Wednesday, February 29, 2012

ALERT: 7 killed as storm system slashes central U.S.

(CNN) -- A storm system that produced a number of tornadoes in the Midwest was blamed for at least seven deaths in two states, officials said Wednesday. At least three people were killed when a tornado touched down in Harrisburg, Illinois, early Wednesday, the Saline County Sheriff's Office said. About 100 others were injured. The number of fatalities in Harrisburg could rise, the city's mayor said, in the wake of the twister that appeared to have been on the ground for several miles, said the city's mayor, Eric Gregg. The path of destruction was about three or four football fields wide, he said. The scene in the southern part of Harrisburg, where the tornado struck, was one of debris and collapsed houses. Commercial and residential buildings were crushed. A tractor-trailer could be seen laying on its side, off the highway.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

SKYWATCH: The Fireballs of February

Feb. 22, 2012: In the middle of the night on February 13th, something disturbed the animal population of rural Portal, Georgia. Cows started mooing anxiously and local dogs howled at the sky. The cause of the commotion was a rock from space. "At 1:43 AM Eastern, I witnessed an amazing fireball," reports Portal resident Henry Strickland. "It was very large and lit up half the sky as it fragmented. The event set dogs barking and upset cattle, which began to make excited sounds. I regret I didn't have a camera; it lasted nearly 6 seconds."Strickland witnessed one of the unusual "Fireballs of February." "This month, some big space rocks have been hitting Earth's atmosphere," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "There have been five or six notable fireballs that might have dropped meteorites around the United States." It’s not the number of fireballs that has researchers puzzled. So far, fireball counts in February 2012 are about normal. Instead, it's the appearance and trajectory of the fireballs that sets them apart. "These fireballs are particularly slow and penetrating," explains meteor expert Peter Brown, a physics professor at the University of Western Ontario. "They hit the top of the atmosphere moving slower than 15 km/s, decelerate rapidly, and make it to within 50 km of Earth’s surface."

Monday, February 20, 2012

SKYWATCH: An Alignment of Planets in the Sunset Sky

Feb. 17, 2012 - Note to sky watchers: Put on your winter coats. What you’re about to read might make you feel an uncontrollable urge to dash outside. The brightest planets in the solar system are lining up in the evening sky, and you can see the formation—some of it at least—tonight. Go out at sunset and look west. Venus and Jupiter pop out of the twilight even before the sky fades completely black. The two brilliant planets surrounded by evening blue is a beautiful sight. If you go out at the same time tomorrow, the view improves, because Venus and Jupiter are converging. In mid-February they are about 20 degrees apart. By the end of the month, the angle narrows to only 10 degrees—so close that you can hide them together behind your outstretched palm. Their combined beauty grows each night as the distance between them shrinks. A special night to look is Saturday, Feb. 25th, when the crescent Moon moves in to form a slender heavenly triangle with Venus, Jupiter and the Moon as vertices (sky map). One night later, on Sunday, Feb. 26th, it happens again (sky map). This arrangement will be visible all around the world, from city and countryside alike. The Moon, Venus and Jupiter are the brightest objects in the night sky; together they can shine through urban lights, fog, and even some clouds.

Saudi Arabia Cuts Oil Output

Sunday, 19 Feb 2012 - The world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, appears to have cut both its oil production and export in December, according to the latest update by the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI), an official source of oil production, consumption and export data. The OPEC heavyweight saw production decline by 237,000 barrels per day (bpd) from three-decade highs of 10.047 million bpd in November, the JODI data showed on Sunday. The draw-down was sharper for the actual amount exported, declining by 440,000 bpd, or 5.6 percent, to come in at 7.364 million bpd, the data also showed. The level would still be similar to exports after a steep ramp-up last June. In its monthly report on February 10, the IEA put Saudi Arabia’s production number for December slightly lower at 9.55 million bpd, a disparity of 260,000 bpd versus the JODI data. Iran appeared not to have filed data in time for the latest release, providing no additional clues about how many export barrels were already lost in December, as some reports have suggested.

