Leeward Islands and the U.S. Caribbean territories for the next couple of days.

Far out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Michael was a Category 1 storm, with maximum sustained winds of about 90 mph and was not considered any threat to land. For a few hours Thursday, it was the first Category 3 of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Michael was moving slowly toward the west at 5 mph. It was expected to take a turn to the northwest and then north-northwest Monday. It was forecast to weaken to a tropical storm by Tuesday.

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Bermuda on alert as storm likely to skirt island

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) – People in Bermuda braced Friday for a weekend of rough weather from Tropical Storm Leslie as forecasters said the system would likely regain strength and become a hurricane again while passing to the east of this Atlantic Ocean island.

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass over or near Bermuda on Sunday. AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass over or near Bermuda on Sunday.

AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass over or near Bermuda on Sunday.

The Bermuda Weather Service said the storm was on track to pass about 200 miles (321 kilometers) east-southeast of the island late Sunday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane.

"It appears that Bermuda will be spared a direct impact," said Wayne Perinchief, the national security minister for the British territory. "However, I urge the public to remain cautious as there is the potential for the storm to re-intensify and change track, and we could experience heavy rain and winds in shower bands."

Some businesses were closing early and people crowded into shops to stock up on emergency supplies. At least one cruise ship canceled a stop in Bermuda and the airport was expected to close.

There was no widespread panic because the island, a wealthy offshore financial haven and tourist destination, has strong building codes and is accustomed to storms.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Leslie resumed forward movement Friday after staying stationary overnight. Late Friday, the storm had top sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph), below the hurricane threshold of 74 mph (120 kph).

The storm was about 360 miles (575 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda and was moving north at 3 mph (6 kph). The U.S. center said it would likely strengthen Saturday and Sunday, adding that Leslie also was expected to begin gradually increasing its forward speed.

Out in the middle of the Atlantic, Hurricane Michael was a category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph). On Thursday, it was briefly the first Category 3 of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Michael was moving northwest at 6 mph (9 kph) over the open ocean and was not a threat to land. It was about 940 miles (1,515 kilometers) west-southwest of the Azores.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

In La., Miss., 'heartbreaking' path to recovery from Isaac

KENNER, La.. – Although efforts to keep New Orleans safe in the path of a hurricane proved effective, people in surrounding parishes have been left to cope this week with the impact of Hurricane Isaac's punishing rains and winds.

Eric Dixon, right, clears out debris from his son's bedroom with help from his friend Paul Matar in the Cambridge area of LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish, La. By Douglas Collier, The (Shreveport, La.) Times

Eric Dixon, right, clears out debris from his son's bedroom with help from his friend Paul Matar in the Cambridge area of LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish, La.

By Douglas Collier, The (Shreveport, La.) Times

Eric Dixon, right, clears out debris from his son's bedroom with help from his friend Paul Matar in the Cambridge area of LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish, La.

Residents here — and in Metairie, Plaquemines, LaPlace and elsewhere — sorted through the soggy mess as floodwaters receded, leaving damaged homes, decaying dead animals, scattered debris — and, in some cases, despair.

In LaPlace, where residents told harrowing stories of trying to escape chest-high waters that poured into their modest middle-class neighborhood from lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, Mary Dixon and her family started the process of rebuilding.

The family's possessions — chairs, beds, TVs, china hutch and more — were piled on the front lawn and sidewalk. Similar piles lined the streets of the city's Cambridge neighborhood where residents lost nearly everything to floodwaters that rose 4½ to 5 feet.

"How do you tell your 4-year-old there is no home to go to?" asked Dixon, 36, who relocated to LaPlace after losing her New Orleans home to Hurricane Katrina seven years earlier. "It's heartbreaking."

Little impact from Katrina, Gustav and other hurricanes lulled residents into a false sense of security, Dixon and others said.

"Everyone stayed," said Dixon, who described escaping floodwaters with her husband, Eric, two sons and mother. "We didn't have a chance."

Some of the remnant storminess from Hurricane Isaac could bring more rain and the potential for flash floods to the eastern Gulf Coast this weekend. The threat is not as high for the Louisiana Gulf Coast, however.

There is a chance this "piece of the former Isaac" could regenerate into a tropical depression, or perhaps a weak tropical storm, over the next couple of days in the central Gulf, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Jon Erdman. A depression becomes a named storm when its winds reach 39 mph; if it gets a name, it would be called Nadine.

The storm, not forecast to reach hurricane strength, could make landfall along the Florida Panhandle or west coast of Florida on Sunday, said Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.

During a break from tearing out drywall and throwing out waterlogged possessions, Dixon and her sister Judy Cimo looked up and waved as President Obama's helicopter flew overhead to survey flood ravaged areas.

