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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summer in America: Perdido Key, Fla.

Trent Barrilleaux sent up this photo of seagrass bed while kayaking Ono Island on Florida's Perdido Key.

Send us a photo of summer in your area as the season gets underway. We'll select the best to appear in On Deadline.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Colorado wildfires signal one of state's worst seasons ever

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – As merciless wildfires blaze throughout the West, exhausted firefighters are bracing for more.

A forest burns Tuesday near Livermore, Colo. By Ed Andrieski, AP

A forest burns Tuesday near Livermore, Colo.

By Ed Andrieski, AP

A forest burns Tuesday near Livermore, Colo.

Colorado is on the brink of one of its worst fire seasons in history, blamed on very high temperatures and a very low snowpack, which left mountains tinder-dry.

After 10 punishing days, the largest fire here, the High Park Fire near Fort Collins, was 55% contained Tuesday night, according to Brett Haberstick of the Interagency Wildfire Dispatch Center.

It has incinerated 189 homes; almost 2,000 are still threatened. It has burned 93 square miles; 1,911 firefighters are trying to halt the destruction. Cost so far: $17.2 million. The fire was set by lightning June 9.

Several other fast-growing fires have broken out in the state. Gov. John Hickenlooper has banned outdoor fires and all fireworks except municipal displays.

The danger of high winds will be lower for a few days, but winds could kick up by the weekend and fan flames in the interior West and the Rockies, said meteorologist Ed Delgado at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

There's a possibility of thunderstorms in the Southwest and the Rockies on Sunday or Monday, he said. If there is lightning but little or no rain, that could ignite more fires.

Army National Guard police are running checkpoints to deter looters and sightseers. Michael Maher, 30, of Denver, was charged with impersonating a firefighter after police say he posted Facebook photos of himself in firefighting helicopters and with the governor at the High Park command post.

Other wildfires:

•In California, firefighters were able to contain 75% of a 1½-square-mile wildfire in mountainous eastern San Diego County despite gusty winds and low humidity.

•New Mexico's Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso has burned 62 square miles and 242 residential and commercial structures and 12 outbuildings. It was 60% contained.

•The Poco Fire near Young, Ariz., has burned 6 square miles and is a threat to electrical transmission lines that serve Phoenix and Tucson. It was 15% contained.

•The Russells Camp Fire has burned 4 square miles in the southwest corner of Converse County, Wyo., mostly in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

•In northwest Nebraska, a fire has charred an estimated 8 square miles in Sioux County.

•In Hawaii, Maui firefighters were monitoring the wind-driven Kula Fire that prompted an evacuation and damaged three homes.

Hughes also reports for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Weise reported from San Francisco. Contributing: the Associated Press.

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Summer in America: Louisville, Ky

Barry Sanford sent this photo of Floral Terrace, a Victorian section of Old Louisville that was developed about 100 years ago south of the downtown area. Barry notes that the houses face each other across a "walking court."

Send us a photo of summer in your area as the season gets underway. We'll select the best to appear in On Deadline.

A few guidelines:

1. Please submit only one photo.

2. It must be from this summer, and it must be your original work on which you control all the rights.

3. As much as we like cute kids and dogs, please keep the focus on landscape and scenery (to avoid the need for model release forms and other clutter!)

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

5. 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.

6. Send the photo with a brief caption in your own words to OnDeadline@usatoday.com


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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer in America: Union Creek, Ore.

Larry Bradburn sent us this shot of the upper Rogue River at Woodruff Bridge, a rugged spot near Union Creek, Ore.

Send us a photo of summer in your area as the season gets underway. We'll select the best to appear in On Deadline.

A few guidelines:

1. Please submit only one photo.

2. It must be from this summer, and it must be your original work on which you control all the rights.

3. As much as we like cute kids and dogs, please keep the focus on landscape and scenery (to avoid the need for model release forms and other clutter!)

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

5. 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.

6. Send the photo with a brief caption in your own words to OnDeadline@usatoday.com


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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Utah wildfire evacuees allowed to return to homes

About 2,300 Utah wildfire evacuees were allowed to return to their homes Saturday evening after officials determined the blaze no longer posed a threat to them.

fills the sky Friday above Saratoga Springs, Utah. By Lynn DeBruin, AP

fills the sky Friday above Saratoga Springs, Utah.

By Lynn DeBruin, AP

fills the sky Friday above Saratoga Springs, Utah.

The decision came after the fire had burned Friday within a quarter mile of some homes in Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Teresa Rigby said.

No homes have burned, she said, and fire officials were comfortable with the decision to lift the evacuation order after seeing how the 9-square-mile blaze behaved Saturday afternoon during high winds and high temperatures.

"The fire itself is still active but it no longer is a direct threat to homes," Rigby told The Associated Press. "Most of the fire is up on the mountain at this time and not near the subdivisions."

By Sam Noblett, Gannett

Flames roar down a Colorado mountainside Saturday.

The evacuation order, imposed Friday, affected nearly 600 homes and roughly 2,300 residents, according to an updated count released Saturday by fire officials.

Winds pushed some of the fire back on itself Saturday afternoon, Rigby said, and crews managed to put out "hot spots" closest to homes.

The fire that officials believe was started Thursday by target shooters was 30% contained Saturday evening, with full containment expected Tuesday.

Crews also were battling a 16,500-acre brush fire on high desert near the town of Delta in central Utah.

The human-caused fire was 60% contained Saturday evening, BLM spokesman Don Carpenter said, and had burned no homes after breaking out Friday.

While the fire was burning roughly eight miles from the communities of Lynndyl and Leamington, it posed no threat to them at this time, he said.

Elsewhere:

— A fast-growing blaze has spread to 75,537 acres in Colorado, making it the second-largest wildfire in the state's recorded history and threatening numerous homes north of Fort Collins.

High Park Fire Incident Commander Bill Hahnenberg said Saturday morning that the fire spread rapidly toward two subdivisions, Glacier View Meadows and Hewlett Gulch, on Friday as the fire jumped the Narrows section of Poudre Canyon in highly erratic weather conditions and moved northwest. Containment of the fire was reported at 45 percent Saturday morning.

Firefighters had to pull out of the neighborhood Friday when they encountered flames 200 feet high, he said.

"We saved two homes," he said. "And obviously we lost quite a few."

There were 25 fire engines, two 20-person fire crews and five heavy air tankers fighting the fire in the Glacier View Meadows area Saturday, but possible wind gusts of more than 30 mph could ground the aircraft, he said

— In Nevada, a wildfire that has scorched more than 11,000 acres of rugged terrain in northeast Nevada near the Utah line is 75% contained. It began as a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn that escaped June 9.

— In New Mexico, a lightning-caused wildfire that destroyed 242 homes and businesses is 90% contained after crews got a break in the weather. Crews took advantage of heavy rain Friday to increase containment lines on the 69-square-mile fire near Ruidoso that began June 4. Meanwhile, the more than 464-square-mile Whitewater-Baldy blaze, the largest in state history, is 87% contained. It began May 16 as two lightning-caused blazes that merged to form one fire.

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, June 25, 2012

Northeast bakes on 1st day of summer

Summer started with a bang Wednesday with a blistering, record-smashing heat wave in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, where temperatures soared well into the 90s and hit 100 degrees in a few spots.

A plane preparing to land at Newark Liberty International Airport cruises by clouds covering the Wednesday sunrise in Newark. By Julio Cortez, AP

A plane preparing to land at Newark Liberty International Airport cruises by clouds covering the Wednesday sunrise in Newark.

By Julio Cortez, AP

A plane preparing to land at Newark Liberty International Airport cruises by clouds covering the Wednesday sunrise in Newark.

Record-high temperatures were broken Wednesday in locations such as New York City's LaGuardia Airport (98 degrees), Newark, N.J. (98), Hartford, Conn. (97), and Burlington, Vt. (95 degrees). Today and Friday should see more record-breaking heat before cooler air arrives in time for the weekend.

For the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, it was the season's first significant heat wave, which can be the most dangerous, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. "Early season heat outbreaks can lead to a high number of heat-related health issues," he says, "as our bodies aren't used to it yet."

The high temperatures throughout the Northeast are expected to return Thursday, with readings in the mid- to high-90s.

Mail carrier Connie Vincent was already sweating as she began her rounds in Manchester, Conn., Wednesday morning.

