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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.

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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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.

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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