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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Miriam downgraded in Pacific; Nadine spins in Atlantic

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

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

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

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

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact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

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Zombie bees invade Washington state

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

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

Kathy Plonka AP

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

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

And experts say the condition has crept into Washington state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Air Force One aborts landing

Not even Air Force One is immune from the weather.

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

The president and his party were never in danger.

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

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

From the Toledo pool report:

"Apparently AF1 does take into account the weather.

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


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Indian Ocean earthquakes triggered quakes globally

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

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

AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lovebugs at their worst this season

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

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

Nina Greipel, AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stubborn drought maintains grip on lower 48 states

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

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

Seth Perlman AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

This year's Harvest Moon rises Sept. 29

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

A full moon captured July 18, 2008.

NASA/Sean Smith

A full moon captured July 18, 2008.

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

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

which this year was on Sept. 22.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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