"There's nothing you can do," she said as she dabbed her face with wet washcloths. "Tomorrow's my day off, thank God. I've just got to make it through today."

The weather service posted heat advisories and warnings in a continuous stretch from central Virginia to southern Maine, a distance of more than 600 miles.

Wednesday was the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day with the longest period of daylight and the start of astronomical summer. Meteorological summer is defined as the months of June, July and August.

The heat produced some bizarre weather statistics: It was much warmer on Wednesday in Concord, N.H. (96 degrees) than it was in Miami (79 degrees).

Some spots in New Jersey neared 100 degrees. At an outdoor high school graduation in North Bergen, N.J., several relatives of graduates were treated for heat exhaustion and taken to a hospital.

The cause of the heat in the East, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Andy Mussoline, was a large high-pressure system that settled over the Mid-Atlantic, bringing in warm air from the South.

Heat can build up pretty quickly in the summer under these high-pressure systems, he said.

The worst of the heat in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic should end late Friday, he said, thanks to a cold front that's forecast to move into the region, bringing the chance for showers and thunderstorms.

"Much more comfortable weather will move into the region by the weekend," Mussoline said.

The typically torrid desert Southwest was seeing its own heat wave Wednesday, where highs were forecast to reach a scorching 115 degrees, hot even by the standards of that part of the nation.

More extreme heat is likely today and Friday in the Southwest. Excessive-heat warnings were posted in southeastern California and southwestern Arizona, where highs of 110 to 115 degrees were again possible through Friday.

While the Northeast will get a reprieve from the heat over the weekend and into early next week, the central and southeastern USA should see some searing heat by next week.

"Dallas could see its first 100-degree day of the year next week," Mussoline said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gulf on alert as Tropical Storm Debby's path 'uncertain'

A hard-to-predict tropical storm is threatening the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. Even though the storm isn't far from shore, where it's going to land is more mysterious than usual.

Tropical Storm Debby nears the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. NASA via AFP/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Debby nears the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

NASA via AFP/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Debby nears the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

The National Hurricane Center's two most accurate storm models are pointing in opposite directions about where Tropical Storm Debby is heading, center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen says.

"This is one of the most uncertain scenarios we've had in a long, long time," Feltgen says. "Our two most accurate models don't agree with each other."

The most accurate model predicts the storm will change its current northeastern course suddenly and head west. It would hit Louisiana on Thursday morning and cause heavy rains as far west as Houston.

The other model, only slightly less accurate in the past, predicts the tropical storm will stay on the same northerly path or slightly east. The storm would strike the Florida Panhandle Tuesday morning, and tropical storm conditions could occur almost as far away as Tampa.

As of 2 p.m. ET, the center of Debby was located about 200 miles east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 105 miles southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., according to the hurricane center.

Its 60-mph winds were kicking up rough waves along Florida Panhandle beaches. If the first model is correct, the storm will take a sharp left turn Monday morning and head to Louisiana.

Feltgen says the models disagree about the effect of a high-altitude weather system on the tropical storm's path. The first model says this system will grab Tropical Storm Debby and drag it westward. The second model says it won't.

Both models agree the storm is unlikely to have hurricane-force winds when it hits land. But heavy rains and maximum winds above 50 mph are likely and flash flooding possible.

So far, the government reports that nine oil and gas production platforms and one drilling rig have been evacuated in the Gulf of Mexico. That has suspended 8% of the region's oil and gas production, not enough to affect prices nationally.

With Debby's formation in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, this marks the first time in recorded weather history that four named tropical storms have formed in the Atlantic before the end of June, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

Never before since record-keeping began in 1851 has the fourth tropical storm of any Atlantic hurricane season been detected before July, a feat Debby achieved this year with a week to spare, she adds.

Debby's slow motion will make rainfall the primary threat from the storm, with up to 10 inches likely in some regions along the coast from southeast Louisiana to Pensacola, Fla., reports meteorologist Jeff Masters of private weather forecasting company Weather Underground.

"Unfortunately, this part of the coast is not under drought and does not need the rain. Farther to the east, along the rest of the Gulf Coast of Florida, moderate to severe drought prevails, and flooding from Debby will be less of an issue."

The Pensacola area is at most risk, Feltgen says, because heavy rains caused flooding two weeks ago. "The ground is still saturated and its capacity to take more heavy rains is limited," he says.

If the storm heads west, Pensacola would get one to three inches of rain. If it doesn't change course, Tropical Storm Debby would drop five to 10 inches of rain on the Panhandle and as much as 15 inches in patches.

In Louisiana, Plaquemines Parish declared a state of emergency and started to sandbag levees. The National Hurricane Center said the tropical storm was not likely to hit New Orleans directly.

"We're always concerned about systems that aren't fully developed and could land anywhere," says Rupert Lacy, county emergency management director in Gulfport, Miss., in the middle of the two predictions.

His area got seven inches of rain two weeks ago. "Right now, people are ready to go and on a short leash, until we can have great confidence about where it will land."

.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Powerful storms damage homes in Colo., Wyo.

DENVER (AP) – A quarter-mile-wide tornado cut a swath across mainly open country in southeastern Wyoming, damaging homes, derailing empty train cars and leaving one person with minor injuries, officials said.

Traffic signal technician Dale Skattum replaces the light at the intersection of Santa Rosa Street and Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Thursday, after storms pummeled Colorado and Wyoming. By Christian Murdock, AP

Traffic signal technician Dale Skattum replaces the light at the intersection of Santa Rosa Street and Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Thursday, after storms pummeled Colorado and Wyoming.

By Christian Murdock, AP

Traffic signal technician Dale Skattum replaces the light at the intersection of Santa Rosa Street and Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Thursday, after storms pummeled Colorado and Wyoming.

The twister was part of a powerful storm system that rolled through parts of Colorado and Wyoming Thursday afternoon and evening, packing heavy rains, high winds and hail. The storms followed a round of nasty late spring weather that pummeled the region Wednesday.

Thursday's tornado in a sparsely populated area near Wheatland, Wyo., left five structures heavily damaged, and 10 to 12 other structures had lesser damage, said Kelly Ruiz of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security. One of the destroyed homes was vacant, said local radio station owner Kent Smith, speaking for the Platte County Sheriff's Office.

One person was treated at a hospital for a cut on the head, Smith said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Emanuel said the tornado stayed on the ground for much of its 20-mile path from west of Wheatland to northeast of Chugwater. The area is about 60 miles north of Cheyenne.

"It stayed pretty much over open country," Emanuel said. "It didn't hit any towns or cities."

A twister of that size and duration on the ground was unusual for Wyoming, he said.

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad crew reported the tornado struck a stopped train near Wheatland, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said. Five empty train cars derailed onto their sides.

Some power lines also were downed, Ruiz said.

Hail the size of golf balls was reported in the Wheatland area, and 2-inch hail was reported in Laramie, National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Trudel said.

In Colorado, a tornado was spotted near Calhan in El Paso County on Thursday night. And meteorologists were trying to confirm a report of a tornado to the north in Elbert County near Simla.

Elbert County officials reported damage to eight houses, including two that were missing roofs and others with broken windows. They also received a report of one minor injury, county emergency management spokeswoman Kara Gerczynski said. Meanwhile 2.5-inch hail was reported in El Paso County near Peterson Air Force Base.

Bernie Meier, a National Weather Service meteorologist stationed in Boulder, said a storm that crossed into the state from Wyoming hit the Greeley area with golf ball sized hail. Though he had no immediate reports of damage, he said it was likely given the size of the hail.

The storms were winding down late Thursday and forecasters said drier weather was expected Friday.

Thursday's storms came as Colorado businesses including a grocery store were cleaning up the mess left after a storm system brought about five tornadoes, hail up to 8 inches deep and heavy rain Wednesday night. No serious damage was reported from the tornadoes Wednesday, but snowplows were called out in Douglas County to clear hail, and firefighters in Colorado Springs rescued about 40 people from flooded cars and homes.

Insurers reported receiving several hundred home and automobile claims in Colorado before the new wave of storms arrived Thursday evening.

The rain provided some help to firefighters who fully contained a 227-acre wildfire in northern Colorado, but the weather initially hurt efforts to control a 6,000-acre blaze in Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest.