"We are going to be back, we are going to rebuild, and we are going to be stronger," Cimo said.

In Plaquemines Parish this week, residents struggled to return to normalcy as local and state officials and the National Guard worked to get food, water, ice and other necessities into Port Sulphur, Venice and other communities that have been cut off since Isaac made landfall Aug. 29.

In Ironton, an unincorporated community in Plaquemines Parish, Imenii St. Cyr and his mother returned to their mobile home to retrieve clothes and what few belongings weren't damaged.

St. Cyr, who lost his home in Katrina, said he wasn't sure when the family would be allowed back and was frustrated.

"It's my home — it feels bad not to be able to come back home," St. Cyr said.

There is no electricity throughout much of the parish, cellphone service is sometimes sporadic. and most communities remain under a boil-water advisory. Many homes along the highway are inaccessible, surrounded by floodwater.

The smell of rotting dead animals — including cattle and horses — permeates the air. Standing, brackish water was filled with tree trunks and limbs, plastic bottles, ice chests, barrels, appliances, sheds and other debris. Stranded cattle stared forlornly at passing vehicles.

Officials were turning their focus toward helping displaced residents return from shelters in Shreveport and to help those who may not be returning to their homes for some time with rent assistance, she said.

"They are going to have to start over," Campbell said.

Meanwhile, in Picayune, Miss., residents were trying to recover from 20 inches of rainfall and the worst flooding the town has ever seen. In the hardest-hit neighborhood, hundreds of people lost almost everything they owned. Some, including the Sheffield family, had to be rescued from their home last week, wondering what, if anything, would be left to salvage when they returned.

"It was overwhelming to me," Ann Sheffield, 68, said. "I was in a daze. I just didn't realize it would be like that."

This week, her husband, Jerry, 80, took trips to and from his garage, transporting debris with a wheelbarrow. Ann followed close behind, heaping remnants of their lives onto a pile of ruins in the front yard.

Bath also reports for The Times of Shreveport, La. Contributing: Doyle Rice in McLean, Va.; Brian Eason, The Clarion-Ledger, in Jackson, Miss.

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Tornadoes hit NYC; violent storm tears through D.C.

NEW YORK – Damaging storms that spawned tornadoes in New York City, darkened tens of thousands of homes in the Washington, D.C., area and flooded New England streets turned a normal day of rest into a day of cleaning up for many East Coast residents on Sunday.

This photo provided by Joey Mure shows a storm cloud over the Breezy Point area of Queens section of New York on Saturday. By Joey Mure, AP

This photo provided by Joey Mure shows a storm cloud over the Breezy Point area of Queens section of New York on Saturday.

By Joey Mure, AP

This photo provided by Joey Mure shows a storm cloud over the Breezy Point area of Queens section of New York on Saturday.

No serious injuries were reported when a twister hit a beachfront neighborhood Saturday on the edge of New York City and a second, stronger tornado followed moments later about 10 miles away. Residents got advance notice but still the storm took people by surprise.

"I was showing videos of tornadoes to my 4-year-old on my phone, and two minutes later, it hit," said Breezy Point neighborhood resident Peter Maloney. "Just like they always say, it sounded like a train."

The unsettled weather, part of a cold front that crossed over the Eastern Seaboard, toppled trees and power lines and damaged buildings as it passed through. Wind gusts reached 70 mph in some places.

Tornado-like funnel clouds were reported in Fairfax County, Va., and in Prince George's County, Md., but had not been confirmed by Saturday evening, meteorologist Andy Woodcock of the National Weather Service said.

One person suffered minor injuries during a partial stage collapse at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival in Arlington County, Va., and six people were evacuated from a Washington apartment building when a tree fell on it. Fairfax County officials reported three home cave-ins because of downed trees, a water rescue in the Potomac River and dozens of electrical wires down.

By Sunday morning, about 15,000 customers were without electricity in northern Virginia, according to Dominion Virginia Power. Pepco reported outages to more than 5,000 customers in the District of Columbia and Maryland's Prince George's and Montgomery counties. BGE reported about 1,500 outages, most in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

In New York City, videos taken by bystanders showed a funnel sucking up water, then sand, and then small pieces of buildings as the first tornado moved through the Breezy Point section of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens.

At the Breezy Point Surf Club, it ripped the roofs off rows of cabanas, scattered deck chairs and left a heavy metal barbecue and propane tank sitting in the middle of a softball field, at least 100 yards from any home.

"It picked up picnic benches. It picked up Dumpsters," said the club's general manager, Thomas Sullivan.

