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No sign of young killer whale in Alaska river (AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – There's been no sign in two days of a juvenile killer whale last seen swimming in a river in southwest Alaska, a federal fisheries official said late Monday.

The juvenile whale was last spotted swimming downriver in the Nushagak River on Saturday, the same day the carcasses of two other adult orcas, believed to be females, were discovered in the river, NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Julie Speegle said in a statement.

An aerial survey of the river Monday afternoon failed to find the young whale, she said.

Four veterinarians were scheduled to fly to Dillingham on Tuesday to perform necropsies on the two adult whales. Leading the effort will be a killer whale specialist from SeaWorld in San Diego.

It will likely take two days to complete the necropsies, Speegle said. According to NOAA, female killer whales can weigh up to 16,500 pounds and be 28 feet long. Preliminary results possibly could be ready later this week.

The whales have been swimming in the Nushagak River for about three weeks in what federal biologists said was an unprecedented trek for Alaska killer whales.

The whales swam about 30 miles up the Nushagak River to a spot just downriver from the village of Ekwok, which is about 285 miles southwest of Anchorage.

It had been hoped all three would swim downriver and eventually find their way back to Bristol Bay.

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Heavy rains hammer Central America; 36 dead (AP)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Heavy rains generated by a low-pressure system hammered Central America for a third day Friday, putting officials on alert in countries where mudslides and swollen rivers have already killed 36 people.

At least 21 people have been killed in Guatemala and thousands of others were evacuated or saw their homes destroyed by the incessant downpours.

In El Salvador, rivers have overflowed their banks, destroying villages and prompting an evacuation of about 4,000 people from their homes, the country's disaster management office said in a statement Friday.

In Honduras, six people have been killed in floods and the roads connecting the nation to Guatemala have been destroyed. Other communities have been left isolated by the floods. In Nicaragua, four people have died this week.

The system is expected to hover over the region for the next couple of days, generating more rainfall, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Irwin was weakening and drifting away from Mexico in the Pacific, three days after Hurricane Jova slammed into the same coast, killing six people.

Irwin's maximum sustained winds as of Friday afternoon were near 45 mph (75 kph), and the storm could begin weakening on Saturday, the hurricane center said.

Irwin was centered about 165 miles (265 kilometers) west of Manzanillo, Mexico, and moving south-southeast at about 2 mph (4 kph).

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USGS: 5.3 magnitude quake off OR coast, no tsunami (AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. – A magnitude 5.3 earthquake jolted an area about 140 miles off the southern Oregon coast Wednesday night. A National Earthquake Information Center spokesman in Golden, Colo., says there was no danger of a tsunami from the shallow quake, which was felt by residents in southern Oregon and northern California.

The quake was originally rated at magnitude 5.9 but that was adjusted downward based on additional information.

Geophysicist Rafael Abreu says there were no immediate reports of damage.

He says reports of people feeling the quake ranged from Coos Bay and North Bend on the Oregon coast as far north as Portland, Ore. In California, "felt reports" came from Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, north of San Francisco.

Abreu says the quake occurred in an area of the Pacific where the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Pacific Plate are sliding past each other in a horizontal motion.

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Flooded Vt. town struggles to ID cemetery remains (AP)

ROCHESTER, Vt. – The remnants of Hurricane Irene killed four people in Vermont, but the storm scattered dozens of sets of human remains — bodies pried from eternal rest in a mountain cemetery and swept down a raging river, where some may never be identified or even found.

Some of the 50 sets of remains from Woodlawn Cemetery in Rochester were left mostly intact in caskets that floodwaters ripped from the ground; others were old bones strewn around the cemetery or downstream. But some were more recently deceased, putting relatives in the painful position of describing facial features, clothing or jewelry to investigators so they can be identified and returned to the earth.