Storms passed close to the Wyoming fire but mostly brought gusty winds that fanned the flames. Rain and hail fell later but didn't make a significant difference, said fire spokeswoman Beth Hermanson.

Kyle Fredin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Denver, said the beginning of June is the peak time for such severe weather in Colorado. Most of the state has been experiencing moderate-to-extreme drought conditions.

"It's game-on for this type of thing," he 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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Sunday, June 17, 2012

U.N. report warns environment is at tipping point

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – The earth's environmental systems "are being pushed towards their biophysical limits," beyond which loom sudden, irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes, the United Nations Environment Program warned Wednesday.

Brazil's Secretary of Research and Development Programs and Politics, Ministry of Science and Technology, Carlos Nobre, speaks during the launch of U.N. Environment Program Global Environment Outlook 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday. By Felipe Dana, AP

Brazil's Secretary of Research and Development Programs and Politics, Ministry of Science and Technology, Carlos Nobre, speaks during the launch of U.N. Environment Program Global Environment Outlook 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday.

By Felipe Dana, AP

Brazil's Secretary of Research and Development Programs and Politics, Ministry of Science and Technology, Carlos Nobre, speaks during the launch of U.N. Environment Program Global Environment Outlook 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday.

In a 525-page report on the health of the planet, the agency paints a grim picture: The melting of the polar ice caps, desertification in Africa, deforestation of tropical jungles, spiraling use of chemicals and the emptying out of the world's seas are just some of myriad environmental catastrophes posing a threat to life as we know it.

"As human pressures on the earth … accelerate, several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded," the report says. "Once these have been passed, abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur, with significant adverse implications for human well-being."

Such adverse implications include rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts, and the collapse of fisheries, said the report, which compiles the work of the past three years by a team of 300 researchers.

The bad news doesn't end there. The report says about 20 percent of vertebrate species are under threat of extinction, coral reefs have declined by 38 percent since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, and 90 percent of water and fish samples from aquatic environments are contaminated by pesticides.

It adds that of the 90 most crucial environmental goals, little or no progress has been made over the past five years on nearly a third of them, including global warming. Significant progress has been made on just four of the objectives, the report says.

"This is an indictment," UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said at a news conference in Rio De Janeiro, which is to host later this month a U.N. conference on development that protects the environment. "We live in an age of irresponsibility that is also testified and documented in this report.

"In 1992 (when the first of the agency's five reports was released) we talked about the future that was likely to occur. This report 20 years later speaks to the fact that a number of the things that we talked about in the future tense in 1992 have arrived," Steiner said. "Once the tipping point occurs, you don't wake up the next morning and say, 'This is terrible, can we change it?' That is the whole essence of these thresholds. We are condemning people to not having the choice anymore."

Steiner called for immediate action to prevent continued environmental degradation, with its ever-worsening consequences.

"Change is possible," he said, adding that the report includes an analysis of a host of environmental preservation projects that have worked. "Given what we know, we can move in another direction."

The United Nations' upcoming Rio+20 conference on sustainable development would be the ideal forum to spearhead the kind of global action that's needed if the worst is to be avoided, Steiner said.

However, the run-up to June 20-21 conference has been plagued with problems, as developing and developed countries continue to bicker over what the objectives of the event should be.

Speaking in New York on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that negotiations on a final document for the conference have been "quite difficult" but he said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the 193 U.N. member states will reach agreement.

"We live in a world of economic uncertainty, growing inequality and environmental decline," Ban told a news conference at U.N. headquarters. "This (conference) is a once in a generation opportunity. … We need leaders to have political commitment and political courage and vision. Short-term measures will not be the answers. You need to have mid- and longer-term visions for sustainable development."

UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall said the agency deliberately scheduled the release of its report to coincide with the run-up to the conference.

"It tells, we hope in a polite way, but in a scientifically honest way, world leaders who are coming in a few weeks' time why they are coming and why they need to define an impressive outcome for everybody in the world," Nuttall said at the Rio news conference.

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, June 16, 2012

USA had warmest March-May on record

The surreal heat that enveloped much of the USA this spring turned out to be the warmest ever recorded in U.S. history — by an eye-opening margin, scientists report.

University of Illinois freshmen Jill Marik, left, and Jeremy Vivit enjoy unseasonably warm weather on March 13 on the campus Quad in Urbana, Ill. Robert K. O'Daniell, AP

University of Illinois freshmen Jill Marik, left, and Jeremy Vivit enjoy unseasonably warm weather on March 13 on the campus Quad in Urbana, Ill.

Robert K. O'Daniell, AP

University of Illinois freshmen Jill Marik, left, and Jeremy Vivit enjoy unseasonably warm weather on March 13 on the campus Quad in Urbana, Ill.

Coming on the heels of the fourth-warmest winter on record in the USA, nature and the economy were thrown off rhythm, as jobs, retail sales, crops and bugs sprouted outside their normal cycles.

Though the calendar says we're still in spring, climatologists define spring as the months of March, April and May; weather records go back to 1895.

"Record and near-record warmth dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation during spring," according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) report. "Thirty-one states were record warm for the season. Only Oregon and Washington had spring temperatures near normal."

The spring season's nationally averaged temperature was 57.1 degrees, 5.2 degrees above the long-term average, and surpassing the previous warmest spring (1910) by 2 degrees.

The amount by which the spring broke the record was also phenomenal: Spring 2012 marked the largest temperature departure from average of any season on record in the USA, the center reported.

In addition, the center also announced that the USA is seeing its warmest start to the year since records began.

The warmth wreaked havoc on plants and insects across the country, leading to an unusually early blooming of the cherry trees in Washington, D.C. Apple and peach trees bloomed two months early in the Midwest.

Just Wednesday, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book report on the economy said the warm spring had boosted tourism, bolstering everything from Florida visits by foreigners to ticket sales on Broadway.

Restaurant sales rose by double digits in January and February, months when cold weather keeps many consumers home, helping calm fears that gas prices would slash discretionary spending. Sales of vehicles and parts rose 7.3% in the first quarter, accounting for more than a fourth of the economy's growth, according to the government.

Analysts think car buyers came out earlier than usual this year because dealer lots weren't freezing, said Chris Christopher, an economist at consulting firm IHS Global Insight. And The Home Depot's shares are up 20% this year, largely because of strong winter sales, though momentum at rival Lowe's has cooled since March.

Economists at Moody's Analytics think the warm weather added about 50,000 jobs a month during January and February, Moody's associate economist Sara Kline said. But then the weather has hurt employment growth in recent months given some car, new-house and home-improvement sales happened sooner than expected, both said.

"Workers were brought back more quickly than usual in construction, in trucking and leisure and hospitality than they would be in a normal winter," Kline said. "The flip side is not getting as much growth as expected in March and April."

Too much hot, dry weather can be bad news for agriculture, but it's hard to say how bad the impact this year will be. The Texas economy lost more than $7.6 billion due to last year's heat and drought, said Mark Waller, an agricultural economist at the Texas AgriLife Extension at Texas A&M University.

"It's not as bad as it was last year," because the Texas winter wasn't as dry, he said. "We haven't been hot enough yet this year to damage crops, and we probably got some early hay cutting because it warmed up early."

How warm has it been? Chicago saw eight days in the 80s in March and five days in the 90s in May, the National Weather Service reported, smashing records in a city known for cold, windy weather.

The cause of the strange heat was an ongoing pattern that kept the jet stream much farther to the north than usual, according to NCDC climatologist Jake Crouch. This allowed warm air to spread across most of the country east of the Rockies, he said.

The heat is expected to continue: In its summer forecast released in May, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said that about three-fourths of the nation — from the Southwest to the Mid-Atlantic — should see above-average temperatures from June-August.

Additionally, the CPC announced Thursday that there is a 50% chance that El Niño conditions will develop during the second half of the year. El Niño is a periodic warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that primarily affects winter weather in the USA.

A typical El Niño tends to bring warmer-than-average winter temperatures to much of the northern USA and cooler-than-average temperatures to the nation's southern tier, the CPC reports.

Worldwide data for spring will be released June 14. Through April, the globe was not experiencing the level of unusual warmth that the USA was: The worldwide temperature for January-April was only the 15th warmest on record, the climate center reported in May.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Hurricane storm surge imperils 4 million homes

A survey of the USA's vulnerability to hurricane-driven storm-surge damage found that more than four million homes worth over $700 billion are at risk along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

Storm surge — the massive mound of water that builds up and comes ashore as a hurricane moves over the ocean or Gulf of Mexico— is typically the most dangerous aspect of hurricanes.