In the storm's wake, broken flower pots, knocked-down fences and smashed windows littered the community of seaside bungalows. Half an hour later, the weather was beautiful, but Sullivan had to close the club to clean up the damage.

The roof of Bob O'Hara's cabana was torn off, leaving tubes of sunscreen, broken beer bottles and an old TV set exposed to the elements.

"We got a new sunroof," said O'Hara, who has spent summer weekends at the Breezy Point club for his entire 52 years. "The TV was getting thrown out anyway," he added.

The second twister hit to the northwest, in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn but also near the water, about seven minutes later. The National Weather Service said winds were up to 110 miles per hour, and several homes and trees were damaged.

Tornadoes are traditionally rare in the New York City area, but they have occurred with regularity in recent years. A small tornado uprooted trees on Long Island last month.

In 2010, a September storm spawned two tornadoes that knocked down thousands of trees and blew off a few rooftops in Brooklyn and Queens. A small tornado struck the same year in the Bronx. In 2007, a more powerful tornado damaged homes in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

More than 1,100 customers lost power Saturday in New York City.

Across New York state, in Buffalo, strong winds blew roofing off some buildings and sent bricks falling into the street. The city of Albany canceled the evening portion of an outdoor jazz festival because of the threat of storms.

With wind gusts reaching up to 60 mph, the storms moved into New England, flooding roads, toppling trees and snapping power lines.

For about three hours, the storm barraged western Massachusetts, western Connecticut and part of New Hampshire before tapering off near Rhode Island, but not before flooding roads in East Providence, the National Weather Service said.

In Fall River, Mass., floodwaters reached up to car windshields and stalled out dozens of vehicles. A day care center was evacuated and St. Anne's Hospital's emergency room flooded.

In New Hampshire, television station WMUR reported 4,000 power outages. The storm reached every county in Vermont, all within a two-hour window, but mercifully left the state without any extraordinary damage, according to early reports.

Weather Service meteorologist John Cannon said the storms by late Saturday had come and gone in Maine, where the concern then became high swells of 4 to 8 feet on the beaches and rip currents that would make it dangerous to be out on the water Sunday.

———

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Colleen Long in New York and Ed Donahue in Washington.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

East Coast cleaning up after weekend storms

Residents along the nation's Eastern Seaboard were left cleaning up Sunday, a day after storms ripped along the East Coast, spawning at least two tornadoes, flooding streets and toppling power lines.

Danny Fallon inspects the damage in his rental cabana where a tornado touched down in the New York City borough of Queens. By Ramin Talaie, Getty Images

Danny Fallon inspects the damage in his rental cabana where a tornado touched down in the New York City borough of Queens.

By Ramin Talaie, Getty Images

Danny Fallon inspects the damage in his rental cabana where a tornado touched down in the New York City borough of Queens.

The severe weather was part of a cold front that stretched from Washington, D.C., to Maine, as wind gusts reached up to 70 mph.

At the Breezy Point Surf Club in the New York City borough of Queens, a tornado Saturday tore the roofs off cabanas. "It picked up picnic benches. It picked up Dumpsters," said the club's general manager, Thomas Sullivan.

The club's pool remained closed because of debris and broken glass, but otherwise things were back to normal Sunday, said Caitlin Walsh, catering and events manager at the club. "It's going pretty good; we cleaned up most of it," Walsh said. "A few roofs are still off of the cabanas, but we are open today."

In the Washington, D.C., area, Dominion Virginia Power had 155,000 customers affected by the storm. By 1 p.m. Sunday all but 4,300 had their power back.

"We expect everyone to be restored by midnight," said Le-Ha Anderson, spokeswoman for Dominion. "We worked through the night."

Vermont's largest utility company said it restored power to nearly all 28,000 residences and businesses that lost electricity Saturday.

The storms reached every county in Vermont but did not leave any severe damage.

Utility crews were still working Sunday to restore power to thousands of customers across New York state. In Buffalo, the storm's straight-line winds blew roofing off buildings and sent bricks crashing into the street.

WIVB in Buffalo reported that crews will assess damaged buildings today and will carry out "selective demolition" to be sure that the structures are stable.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Cannon said the storms passed through Maine by late Saturday and the concern then became high swells of 4 to 8 feet on the beaches and rip currents that would make it dangerous to swim.

Contributing: The Associated Press bull /> b>Full weather, 12A /b>

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Remnant of Hurricane Isaac lurks in Gulf of Mexico

NEW ORLEANS – If a well-traveled remnant of last week's Hurricane Isaac becomes a tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico, it would be a rare but not unprecedented event, forecasters say.