The flood on Aug. 28 stole the remains of five relatives of Darlene Thompson, 40, a lifelong resident of the Rochester area. The remains of her mother and father, who died in 2004 and last year, were soon found nearby. Her grandmother was recently found at a golf course five miles downriver. A stillborn brother and an uncle, both buried in the 1960s, will probably never be found, she said.

"Our situation has been a nightmare, but we are the lucky ones," Thompson said. "Out of five of the ones missing in our cemetery plot, the three most important ones were found."

As the head of the Rochester cemetery commission, Sue Flewelling's job before Irene involved selling lots and helping arrange burials. Now she's trying to figure out how to put back together the town's main cemetery, which dates to the early 1800s.

"We respect our people. They were Rochester residents, you know," Flewelling said. "You've got to treat them with respect; that's why we'd like to have them put back to where they picked out that they wanted to be."

But, if, and when, that can happen remains a low priority in a town of 1,100 in the Green Mountains that is still repairing roads, bridges and homes damaged as Irene concluded a deadly march up the coast, reaching Vermont as a tropical storm and dumping biblical rains that cut several towns off from the outside world for days.

For all the pictures of covered bridges and homes turned into kindling by the angry floods, the scene at the cemetery was perhaps most shocking: a whole section washed away, bodies strewn about in the open air, caskets poking out of debris piles and glinting in the post-storm sun.

The day after the storm, Flewelling said, she started to get reports that the cemetery, situated where the normally tiny Nason Brook meets the White River, had washed out and that people were posting pictures on the Internet. There were rumors, never confirmed, of looting.

"We had exposed bodies and caskets and things lying all around here. I mean, they don't need to be taking jewelry or anything like that," she said. "I said, `No, that is not going to happen anymore.'"

With state law enforcement access to the town cut off, Flewelling and the cemetery sexton started camping out at the entrance to keep the curious away and tell family members whether their loved ones' graves had been affected. She received between 400 and 500 calls.

First, they covered exposed remains. Locals were told not to touch anything. When the state medical examiner's office arrived, it was treated like a mass fatality event, and a special team was mobilized to help search for, recover and identify the remains, said Dr. Elizabeth Bundock, deputy chief medical examiner.

"There are 50 names in the involved area. Half of those were buried more than 50 years ago," Bundock said. "It's hard to know what to expect from a burial that's 50 or more years ago."

The experts used family memories, and in some cases DNA, to try to identify the remains. Family members were not asked to look at the actual remains.

Six weeks later, about half the remains have been recovered, but only half of those have been identified.

While rare, it's not unknown for flooding to disturb graves; hundreds were pulled out of the ground by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Mississippi, Louisiana and other parts of the South. But while a low water table in those places means some graves lie in above-ground vaults, it's not so common for a flash flood to do similar damage in an area where caskets are soundly interred.

Flewelling, who has lived in Rochester for 42 years, said she never imagined Woodlawn could be at risk from flooding. It's well above the river and survived two previous disasters unscathed — floods in 1927 and the great East Coast hurricane of 1938.

The total cost of repairs, including the huge amounts of fill needed to rebuild the lost area, is close to $1 million, Flewelling estimates. The Rochester Cemetery Commission has an annual budget of about $14,000, she said, and a special fund has been set up.

"It's going to be a long, hard process," she said. "I expect when the spring floods come it's going to change some of the creek beds again and they may find some more people downstream."

Remains will probably turn up in the river for some time — and each case will have to be treated as if it's a newly deceased body, to make sure no new crimes slip through the cracks, Bundock said.

It will be impossible to identify all the remains that were recovered because there's no way to match DNA from older graves, Flewelling said. At some point there will probably be a mass reburial, she said.

For Thompson, it was a huge relief when Bundock called to say her grandmother's remains had been positively identified after they were found downstream.

"I am at peace, I really am," Thompson said. "I am not worried some child will see them floating somewhere. That is my worst nightmare."