The report, released this morning by research and consulting firm CoreLogic of Santa Ana, Calif., found that Florida is the state most prone to storm-surge damage, with about 1.4 million homes at risk, worth a total value of $188 billion.

Louisiana ranks second in total number properties at risk with nearly 500,000, while New York is second in total value of coastal properties possibly exposed at $111 billion.

At the city level, the New York City metro area contains both the highest number of vulnerable properties and the highest exposure in total property value at risk .

"The summer of 2011 gave us some startling insight into the damage that even a weak storm can cause in the New York City metro area," said Howard Botts of CoreLogic. "Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm as it passed through New Jersey and New York City, but the impact of the storm was still estimated at as much as $6 billion."

The Atlantic hurricane season began last week and lasts until Nov. 30.


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Thursday, June 14, 2012

USA's largest wildfire continues to scorch New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A rugged swath of forest in southwestern New Mexico pumped out more columns of smoke Tuesday as U.S. Forest Chief Tom Tidwell surveyed the burn scar being left behind by what has developed into the largest wildfire in the nation.

Firefighters check piles being burnt from salvage logging along the edge of the Gila National Forest blaze in New Mexico. AP

Firefighters check piles being burnt from salvage logging along the edge of the Gila National Forest blaze in New Mexico.

AP

Firefighters check piles being burnt from salvage logging along the edge of the Gila National Forest blaze in New Mexico.

Tidwell took an early morning aerial tour of the blaze, which has scorched more than 400 square miles since being sparked by lightning about three weeks ago. The fire became the largest in New Mexico's recorded history after making daily runs across tens of thousands of acres as winds whipped fiercely.

Tidwell said his flight over the fire brought home its size and the ruggedness of the Gila wilderness.

"I know there are a lot of times people question why we're not able to get in there and put out these fires right away," he said. "If folks could actually see how rugged the terrain is, how steep these canyons are, how much fuel is there, the size of the timber and how inaccessible it is, I think they would quickly understand."

Tidwell and other federal officials earlier this spring had predicted this would be a busy fire season as drought sweeps across a broader section of the West, leaving overgrown forests even more susceptible than last year.

"We get a start at the right time and we get the right weather conditions, we're going to have some large fires," he said during a news conference Tuesday in Albuquerque. "What we need to focus on is making sure our communities understand that."

A lack of moisture combined with already dry fuels and warm temperatures are making for challenging conditions across the southern half of the United States. And Tidwell said the central part of the West — from Colorado to California and up through southern Oregon — can expect fire danger to increase.

"We're probably going to have to deal with this down here for another four to six weeks at least before hopefully we'll get some summer rains," Tidwell said.

More than 1,100 firefighters have been assigned to the 259,000-acre Whitewater-Baldy fire. There have been only a handful of minor injuries, but firefighting efforts elsewhere have turned deadly.

Over the weekend, two pilots were killed when their air tanker crashed while fighting a fire in southern Utah.

Tidwell said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

"Our hearts go out to these pilots. They're as much a part of the firefighter community as anybody else is. It's just tragic when we lose them," he said.

In New Mexico, firefighters were building lines and conducting more burnout operations to keep the Whitewater-Baldy fire from making any aggressive runs along its boundaries. That way, crews could control the severity of the burn, said fire information officer Gerry Perry.

"We still have active fire within the perimeter, but they're a little more comfortable that they've got a handle on it," he said. "That doesn't mean the fire is over, but things are looking better."

Crews in the northern part of the state also were working Tuesday to contain a lightning-sparked blaze in the Santa Fe National Forest. The smoke could be seen dozens of miles away in Rio Rancho, N.M.

Forest officials said that fire started Sunday night and had burned about 190 acres southeast of Jemez Springs. No structures were being threatened, and no evacuations were planned.

With fires burning around the West and more expected as the season ramps up, Tidwell said he was confident the agency has the resources — both financial and in terms of equipment and crew — to respond. The Forest Service budgets $70 million a year for firefighting aircraft out of $2 billion overall fighting wildfires.

So far, fire information officers say the Whitewater-Baldy fire has cost an estimated $15.4 million to fight.

Congress has appropriated enough for what Tidwell calls a "moderate" season. Since it's expected to get busy, he said funds can be transferred from other accounts to cover costs.

"We've practiced good, sound financial management with fires, just like we do with every other part of our agency, but that doesn't factor into the decisions we're making," Tidwell said. "The decisions are based on what needs to occur, what's the right way to do this, what's the safe way to do this, and that's what determines what strategy we apply to these fires."

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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Solar-powered plane makes 19-hour flight

What's billed as the first intercontinental flight for a solar-powered aircraft landed late Tuesday night in Rabat, Morocco after a 19-hour journey from Madrid, Spain.

"The flight over the Gibraltar straight was a magical moment," pilot and adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who has already circumnavigated the world by balloon, said upon arrival at the Rabat airport. He told reporters that his Solar Impulse craft came to Morocco "out of admiration for Morocco's pioneering solar energy program," according to the Associated Press.

FOLLOW:  Green House on Twitter

The single-seat aircraft has 12,000 solar cells spread across a wingspan similar to that of a large commercial jet airliner. Organizers say it weighs, however, about as much as an average family car.

Solar Impulse made the first leg of its journey, from Switzerland to Madrid, in late May but since it can only fly in ideal weather, it had to wait for the right conditions to continue on toward Morocco. It climbed up to 27,000 feet and reached top speeds of more than 75 miles per hour.

Piccard said the plane isn't meant to replace conventional airplanes but rather to show what solar energy can accomplish. "All of the technology on this plane can be used in daily life," he said, reports AP.

His project, begun in 2003, aims for a round-the-world flight with a new, upgraded plane in 2014. Estimated to have cost about $100 million, it has received funding from major corporations, including Deutsche Bank, Bayer and Schindler.


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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer in America: Clearwater, Fla.

Doug Nebel took this shot of people frolicking in the waves near Pier 60 at sunset on Clearwater Beach, Fla., as storm clouds rolled in.

Send a photo of summer in your area as the season gets underway. We'll select the best to appear in On Deadline.

A few guidelines:

1. Please submit only one photo.

2. It must be from this summer, and it must be your original work on which you control all the rights.

3. As much as we like cute kids and dogs, please keep the focus on landscape and scenery (to avoid the need for model release forms and other clutter!)

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

5. 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.

6. Send the photo with a brief caption in your own words to OnDeadline@usatoday.com


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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wyo. tornado injures at least one

A tornado touched down this afternoon in southeastern Wyoming, causing at least one injury, according to news reports.

Update at 7:35 p.m. ET: One person was treated at Platte County Memorial Hospital in Wheatland for an unspecified minor injury, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle says.

The twister lasted on and off for about an hour before dissipating northeast of Chugwater, a meteorologist told the Cheyenne paper.

Golf-ball-size hail was reported around Wheatland, with 2-inch hail in Laramie, the National Weather Service says.

Several tornado touchdowns from a separate storm were reported north of Cheyenne.

Original post: A tornado touched down in southeastern Wyoming this afternoon, causing at least one injury, according to news reports from the Equality State.

The quarter-mile-wide twister hit east of Wheatland about 3:15 p.m. MT (5:15 p.m. ET) and moved southeast across I-25, a National Weather Service meteorologist told the Casper Star-Tribune. The town of 3,500, in Platte County, is 70 miles north of Cheyenne.

The Platte County emergency coordinator told the Star-Tribune there were multiple injuries. A Wheatland Police dispatcher told K2-TV that one injury was confirmed and that police were checking homes for other injuries.

Structural damage was reported, but the location and extent were not yet clear, K2 says.

A storm chaser tweeted this photo of the funnel cloud.

Violent weather was moving across the Plains region. In Colorado, Denver and 12 other counties are under a tornado warning until 8 p.m. MT (10 p.m. ET), the Denver Post says.


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Experts: Oklahoma, not Texas, had hottest summer ever

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahoma and Texas have argued for years about which has the best college football team, whose oil fields produce better crude, even where the state border should run. But in a hot, sticky dispute that no one wants to win, Oklahoma just reclaimed its crown.