Why Was 2011 Such a Deadly Tornado Year?

State College -- reports last year, 2011, went down in the record books as the fourth deadliest tornado year ever in the United States with 550 fatalities.

1925 was the deadliest year in the U.S., with 794 killed, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That year is infamous for the Tri-State tornado, the longest-tracking, deadliest tornado on record. The tornado's path went through portions of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, over 219 miles long. The twister killed 695 people along its path.

There were 552 deaths in 1936 and 551 deaths in 1917, ranking as the second and third most deaths caused by tornadoes in a year. According to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), the yearly average for tornado deaths is around 60.

In this April 28, 2011 photo, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his wife Dianne view tornado damage in Tuscaloosa, Ala. A spawn of deadly tornadoes hit the state on Bentley's 100th day in office. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

2011 had an unusually high number of large, destructive tornado outbreaks; 1,709 tornadoes touched down, a close second to the record 1,817 tornadoes set in 2004. In comparison, the average number of tornadoes per year over the past decade is around 1,300.

Why So Many Tornadoes in 2011?
A key ingredient for the violent severe weather in 2011 was a very strong jet stream. La Niña, a phenomenon where the sea surface temperature in the central and eastern Pacific around the equator are below normal, helped to cause the strong northern jet stream, which frequently plunged into the South. This set the stage for powerful supercell thunderstorms, which are the type of storms that spawn tornadoes.

People typically think of "Tornado Alley" as the corridor from Texas to Kansas that is frequently hit by tornadoes in the spring. Warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico clashes with drier air from the Rockies. During 2011, many tornadoes touched down east of the typical "Tornado Alley," which is often the case in La Niña years. More densely populated areas sit in the path of severe storms capable of spawning tornadoes.

Tornadoes Hit Many Cities, Communities Outside of "Tornado Alley"
"Last year was an exceptionally deadly year because city after city got hit. Some of them were far outside of 'Tornado Alley.' My friend, Jenna Blum, coined the term 'Metronado,' which is what we had last year," Mike Smith, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions said.

Minneapolis, Minn., Springfield, Mass., Raleigh, N.C., St. Louis, Mo., Birmingham, Ala., Jackson, Miss., Oklahoma City, Okla., New York City, N.Y., and Philadelphia, Pa., are among the cities where tornadoes touched down in 2011.

Two of the most deadly tornadoes touched down in Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011 and Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 27, 2011.

"No matter how good the warnings are, if you take a densely populated area and put a F-4 or F-5 tornado in there, tragically, people are going to lose their lives," Smith added.

Some strong tornadoes also touched down far outside of "Tornado Alley," where people are less prepared for violent severe weather.

Springfield, Mass., was hit by an rare EF-3 tornado on June 1, 2011. "This was the first major tornado to hit Massachusetts since 1953," Smith said.

Inadequate Shelters Led to More Deaths in 2011
Another factor in how deadly tornadoes were in 2011 was inadequate shelters both in solid structure homes and mobile home parks.

The safest place to take shelter during a tornado is in the lowest interior room of a house or building, preferably in a basement, but there are areas in the country where people do not have basements.

Many people that live in "Tornado Alley" and other areas of the country frequently hit by tornadoes do not have basements, while other communities far outside of "Tornado Alley" do have basements.

"Places like Massachusetts have basements -- well outside of 'Tornado Alley.' Oklahoma, almost no one has a basement. Its local building customs, soil conditions, etc., that dictate whether people have basements. In Joplin, almost no one had a basement, but in St. Louis, same state, almost everyone did," Smith said.