Even in cases where remains have been identified, the living face painful choices, including whether to hold a second funeral. Thompson said she's not interested in another ceremony but does want to see the cemetery restored.

"I want them back where they were. That was my dad and my mother's final home. And my grandmother lived with us forever, and so it's her home too," she said. "I want them back where they were supposed to be, if they can."

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New tropical depression forms off Mexico's coast (AP)

MIAMI – A new tropical depression has formed in the Pacific off Mexico's coast as a Hurricane Jova begins moving inland farther north.

The new depression has maximum sustained winds near 35 mph (55 kph) early Wednesday and could strengthen to a tropical storm later in the day. A tropical storm warning has been issued for Barra de Tonala, Mexico, and extends southward to the Guatemalan border.

The depression is centered about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Salina Cruz and is moving north near 5 mph (7 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the depression's center will approach the coast Wednesday evening.

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Southern California Fall Heat Wave Worries Fire Authorities (ContributorNetwork)

The National Weather Service for Los Angeles/Oxnard reports unseasonably warm Southern California fall temperatures that are between 10 degrees and 20 degrees above normal. As a result of the high pressure system that ushers in the dry heat, forecast Santa Ana winds increase the risk of fire danger in areas with dry brush. A Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson alerted the L.A. Times that 2,000 seasonal firefighters are kept on as a precaution. Just how common are California heat waves -- and will the trend continue?

* An Increase of three Heat Waves per Century

Writing for the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers on 2008, researchers have discovered that Los Angeles in particular is experiencing a marked uptick in heat waves. Findings support the notion that the number of events has increased by three for each century. The tripling of this figure is associated with a steady warming trend of the L.A. basin.

* Strain on the Water Supply

Attributing the heat waves to steady warming of the L.A. area, which in turn is caused by the increase of human activity in the city, researchers predict that there will be more notable heat waves. Moreover, of the average length of heat waves will increase. A direct result of this development is "increase in wildfires, and more strain on water, power, and agriculture." Already the County of Los Angeles warns that Southern California summer temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in valleys -- and above 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the low desert -- "are not uncommon."

* Notable Spring Heat Wave hit Southern California in 2006

NASA's Earth Observatory noted in 2006 that nearby Long Beach noted record temperatures that were 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal spring weather. Relying on heat imaging, satellite photos revealed that the land mass had reached temperatures "nearing 150 degrees Fahrenheit" at 2:20 p.m. local (Pacific) time.

* More extreme nighttime Heat Waves

Climate researchers at the American Meteorological Society differentiate between daytime and nighttime heat waves. They document "stronger nighttime heating" especially along California's southern coast. In contrast, daytime heat weaves appear to be more common in the northern coastal hills.

* Looking into the Future

The Southern California Association of Governments warns that by the year 2100, Southern California's overall temperature will rise by four to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat waves "will likely intensify and last longer." In the same time frame, water levels along the coast will rise by 1.5 feet, even as precipitation continues to be erratic and unpredictable. This will most likely lead to water shortages. Further aggravating the expected temperature variations are short-term climate events, such as El Niño weather patterns.

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The nations weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – 1 hr 41 mins ago

Weather Underground Forecast for Monday, October 17, 2011.

Wet and windy weather will continue in parts of the Great Lakes and the Northeast on Monday as deep low pressure lingers over eastern Canada. West winds gusting up to 50 mph are expected in the Lower Great Lakes and parts of the Northeast and may result in downed tree limbs and scattered power outages. Meanwhile, an associated low pressure system will lift northeastward into the Northeast with a few light showers. Significant precipitation is not expected with this system due to a lack of moisture.

In the South, deep tropical moisture streaming ahead of an area of low pressure moving northeastward over the eastern Gulf of Mexico will fuel more active weather in central and southern Florida on Monday and Tuesday. This moisture combined with a stalled frontal boundary in southern Florida will trigger more showers with embedded thunderstorms through the afternoon. Locally heavy rainfall with rain amounts of 2 to 4 inches will create chances of minor urban and street flooding mainly over southern Florida. In addition to heavy rainfall, strong east winds existed across the region and lead to a high risk of rip currents along the Atlantic coast beaches.