Liz Moody and Stephanie Russell try to keep cool as they watch a softball game in Oklahoma City in July 2011. After recalculating data from 2011, climatologists report that Oklahoma suffered through the hottest summer ever recorded in the U.S. By Sue Ogrocki, AP

Liz Moody and Stephanie Russell try to keep cool as they watch a softball game in Oklahoma City in July 2011. After recalculating data from 2011, climatologists report that Oklahoma suffered through the hottest summer ever recorded in the U.S.

By Sue Ogrocki, AP

Liz Moody and Stephanie Russell try to keep cool as they watch a softball game in Oklahoma City in July 2011. After recalculating data from 2011, climatologists report that Oklahoma suffered through the hottest summer ever recorded in the U.S.

After recalculating data from last year, the nation's climatologists are declaring that Oklahoma suffered through the hottest summer ever recorded in the U.S. last year - not Texas as initially announced last fall.

"It doesn't make me feel any better," joked Texas rancher Debbie Davis, who lives northwest of San Antonio.

In the new tally by the National Climatic Data Center, Oklahoma's average temperature last summer was 86.9 degrees, while Texas finished with 86.7 degrees. The previous record for the hottest summer was 85.2 degrees set in 1934 -- in Oklahoma.

"I'm from Oklahoma, and when you talk about the summer of 1934, there are a lot of connotations that go with that," said Deke Arndt, chief of the NCDC's climate monitoring branch in Asheville, N.C. "That whole climate episode - the Dust Bowl - that is a point in our state's history that we still look back to as transformative."

Yet the summer of 2011, "was warmer than all those summers that they experienced during the Dust Bowl," Arndt said.

Surprisingly, average summer temperatures are usually higher in states in the Southeast and southern Plains than in states in the Desert Southwest. For example, there are no "cool" spots in Oklahoma during a typical summer, while cooler parts of northern Arizona bring that state's overall average summer temperature down.

Also, the Desert Southwest's generally higher elevations and drier air lend themselves to lower overnight temperatures, which pulls the daily average down, Arndt said.

The record swap became apparent after extra data trickled in from weather stations and meteorological field reports across both states. That data also pushed up Oklahoma's mark as the hottest month ever by two-tenths of a degree, to 89.3 degrees in July 2011.

Oklahoma had experienced unusually dry, hot weather in the winter and spring, then summer brought regular triple-digit temperatures that fueled wildfires, prompted burn bans and led to water rationing in some communities.

"We didn't just barely surpass the previous summer record, we smashed it," said Gary McManus, Oklahoma's associate state climatologist. "That last summer was so far above and beyond what we consider normal, I don't think there will be another, compared to what we had."

Through the years, Texans and Oklahomans have fought over just about everything, from water rights to barbecue joints. Huge crowds attend the annual meeting of the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma football teams in Dallas.

It even took the states until 1999 to settle a boundary dispute that landed before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1894 -- before Oklahoma's statehood.

But residents on both sides of that now undisputed Texas-Oklahoma border want no part in the summer fight.

For Oklahoma rancher Monte Tucker, last summer was a breaking point, and it didn't make him feel any better Friday when he learned about his state's new dubious honor.

Last summer felt like "opening an oven after cooking bread," said Tucker, who ranches in Sweetwater, in western Oklahoma. "We basically got up right about sun-up and did all we could until 11 in the morning, and we basically shut down almost `till dark and kind of started up again.

"I don't want to do it again, I'll say that much," he said.

Last summer also took a toll on plants and trees, many of which were weakened by the intense heat.

"We had to stop planting last summer because it was silly to plant in 100-degree temperatures," said Stephen Smith, who works at Southwood Garden Center and Nursery in Tulsa.

"I've been in this business 30 years," he added. "And it was probably one of the worst temperatures I can remember."

Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

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Monday, June 11, 2012

West Coast prepares for Japanese tsunami debris

SALEM, Ore. – A large dock that washed ashore in Oregon this week more than a year after it was ripped from Japan's shoreline by a tsunami is adding urgency to preparations for a wave of such debris expected to hit the USA's Pacific Coast in coming months.

A woman looks at the massive dock that washed ashore on Agate Beach on Wednesday in Newport, Ore. The dock was torn loose from a fishing port in northern Japan by last year's tsunami and drifted across thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean. By Rick Bowmer, AP

A woman looks at the massive dock that washed ashore on Agate Beach on Wednesday in Newport, Ore. The dock was torn loose from a fishing port in northern Japan by last year's tsunami and drifted across thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean.

By Rick Bowmer, AP

A woman looks at the massive dock that washed ashore on Agate Beach on Wednesday in Newport, Ore. The dock was torn loose from a fishing port in northern Japan by last year's tsunami and drifted across thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean.

"We've got a looming threat. There's great public concern about this," says Phillip Johnson, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition director. "At this point, we don't know if we're going to have a major problem."

Beach cleanliness is vital to residents in Oregon, the only state whose entire coastline (362 miles) is public. Thousands of people turn out twice a year for beach cleanup events. Others adopt portions of the coastline, cleaning and monitoring it year-round. So it's no surprise that residents are worried about the tsunami debris, Johnson says.

On Wednesday, Oregon confirmed the dock that washed ashore this week was from the tsunami. The dock — 7 feet high, 19 feet wide and 66 feet long — is the first official piece of tsunami debris to reach the state.

A dozen volunteers on Thursday scraped the dock clean of marine organisms and sterilized it with torches to prevent the spread of invasive species, said Chris Havel of the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

Japanese officials estimate that 5 million tons of debris washed into the Pacific Ocean after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). About 70% of that sank, leaving about 1.5 million tons floating.

Most of the debris still is north of Hawaii, says Nir Barnea, West Coast regional coordinator for NOAA's Marine Debris Program.

Scientists expect more debris to hit the West Coast in coming months and through 2014. "It will arrive intermittently and not all at one time and place," Barnea says. "It may be difficult to tell what is tsunami-related and what is not. Even floats with Japanese writing are not necessarily from the tsunami."

Although scientists expect much of the floating debris to follow the currents to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of millions of tons of small bits of plastic floating in the northern Pacific, tsunami debris that can catch the wind is making its way to North America. In recent weeks, a soccer ball washed up in Alaska and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in a shipping container reached British Columbia.

Just how the dock happened to turn up in Oregon was probably determined within sight of land in Japan, says Jan Hafner with the University of Hawaii's International Pacific Research Center, which tracks the debris.

That's where the winds, currents and tides are most variable, because of changes in the coastline and the features of the land, even for two objects a few yards apart, he says. Once the dock got into the ocean, it was pushed steadily by the prevailing westerly winds and the North Pacific Current.

In April, a group of volunteer organizations teamed with NOAA and the state to hold 11 public meetings across Oregon to address concerns about tsunami debris. About 400 people attended, says Jamie Doyle, an educator with Oregon Sea Grant.

"A lot of people were concerned about radiation," Doyle says, referring to the nuclear power plant accident in Japan that was triggered by the earthquake and tsunami. "But it's thought to be highly unlikely."

That's because most of the debris was washed out before the radiation release and because radiation would have dissipated by now, Barnea says.

Body parts also are not expected, because they would have decomposed by now.

The most important message, Barnea says: "If you don't know what it is, don't touch it. Don't move it. Report it to local authorities, 911 or the national response center."

A mobile application at marinedebris.engr.uga.edu can help people report debris. It is a partnership of the NOAA Marine Debris Division and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative of the engineering school at the University of Georgia.

In addition to Oregon, other Pacific Coast states are educating residents about tsunami debris cleanup, Barnea says.

In Alaska, some lighter debris, such as plastic bottles and Styrofoam floats, is showing up. The first volunteer cleanup project in the state took place in Montague Island this month.

In Washington, authorities have distributed fliers with instructions on how to handle items found on beaches.

In California, officials say coastal currents may deflect most debris back toward Hawaii. Even so, the state's Coastal Commission has issued guidelines for volunteers helping with tsunami debris removal.

"We'll continue to work on the planning, continue to work with volunteers," Barnea says. "It's a real teamwork of state, federal and local agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the public."

Loew also reports for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore. Contributing: John McAuliff, USA TODAY; the Associated Press.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tornado leaves 3 dead in Missouri

ST. LOUIS (AP) – A man and his two adult sons died when a tornado obliterated a mobile home in southeast Missouri, officials said Tuesday.