A satellite image shows the remnants of Hurricane Isaac spinning in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA

A satellite image shows the remnants of Hurricane Isaac spinning in the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA

A satellite image shows the remnants of Hurricane Isaac spinning in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2005, a remnant from a tropical depression that dissipated near Puerto Rico eventually became part of a new depression, which became the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina.

"This is the only example that we can find in the modern era where the partial remains of a system went on to regenerate and, so, get a different designation," National Hurricane Center meteorologist Todd Kimberlain said Thursday.

Isaac struck the Gulf Coast last week, dumping heavy rain across southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and pushing in storm surge that led to widespread flooding. Thousands of homes were damaged in Louisiana, and many were left without power for days. It then moved inland across Arkansas and through the Midwest before coming back down over the Gulf.

On Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorologist Shawn O'Neill referred to the remnant as "the spawn of Isaac."

Other systems have lost tropical characteristics over land and become tropical storms again over water. Classifying a system as tropical depends on scientific measurements to determine its circulation and how well organized the system is, among other factors.

Hurricane Ivan in 2004 lasted more than 22 days in one form or another from the time it was born as a tropical depression, according to online Hurricane Center archives. It walloped south Alabama and the Florida panhandle as a Category 3 hurricane, then lost tropical characteristics as it traveled north and then went back out to sea off the coast of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Then it headed south, crossed Florida as a low pressure system and became Tropical Storm Ivan again in the Gulf. It hit Louisiana as a tropical depression.

The area of disturbed weather in the Gulf is a different phenomenon. If it becomes a tropical cyclone, it would get a new name — next on the list is Nadine. That's because it is not the same circulation system that hit southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi last week, causing severe flooding and seven deaths.

The circulation of Isaac dissipated over the Ohio valley several days ago, Kimberlain said. What drifted back down south was only a small piece of the system.

"It's a remnant of Isaac, not THE remnant of Isaac," said Barry Keim, the state climatologist at LSU.

As of Thursday, the Isaac remnant was given a 40 percent chance of strengthening into a tropical cyclone. Dry air and upper-level winds were preventing it from getting stronger Thursday.

However, it was not yet clear how long those conditions would last, nor how an approaching cold front would affect the system. Furthermore, if the system does become a tropical depression, it is too soon to tell how strong it might become or exactly what path it might take.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bermuda wary, but calm as storm likely to pass by

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) – Tropical Storm Leslie swirled northward in the Atlantic late Saturday toward Bermuda, and forecasters said it might strengthen into a hurricane again while passing to the east of this wealthy British territory.

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass east of Bermuda on Sunday afternoon or evening. AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass east of Bermuda on Sunday afternoon or evening.

AFP/Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Leslie churning in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda on Wednesday. Leslie is projected to pass east of Bermuda on Sunday afternoon or evening.

Forecasts pointed to the storm following a track about 200 miles east-southeast of the British territory Sunday afternoon or evening, the Bermuda Weather Service said.

"Bermuda seems to have escaped the worst of Tropical Storm Leslie," said Wayne Perinchief, the national security minister. "However, we should by no means let our guard down as we are still expecting strong winds and rain as well as dangerous ocean conditions overnight and well into Sunday. "

The government said that unless the storm's course changed, the airport would remain open, although major airlines already canceled flights. Officials also called off plans to open an emergency shelter but said the facility would remain in a state of readiness in case it was needed.

Bermuda, a financial haven and tourist destination, has strong building codes and is accustomed to storms, and many people on the island were not worried by Leslie.

"I have taken precautions," said Gareth Kerr, 29. "The windows have the shutters across and I got supplies such as water and tinned food. If the weather is bad tomorrow I'll just sit indoors."

Still, there was the chance of some flooding, said James Dodgson, a forecaster for the Bermuda Weather Service. Dodgson said the storm surge was likely to be relatively small at one or two feet but the surge coupled with high tide Sunday could cause some minor flooding in low-lying areas.

"I urge the public to remain cautious," Perinchief said.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that by late Saturday, the storm was maintaining top sustained winds of 65 mph, below the hurricane threshold of 74 mph.

Leslie was about 200 miles southeast of Bermuda and was moving north at 8 mph. The U.S. center said some strengthening was expected and Leslie could regain hurricane strength Sunday or Sunday night.

"We expect the weather to go downhill later today with strong gusty winds," said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the U.S. center.

The total amount of rainfall could reach two inches or more, he said.

Out in the middle of the Atlantic and considered no threat to land, Hurricane Michael remained a category 2 storm but slowed a bit to maximum sustained winds of 100 mph. On Thursday, it was briefly the first Category 3 of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Michael was moving north-northwest at 6 mph. It was about 920 miles west-southwest of the Azores.

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