Elsewhere, a fast moving disturbance from the Northwest will drop southeastward across the Intermountain West and the Central Rockies with valley showers and high elevation snow. Total snow accumulations of 3 to 6 inches are expected over the higher elevations by Monday afternoon. The system should reach the Central Plains with showers and thunderstorms during the latter half of the day. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Sunday have ranged from a morning low of 21 degrees at Havre, Mont. to a high of 93 degrees at Imperial, Calif.

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Thai floods claim more factories, Bangkok safe for now (Reuters)

By Viparat Jantraprap and Kochakorn Boonlai Viparat Jantraprap And Kochakorn Boonlai – Sun Oct 16, 7:05 am ET

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Floods in Thailand engulfed another industrial estate Sunday but the capital, Bangkok, appears for now to have escaped the devastation seen elsewhere in the country despite heavy monsoon rain and water streaming toward it from the north.

Flooding has killed 297 people since late July and caused $3 billion in damage. A third of the country is under water but officials are confident low-lying Bangkok will be spared after the strengthening of its system of defensive dikes and canals.

"We're dredging canals in both western and eastern zones, which should be completed in no more than a week. The irrigation department has provided an update on the water situation, which has reassured us," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters.

Ayutthaya, Pathum Thani and Nakhon Sawan provinces north of Bangkok have been devastated. Floods have swallowed up homes and forced a series of huge industrial parks to close, including the Bang Pa-In estate in Ayutthaya Saturday.

Another estate, Factory Land in Ayutthaya, which has 93 factories employing 8,500 employees, flooded in the early hours of Sunday.

Most of the factories make electronic components and car parts, so this will add to the problems of the international firms that use Thailand as a regional production hub.

"The water broke in at around midnight. Operators there were aware of it and evacuated people from the estate ... Up to now, five industrial estates have been flooded," said Prayoon Tingthong, in charge of industrial affairs for the province.

Japanese car maker Honda Motor Co Ltd has shut its Ayutthaya plant, which accounts for 4.7 percent of its global output, and said Friday it would stay closed until October 21.

The authorities are worried about another industrial park, Nava Nakorn in Pathum Thani province north of Bangkok, which is standing in the way of the flow of water toward the capital.

Thai media said soldiers and workers from the estate, Thailand's oldest with more than 200 factories, were working around the clock to strengthen its walls and divert water.

However, Sunday the Bangkok Post website quoted an irrigation official as saying a crucial sluice-gate had been repaired so the estate was now safe.


The north, northeast and center of Thailand have been worst hit by the flooding and Bangkok -- much of it only two meters (6.5 ft) above sea level -- is at risk as water overflows from reservoirs in the north, swelling the Chao Phraya river that winds through the densely populated city.

That danger was compounded at the weekend by high estuary tides that hamper the flow of water into the sea.

The river was reported to be at a record high level of 2.15 meters (seven feet) at one point Saturday but the embankment wall running along it in inner Bangkok is at least 2.5 meters high and has been raised along vulnerable stretches.

"The government's operations are proceeding well ... As for the current water level, it is satisfactory and it's quite certain that water will not flood Bangkok," said Police General Pongsapat Pongcharoen, a spokesman at a government crisis center set up at the city's old Don Muang airport.

Even so, Bangkokians have stocked up on bottled water, instant noodles, rice and canned goods. Many have parked their cars in elevated garages and piled sandbags in front of shop-houses and homes.

The economy is bound to suffer from the flooding.

Both the central bank and government have put the cost at about 100 billion baht ($3.2 billion) already, more than 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The Finance Ministry has cut its GDP growth forecast for this year to 3.7 percent from 4.0 percent.