A donkey wanders through debris in the back yard of Loy Miller's home after a tornado passed through the area in Diehlstadt, Mo. on Tuesday. The storm struck late Monday, killing three men, including Miller. By Adam Vogler, AP

A donkey wanders through debris in the back yard of Loy Miller's home after a tornado passed through the area in Diehlstadt, Mo. on Tuesday. The storm struck late Monday, killing three men, including Miller.

By Adam Vogler, AP

A donkey wanders through debris in the back yard of Loy Miller's home after a tornado passed through the area in Diehlstadt, Mo. on Tuesday. The storm struck late Monday, killing three men, including Miller.

The twister was part of a storm that struck Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky late Monday, but hit hardest in the tiny village of Diehlstadt, in Scott County, where the three men were killed.

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said the mobile home was smashed beyond recognition.

"The frame was probably 100 yards away from where it was sitting," Walter said. "It was just debris everywhere. It just obliterated it."

Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Clark Parrott identified the deceased as 70-year-old Loy Miller, the owner of the trailer, and his sons, Jasper Miller, 50, and Randy Miller, 48. Parrott said it wasn't clear if the sons also lived in the mobile home.

"We had a pretty intense, concentrated storm," Parrott said.

An 11-year-old St. Louis County girl suffered minor head and arm injuries after being pelted by huge chunks of hail.

The gusty storm developed in the St. Louis area Monday afternoon, producing nearly an inch of rain and pingpong-sized hail in some places while leaving others bone dry, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Sanders said. Hail, about an inch of rain and winds stronger than 50 mph were also reported in parts of southern Illinois and northwestern Kentucky.

The storm became particularly intense in southeast Missouri, and Diehlstadt, a village of 163 residents about 100 miles south of St. Louis, took the worst of it. The weather service said 52 homes and several businesses in the Diehlstadt area had damage, mostly to roofs. A church lost its steeple, and dozens of trees were uprooted or snapped.

Downed power lines closed Highway 77 for several hours, Parrott said. Power was restored before dawn.

The weather service determined the EF-2 tornado was 75 yards wide and had peak winds of 115 mph. Witnesses told Walter they saw a tornado dip down and strike the trailer, then bounce back up and dip down again elsewhere.

The storm was very much hit-and-miss. In the St. Louis area, Chesterfield on the east side of the Missouri River saw a downpour of sideways-blowing rain and hail around 4:30 p.m.; Weldon Spring, on the other side of the river, was virtually dry.

Monday's storm was so spotty that it did virtually nothing to relieve moderate to severe drought conditions in the area.

"We need a couple of inches of rain, big-time," Sanders said. "Heading into May we were above normal rainfall, but May just really killed it."

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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Unbound river to surge through Grand Canyon

Visitors to the majestic Grand Canyon next year may get to see something that has happened only a few times in the past half-century.

Billions of gallons of water will flow through the bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam as part of an experimental flood. By Mark Henle,, The Arizona Republic

Billions of gallons of water will flow through the bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam as part of an experimental flood.

By Mark Henle,, The Arizona Republic

Billions of gallons of water will flow through the bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam as part of an experimental flood.

The Colorado River, restrained in its flow through the canyon since the 1960s, will be allowed to gush in semi-flood conditions again, beginning next year under an Interior Department plan to protect native fish and naturalize the river.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the decision to conduct high-volume releases from Glen Canyon Dam, which has drawn concern from the power industry and Native American tribes, represents "a milestone in the history of the Colorado River" that will enhance conservation and scientific knowledge. Simulated floods in the canyon are planned through 2020.

Leslie James, executive director of the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association, a non-profit coalition of electric companies, said she has "serious concerns" about the high-flow protocols: "I think the devil's in the details of how it will be implemented."

James said the release of surge water through spillways — bypassing hydroelectric turbines — is expected to cost power companies $8 million to $120 million over the next eight years. She said there is scientific evidence that surges from the dam during spring runoff might produce huge spawns of trout, the primary predator of the native humpback chub. "I think it raises a lot of questions," James said.

The first controlled flood could occur next spring. Interior Department protocols call for releases of up to 45,000 cubic feet per second during March-April and October-November, each lasting up to four days.

Until the Colorado River was dammed in the 1960s, it flowed through the Southwest, especially during flood seasons, when it carried sediment that formed sandbars and created eddies critical to native fish such as the humpback chub. Completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1966 allowed regulation of the river's flow for hydroelectric production but eliminated natural beaches and created a haven for predatory species such as rainbow trout.

Environmentalists always argued the dam should be opened occasionally to emulate the Colorado River's naturally occurring floods. Power industry officials resisted, saying lost hydroelectricity production would cost consumers millions of dollars.

Salazar said his decision was based on results from high-flow tests conducted in 1996, 2004 and 2008.

Nikolai Lash, a program director with the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation organization, said man-made floods may help save a devastated river. "They're especially critical now because the Colorado system is in a severely depleted state," he said.

Kurt Dongoske, historic preservation officer for the Pueblo of Zuni, said the tribe will watch closely out of concern that artificial floods may damage religious sites.

The National Park Service issued a notice that says river rafters will be advised when high flows are planned. Rafters may travel at double the normal speed, and some camp areas may be inundated. Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said the research will be critical to preserving the Grand Canyon's "awesome resources and visitor experience."

Contributing: Wagner also reports for The Arizona Republic

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Spring in America: Coventry, R.I.

These mallard ducklings are feeding in a marsh under the watchful eye of their mother not far from my home in Coventry, R.I., says the photographer, Ron Ylitalo.

We will be posting the last of our spring photos over the next couple of weeks and are gearing up for summer photos.

So break out the cameras and send us a summer shot from your area as the season gets underway. We'll select the best to appear in On Deadline.

A few guidelines:

1. Please submit only one photo.

2. It must be from this summer, and it must be your original work on which you control all the rights.

3. As much as we like cute kids and dogs, please keep the focus on landscape and scenery (to avoid the need for model release forms and other clutter!)

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

5. 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.

6. Send the photo with a brief caption in your own words to OnDeadline@usatoday.com


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Thursday, June 7, 2012

While Midwest and East bake, Northwest could see some flakes

The unofficial start to summer will kick off with blazing heat across most of the eastern half of the country this Memorial Day weekend.

Lifeguard Sam McCabe of cleans off the water slide at an aquatic center in Maplewood, Mo., on Thursday in preparation for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Residents across the Midwest and East might be dealing with record-setting heat during the holiday weekend. By Laurie Skrivan, AP

Lifeguard Sam McCabe of cleans off the water slide at an aquatic center in Maplewood, Mo., on Thursday in preparation for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Residents across the Midwest and East might be dealing with record-setting heat during the holiday weekend.

By Laurie Skrivan, AP

Lifeguard Sam McCabe of cleans off the water slide at an aquatic center in Maplewood, Mo., on Thursday in preparation for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Residents across the Midwest and East might be dealing with record-setting heat during the holiday weekend.

Temperatures will soar into the 90s as far north as Illinois. Chicago could hit 100 degrees on Sunday.

Elsewhere, a pesky, windy storm could ruin beach plans along the Southeast coast, while parts of the Northwest deal with light snow and chilly weather.

July in May: Hot and humid conditions will be the rule in the southern Plains, Mississippi Valley, Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast all three days of this holiday weekend. High temperatures in the 90s will be widespread from Texas to Maryland.

Cities such as Memphis, Louisville, Little Rock and St. Louis could all break temperature records. The Indianapolis 500 could be run in record heat on Sunday.

The worst of the heat isn't expected to make it into the Northeast and New England, however, where temperatures in the 70s and 80s are likely.

Soggy Southeast: Just like last weekend's Tropical Storm Alberto, another slow-moving storm will meander around the Southeast coast this weekend, potentially bringing bands of rain, gusty winds and rough surf. The storm may become tropical, and it would receive the name Beryl.

Other than the ruined outdoor plans, the rain will be welcome across the drought-plagued states of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

Wintry West, severe North: Some parts of the northern Rockies and Northwest will be in the 40s and 50s this weekend. Some snow is possible at higher elevations.

Severe storms could rattle the upper Midwest through the weekend as cooler air clashes with the unusual heat.