Many mobile homes were devastated by tornadoes in 2011, leaving many to debate whether mobile home parks should be required to have community shelters.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


2012 February 16 17:13:20 UTC
Magnitude 3.5
Location 38.080°N, 122.234°W
Depth 9.2 km (5.7 miles)

Monday, February 13, 2012

QUAKE WATCH: 5.5 Northern California

2012 February 13 21:07:02 UTC
Location 41.153°N, 123.817°W
Depth 32.9 km (20.4 miles)
10 km (6 miles) WSW (247°) from Weitchpec, CA
28 km (17 miles) ENE (63°) from Westhaven-Moonstone, CA

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mexico Fears Second Outbreak of H1N1 as Cases Climb

Fox News - Nearly three years after H1N1, so-called swine flu, first struck Mexico, the virus is making a comeback. In January, Mexico recorded 1,623 cases of the flu, including 1,456 H1N1 cases. There were 1,000 flu cases in Mexico last year, Health Secretary Salomón Chertorivski Woldenberg said earlier this week. Since the year’s start, 29 people have died of H1N1. Only 35 people died from various flu strains all last year. Yet, the number of H1N1 cases is not unexpected. The Associated Press reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) “say that H1N1 cases this year are within the normal range.”

Read more:

QUAKE WATCH: Three recent earthquakes in a row

Magnitude 5.8 - NEW ZEALAND
2012 February 09 18:52:47 UTC
Thursday, February 09, 2012 at 18:52:47 UTC

2012 February 09 18:57:07 UTC
Magnitude 5.1

Magnitude 5.1 - UTTARANCHAL, INDIA
2012 February 09 19:17:33 UTC
Thursday, February 09, 2012 at 19:17:33 UTC

VOLCANO WATCH: Sicily's Mt. Etna erupts

It may not have quite the reputation of Mt. Vesuvius on mainland Italy, but fellow Italian volcano Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily holds an edge over the infamously explosive mountain: activity. In this case, the ball kicks the boot, as the Sicilian volcano, Mt. Etna, began erupting yet again last night.

The video below captures the explosive lava bursts that lit up the night sky. Initial reports from Osservatorio Etneo claim that the eruption lasted more than five hours. According to Wired, the eruption caused a brief closure of the Catania airport, but lava bursts are simply a part of life in the area. Mirror Online reports that Mt. Etna isn't considered especially dangerous, despite being in a near-constant state of activity, and numerous farms and vineyards need the rich soil the volcano produces.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

US cities broke warm weather records last month

CNN) - January the 4th-warmest in more than a century. Dogwood and daffodils are abloom across the South, a fact that's not really that unusual until you look at the calendar -- it's only the first week of February.
The blossom confusion is due to the unusually warm conditions across that region and most of the rest of the United States, with the temperatures from last month making it the fourth warmest January in 117 years, the National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday. Several cities across the United States shattered or tied their record high temperatures for the month.

NASA satellites reveal colossal ice melt, greenhouse gasses blamed

By Wynne Parry, LiveScience Senior Writer / February 8, 2012 - Until now, satellite measurements from only selected places were used to extrapolate the overall ice loss outside Greenland and Antarctica. The melt-off from the world's ice sheets, ice caps and glaciers over eight years of the past decade would have been enough to cover the United States in about 18 inches (46 centimeters) of water, according to new research based on the most-comprehensive analysis of satellite data yet. Data, collected for the years 2003 through 2010, indicates that melting ice raised sea levels worldwide by an average of 1.48 millimeters (0.06 inches) each year. The loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctica has already been measured using satellite data, but the new analysis revealed that melting ice elsewhere accounted for about 0.41 mm (0.016 inches) of the annual rise. Until now, satellite measurements from only selected places were used to extrapolate the overall ice loss outside Greenland and Antarctica.

SKYWATCH: Melting 'Snow Moon' - According to folklore, last night's full Moon was the "Snow Moon." John Stetson watched it melt, apparently, as it rose through a layer of relatively warm air over the waters of Cape Elizabeth, Maine:

It's a mirage, caused by sun-warmed air overlying the sea surface. The temperature profile turned Earth's atmosphere into a lens, refracting the rays of the rising Moon and distorting the lunar disk as shown. Jules Verne noticed the same kind of distortion in sunrises and sunsets, and famously likened them to an Etruscan Vase.