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, June 6, 2012

Raging wildfires scorch Western USA

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Firefighters are battling a massive wildfire in southwestern New Mexico that has destroyed a dozen cabins and spread smoke across the state, prompting holiday weekend air-quality warnings.

Firefighter Scott Abraham sprays water as his crew tries to keep a wildfire from crossing a San Diego County road on Friday near Julian, Calif. By Gregory Bull, AP

Firefighter Scott Abraham sprays water as his crew tries to keep a wildfire from crossing a San Diego County road on Friday near Julian, Calif.

By Gregory Bull, AP

Firefighter Scott Abraham sprays water as his crew tries to keep a wildfire from crossing a San Diego County road on Friday near Julian, Calif.

The fire burned early Saturday through remote and rugged terrain around the Gila Wilderness and has grown to 85,000 acres or more than 130 square miles.

The heavy smoke apparently disoriented six hikers Friday, prompting the New Mexico National Guard to carry out a rescue.

Col. Michael Montoya said one of them had an injured knee and had to be taken to safety by ambulance. The others were able to walk to a secure area.

More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze that resulted from the merger earlier this week of two lightning-sparked fires. Fire officials say nearly all of the growth has come in recent days due to relentless winds.

The blaze has destroyed 12 cabins and seven small outbuildings, and the privately owned ghost town of Mogollon was placed under a voluntary evacuation order.

The strong winds pushed ash from the blaze 35 to 40 miles away, while smoke from the giant fire spread across the state and into Arizona. The haze blocked views of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, and a smell of smoke permeated the air throughout northern New Mexico.

Health officials as far away as Albuquerque and Santa Fe issued alerts for the holiday weekend, advising people to limit outdoor activities, keep windows closed.

They said the effects on most people would be minor but noted mild throat and eye irritation or allergy-like symptoms could be expected. Officials warned people with heart and lung conditions to be especially diligent in minimizing their exposure to the smoky air.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, officials said heavy air tankers and thousands of firefighters were on standby Friday as fire managers kept a close watch on high winds and hot temperatures at the start of Memorial Day weekend. Fire danger remains high in the southern Colorado foothills and the South Park area.

Two heavy air tankers have been taken to Grand Junction in western Colorado, where the fire danger is highest, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said.

"We've got the resources. We've got the firefighters," Segin said. "We're ready."

The National Weather Service said wind gusts could reach 70 mph Saturday in some western Colorado valleys, with sustained winds of 25 to 40 mph. Most of eastern Colorado also was under a high-wind watch, with sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph and gusts up to 55 mph possible Saturday.

In Southern California, firefighters worked to corral a wildfire that has chewed through 3,100 acres of tinder-dry grass and light brush since it broke out Thursday afternoon east of Julian.

On Friday, the fire forced about 50 people to evacuate an RV park in San Diego County. It earlier prompted the evacuation of about 100 homes in the Shelter Valley area, but residents were allowed to return late Thursday.

The fire was 20% contained, said Nick Schuler, battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. No injuries or damage to structures were reported.

In Arizona, residents of the historic mining town of Crown King were allowed to return home after being evacuated because of a wildfire about 85 miles north of Phoenix. The fire started May 13 and has burned more than 16,000 acres. It is 35% contained, fire officials said.

In Nevada, questions were being raised over fire crews' initial response to a backyard burn that rekindled two days later, destroying two homes in a rural community and scorching 7,500 acres.

A 911 recording obtained by the Associated Press showed a resident called Sunday to report that a neighbor's permitted burn in the Topaz Ranch Estates was out of control. Volunteer firefighters with the East Fork Fire Protection District arrived at the scene and then left, apparently without extinguishing the blaze.

Gusty winds rekindled the fire Tuesday, and it spread quickly through thick brush and dry grasses. Two homes and 17 outbuildings were destroyed.

District Fire Chief Tod Carlini did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

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, June 5, 2012

Spring in America: Ogunquit, Maine

John Angelone sent us this shot of the view off Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine.

We will be posting the last of our spring photos over the next couple of weeks and are gearing up for summer photos.

So break out the cameras and send us a shot of summer in your area as the season gets underway. We'll select the best to appear in On Deadline.

A few guidelines:

1. Please submit only one photo.

2. It must be from this summer, and it must be your original work on which you control all the rights.

3. As much as we like cute kids and dogs, please keep the focus on landscape and scenery (to avoid the need for model release forms and other clutter!)

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

5. 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.

6. Send the photo with a brief caption in your own words to OnDeadline@usatoday.com


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New Mexico fire forces evacuation near ghost town

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Residents near a privately owned New Mexico ghost town were ordered Saturday to evacuate as a blaze in the Gila National Forest continued to burn erratically, as Colorado crews took to fighting a new fire along the Utah-Colorado border.

A fire burns at Whitewater-Baldy Complex in Mogollon, N.M., a privately owned ghost town that was ordered to evacuate. InciWeb Incident Information System via AP

A fire burns at Whitewater-Baldy Complex in Mogollon, N.M., a privately owned ghost town that was ordered to evacuate.

InciWeb Incident Information System via AP

A fire burns at Whitewater-Baldy Complex in Mogollon, N.M., a privately owned ghost town that was ordered to evacuate.

Fire officials in New Mexico said Saturday that the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire has shrunk slightly to 82,000 acres but is still 0% contained because of weather conditions. The evacuation of Mogollon, a privately owned ghost town, was ordered due to extreme wind around the southwestern New Mexico fire. Four helicopters and more than 500 firefighters from around the state were on hand to fight the blaze but still had to contend with "extreme conditions."

Cities, as far away as Albuquerque, remained under a health alert until Sunday afternoon due to smoke from the fire, which has spread across the state. State officials were warning residents during the Memorial Day weekend to limit outdoor activities, especially if smoke was visible.

The haze that blocked views of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque on Friday appeared to have decreased by early Saturday afternoon, but smoke continued to hang over parts of the city.

Meanwhile on Saturday, crews in Colorado battled a wildfire that has scorched more than 3,000 acres of rugged canyon land near the Colorado-Utah border. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said the fire started Friday afternoon and is burning in a remote area near Paradox. It is not threatening any structures, and no injuries have been reported.

Shannon Borders, a spokeswoman for The Bureau of Land Management, said sheriff's deputies have evacuated the Buckeye Reservoir area, a popular recreation spot near the Utah border. The Rock Creek and Sinbad Valley areas also were evacuated.

In California, higher humidity and light winds were helping firefighters get ahead of a stubborn wildfire that has charred 4,100 acres of tinder-dry grass and brush in rural San Diego County.

The blaze near Shelter Valley was burning Saturday in steep, rocky terrain away from the town of Julian, said Thomas Shoots, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It was 30 percent contained.

No injuries or damage to structures were reported, and the fire was not moving toward any homes as it burned southeast on Saturday.

Authorities evacuated about 100 homes in the Shelter Valley area along Highway 78 in the early stages of the blaze, but evacuation orders were lifted late Thursday and residents were allowed to return, Schuler said.

Arizona fire officials said a cold front arriving over the state late Friday was providing additional relief to firefighters battling the Gladiator Fire, a blaze that has charred 16,000 acres and is now 40 percent contained. Electricity has been restored to some areas.

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, June 4, 2012

Federal forecasters predict a near-normal hurricane season

The federal government is predicting a near-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic this year: anywhere from four to eight hurricanes.

Hurricane Irene, the most devastating storm of 2011, spins off the Mid-Atlantic coast in August. NOAA

Hurricane Irene, the most devastating storm of 2011, spins off the Mid-Atlantic coast in August.

NOAA

Hurricane Irene, the most devastating storm of 2011, spins off the Mid-Atlantic coast in August.

A typical season, based on the years 1981-2010, sees six hurricanes.

The Atlantic season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. This forecast, out Thursday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), covers any storms that form in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

Overall, NOAA predicts that nine to 15 named tropical storms are likely. Tropical storms have top wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. Once a storm's winds reach 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane.

According to NOAA, two current climate factors will limit hurricane development, if they persist:

The first is stronger-than-average wind shear over the Atlantic, which, if it persists, can tear apart burgeoning hurricanes before they start, says forecaster Todd Kimberlain of the National Hurricane Center.

Wind shear is when winds are roaring from different directions in different layers of the atmosphere. Winds recently have come from the east at low levels, Kimberlain says, while they've been from the west at upper levels, about 40,000 feet above the surface.