Russian scientists reach lake under Antarctica

MOSCOW (AP) — After more than two decades of drilling in Antarctica, Russian scientists have reached the surface of a gigantic freshwater lake hidden under miles of ice for some 20 million years — a lake that may hold life from the distant past and clues to the search for life on other planets. Reaching Lake Vostok is a major discovery avidly anticipated by scientists around the world hoping that it may allow a glimpse into microbial life forms, not visible to the naked eye, that existed before the Ice Age. It may also provide precious material that would help look for life on the ice-crusted moons of Jupiter and Saturn or under Mars' polar ice caps where conditions could be similar.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


2012 February 07 16:29:30 UTC
Magnitude - 3.1
Distance - 34 km (21 miles) ENE of Shawnee, Oklahoma

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alaskan Volcano May Become Threat to Air Traffic

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Scientists are watching Alaska’s Mount Cleveland on the Aleutian Islands because it may become a threat to air traffic, said John Power, scientist in charge at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Mount Cleveland, about 5,600 feet high, has exploded almost every year since 2005 and was particularly active in the last half of 2011, Power said. Its last blast was five weeks ago. Earlier this week, scientists detected a new lava dome forming at the top of the mountain, an indication it may explode again. The Volcano Observatory issued an orange warning, the second highest on its four-step scale for aviation alerts.

Friday, February 3, 2012

NY Woman, Has Same Mystery Illness Affecting Teens

The Huffington Post - The mystery illness affecting 15 teens -- 14 girls and one boy -- from Le Roy High School in New York is reportedly also affecting a 36-year-old who lives in the area.
NBC News reported that Marge Fitzsimmons, who has lived her whole life in LeRoy, also started experiencing the Tourette-like symptoms in October -- around the same time a dozen teenage girls started experiencing the symptoms, which include uncontrollable tics and head shaking. Three more students -- including one boy -- came forward with symptoms late last month.
"When it first started I thought maybe I'm going crazy," Fitzsimmons told NBC News. "As an adult, I can't imagine these teenagers going through this and for anyone to think that they're faking it at all. Try living a day in their shoes."
The symptoms were so bad that she had to stop working.
"The motor tics wouldn't stop, and the vocal tics started, and I went to one of the bosses and said I have to go," Fitzsimmons told NBC News.
HLN reported that she was also diagnosed with conversion disorder, from stress and childhood trauma. The other teenagers at the high school have also been diagnosed by experts with conversion disorder, which is where a stress or psychological issue is manifesting in physical ways, with real physical symptoms.
Fitzsimmons told HLN that her doctor said it was like "everything you've ever suppressed in your whole life has just erupted like a volcano."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

New alien planet is perfect for life, scientists say

By Denise Chow - February 02, 2012 - A potentially habitable alien planet — one that scientists say is the best candidate yet to harbor water, and possibly even life, on its surface — has been found around a nearby star. The planet is located in the habitable zone of its host star, which is a narrow circumstellar region where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. "It's the Holy Grail of exoplanet research to find a planet around a star orbiting at the right distance so it's not too close where it would lose all its water and boil away, and not too far where it would all freeze," Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told "It's right smack in the habitable zone — there's no question or discussion about it. It's not on the edge, it's right in there."

An artist's conception of the alien planet GJ 667Cc, which is located in the habitable zone of its parent star.

Nuclear reactor remains offline due to equipment problem

Wednesday, February 2, 2012 - A nuclear reactor at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station remained off-line today for the second consecutive day due to an equipment problem that sent a small, non-hazardous amount of radioactive gas into an auxiliary building and possibly into the atmosphere, authorities said. The leak in a steam-generator tube in Unit 3 at the power plant just north of Camp Pendleton was detected about 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. An alarm alerted station personnel to the presence of radioactivity in the ancillary structure, and they immediately began shutting down the reactor, NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said.

Quake Watch: 7.1 Vanuatu Islands Pacific Ocean

Magnitude 7.1 - VANUATU ISLANDS
2012 February 02 13:34:40 UTC
Location 17.766°S, 167.134°E
Depth 23.1 km (14.4 miles)
1803 km (1120 miles) ENE of BRISBANE, Queensland, Australia