The second factor is cooler-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Warm water, usually of 80 degrees or above, helps fuel hurricanes.

"Another potentially competing climate factor would be El Niño, if it develops by late summer to early fall," says Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

El Niño is a warming of tropical Pacific ocean water. The opposite pattern, La Niña, has been diminishing in recent months.

"In that case, conditions could be less conducive for hurricane formation and intensification during the peak months (August-October) of the season, possibly shifting the activity toward the lower end of the predicted range," he says.

This month, two of the biggest private weather forecasting companies, AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, predicted an average or slightly below-average hurricane season. AccuWeather said 12 named tropical storms will form, five of them hurricanes; The Weather Channel forecasts 11 tropical storms — of which six will be hurricanes.

Last month, the meteorologists at Colorado State University estimated 10 tropical storms, of which four would be hurricanes. Colorado State University meteorologist William Gray was the first scientist to make seasonal hurricane forecasts in the 1980s.

Since 2000, NOAA's tropical storm and hurricane forecasts have been more right than wrong, but not by much: NOAA's prediction has been accurate in seven out of the past 12 years, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

NOAA's prediction was too low in four years and too high in just one year: 2006. Ten of the 12 years have seen above-average activity for tropical storms and hurricanes.

So far this year, one tropical storm has formed in the Atlantic: Alberto, which spun off the Southeast coast earlier this week.

Does the early start portend an active season? No, says the hurricane center's Kimberlain. "There is little, if any, relationship between the early occurrence of a storm at higher latitudes and the type of activity we will ultimately observe later in the season."

Forecasters also released their prediction for the Eastern Pacific basin, where 12 to 18 named storms are expected. An average Eastern Pacific hurricane season produces 15 named storms. Eastern Pacific storms and hurricanes primarily stay out to sea and seldom affect the USA, although some storms do hit the west coast of Mexico.

Two Eastern Pacific storms have formed this year: Tropical Storm Aletta, which spun harmlessly out to sea, and Hurricane Bud, which could affect the west coast of Mexico by this weekend.

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, June 3, 2012

Officials ponder hurricane threat at GOP convention in Fla.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The Republican National Convention scheduled in Tampa for late August would be among the casualties if the area were threatened then by a hurricane, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said Wednesday.

An infrared satellite image shows Hurricane Frances spinning northeast of Tampa in 2004. The four-day GOP convention is scheduled for Aug. 27 to 30, smack dab in the middle of Florida's hurricane season. AP

An infrared satellite image shows Hurricane Frances spinning northeast of Tampa in 2004. The four-day GOP convention is scheduled for Aug. 27 to 30, smack dab in the middle of Florida's hurricane season.

AP

An infrared satellite image shows Hurricane Frances spinning northeast of Tampa in 2004. The four-day GOP convention is scheduled for Aug. 27 to 30, smack dab in the middle of Florida's hurricane season.

"Public safety — that's going to be the number one priority," Carroll said. "We can have the convention again."

However, rescheduling a national political convention could be difficult heading into Labor Day weekend and with the Democratic National Convention slated for Charlotte, N.C., the following week.

Carroll said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who returns Thursday from a trade mission to Spain, would make the call if the GOP convention were threatened by severe weather.

"This is his state, and public safety is primary," Carroll reiterated.

State emergency workers have spent recent days tracking a fictitious Category 3 Hurricane Gispert that would hit Tarpon Springs, just north of Tampa, two days after the convention is scheduled to begin.

"We'd be dealing a lot with storm surge issues down there," said Bryan Koon, the state's emergency management director. "We're also working on a high number of potential evacuations."

The four-day GOP convention is scheduled for Aug. 27 to 30, smack dab in the middle of Florida's hurricane season. Two of the most damaging hurricanes to hit the U.S. reached Florida in late August. Hurricane Katrina made landfall north of Miami on Aug. 25, 2005 while Hurricane Andrew came ashore with 145 mph winds just south of Miami on Aug. 24, 1992.

Florida heads into the official six-month storm season that begins June 1 having evaded a hurricane on its shores for an unprecedented six straight years. And the forecast for a seventh straight year without a hurricane is also encouraging.

"I want to remind Floridians that 20 years ago the same prediction was made," Carroll said. "In August 1992, Florida was forever altered. Hurricane Andrew changed the landscape of Florida."

Maj. General Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, said Wednesday that he presently has 9,000 available troops for assistance if needed.

"The team that's in place is prepared to handle the various emergencies that we foresee," Carroll 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, June 2, 2012

Bud weakens to tropical storm off Mexico's coast

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico (AP) – Bud weakened to a tropical storm Friday as heavy rain began to pelt a string of laid-back beach resorts and small mountain villages on Mexico's Pacific coast south of Puerto Vallarta.

A navy vehicle drives along a street in the coastal town of Barra de Navidad as the community prepares for the storm's arrival along the Pacific coast of Mexico on Friday. By Bruno Gonzalez, AP

A navy vehicle drives along a street in the coastal town of Barra de Navidad as the community prepares for the storm's arrival along the Pacific coast of Mexico on Friday.

By Bruno Gonzalez, AP

A navy vehicle drives along a street in the coastal town of Barra de Navidad as the community prepares for the storm's arrival along the Pacific coast of Mexico on Friday.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, said that maximum sustained winds that were once blowing at 115 mph (185 kph) had slowed to 70 mph (113 kph) by Friday night. The government of Mexico changed the hurricane warning for the coast of Mexico from Manzanillo to Cabo Corrientes to a tropical storm warning. Hurricane watches were also discontinued.

Forecasters said the storm would continue to weaken and the center would move over land late Friday or Saturday.

Heavy rain started Friday night in Puerto Vallarta and rainfall was expected to accumulate from 6 to 10 inches in many spots. Mexican authorities canceled school in 11 communities expected to be hit by heavy rains in Jalisco state. Emergency workers prepared emergency shelters, many of them in empty school classrooms. Emergency officials in Puerto Vallarta said they were closely monitoring villages that had been hit by flooding and mudslides in previous hurricanes and tropical storms.

Rains and 6-foot (2-meter) high waves pelted Melaque, a beach town on the Bahia de Navidad, about 60 mph (100 kilometers) east of the sparsely populated stretch of coast where the storm's center was expected to come ashore during the night.

Rafael Galvez, manager of the Hotel Bahia in Melaque, said his staff would board up windows before Bud's arrival.

"I went through Wilma in Cancun," which hit as a Category 4, Galvez said. "This is a little less severe."

Category 2 Hurricane Jova hit the area in October, killing six people and flooding parts of Melaque and neighboring Barra de Navidad.

"There was a lot of flooding in the whole area, and we lost electricity," Galvez recalled. But this week, he said, only seven of his hotel's 26 rooms were occupied, and none of the hotel's guests were planning to leave.

The hurricane center said the storm would hit land, move a little inland and then make a U-turn and head back out into the Pacific. Rain, rather than wind, could be the big threat, with the center warning of the "potential for life-threatening mudslides" in steep terrain inland.

The government of Jalisco state prepared hundreds of cots and dozens of heavy vehicles such as bulldozers that could be needed to move debris.

Jalisco's civil defense office said two shelters had been opened in Cihuatlan, a town just inland from Melaque that was hard hit by flooding from Jova.

The region is experienced at handling hurricanes, Galvez noted. "The government planning has helped a lot," he noted.

Officials in Puerto Vallarta said they were in close contact with managers of the hundreds of hotels in the city in case tourists need to move to eight emergency shelters, but on Friday night they said that appeared unlikely. It said the sea along the city's famous beachfront was calm, but swimming had been temporarily banned as a precaution.

A separate storm was pounding much of Cuba and the Bahamas on Friday. Cuba's civil defense agency reported that a French citizen, Alain Manaud, and Silvestre Fortun Alvarez of Cuba were missing after trying to cross rain-swollen rivers, according to the government's Prensa Latina news agency. It said a search for them was continuing.

An official at the French Embassy in Havana said Manaud was 66 and had lived in Cuba for several years. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.

The agency quoted government meteorologists as saying more than 20 inches (500 millimeters) of rain had fallen on parts of the central province of Sancti Spiritus.

The U.S. hurricane center reported that the system had about a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical or subtropical cyclone.

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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