The central bank said Friday that 104 bank branches had closed because of flooding, mainly in the central region. Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat Na Ranong has called bankers to a meeting at the Don Muang crisis center Monday.

A committee of government, union and employer representatives is due to decide Monday on a government plan for a big increase in the minimum wage but Thai media said employers appealed Sunday for the decision to be put off for six months because of the damage caused by the floods.

(Additional reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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Tepco: radiation from Fukushima plant declines further (Reuters)

TOKYO (Reuters) – The operator of Japan's tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant Monday said the amount of radiation being emitted from the complex has halved from a month ago, in the latest sign that efforts to bring the plant under control are progressing.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant, 240 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was damaged in March by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in the world's worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago.

"Our latest measurements show that radiation from the damaged reactors is 100 million becquerels per hour, which is one eight-millionth of the amount measured soon after the accident," Tokyo Electric Power's (Tepco) vice president Zengo Aizawa told reporters during a monthly review.

Aizawa said that this translates to about 0.2 millisievert per year of radiation measured at the fringes of the plant, below the 1 millisievert safety limit according to government guidelines.

The amount is half of what Tepco announced at its review a month ago.

In light of the progress being made in cooling its damaged reactors, which suffered nuclear fuel meltdowns in the first days of the crisis, Tepco formally brought forward its plan to bring the plant to a state of "cold shutdown" within this year, instead of by January as initially planned.

It had said last month it was hoping to achieve a cold shutdown within the year but had not made a formal declaration.

Technically, a cold shutdown is a state in which water used to cool nuclear fuel rods remains below 100 degrees Celsius, preventing the fuel from reheating.

With the help of newly built cooling systems, Tepco's efforts to cool the reactors have progressed steadily, with temperatures at all three of the damaged reactors falling below 100 degrees late in September.

But despite this development, Tepco and the government have been cautious about immediately declaring a cold shutdown.

"We still need to proceed with care. We need to continue monitoring whether the temperatures of the reactors and radiation levels being emitted remain stable going forward," Yoshinori Moriyama, deputy director-general of the government watchdog Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency, told the same news conference.

Declaring a cold shutdown will have repercussions well beyond the plant as it is one of the criteria the government said must be met before it begins allowing about 80,000 residents evacuated from within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the plant to go home.

Japan faces a massive cleanup task if these residents are to be returned home -- the environmental ministry says about 2,400 square km (930 square miles) of land surrounding Daiichi may need decontamination, an area roughly the size of Luxembourg.

Even if a cold shutdown is declared Tepco has acknowledged that it may not be able to remove the fuel from the reactors for another 10 years and that the cleanup at the plant could take several decades.

It also has to decontaminate tens of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water pooled at the plant, a result of its efforts to cool the reactors early in the crisis by pumping in vast amounts of water, much of it from the ocean.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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8 dead in stormy weather in Philippines (AP)

MANILA, Philippines – A tropical depression is blowing out of the Philippines after leaving 8 people dead and forcing more than 18,000 others to flee from their flooded homes.

The Office of Civil Defense says among the dead were five children who were swept away by strong currents in a rain-swollen river as they rushed home from school Monday in central Iloilo province.

Forecaster Buddy Javier said Thursday that Tropical Storm Banyan weakened into a depression after hitting southern Leyte province on the country's eastern coast on Wednesday. But it continued to dump heavy rains and flooded several central and southern towns.

Javier says the tropical depression may strengthen into a storm as it blows over the South China Sea toward Vietnam.

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Fish Swim in the Streets of Flooded Florida Community (ContributorNetwork)

Residents along Florida's Treasure Coast got caught in what is being called "torrential" rainfall over the weekend, which caused widespread flooding in low-lying areas. Many residents were still without power on Monday as the Florida Power and Light Co. struggled to take care of downed lines.

Vero Beach managed to set a rainfall record on Saturday. The town recorded an accumulation of 7.05 inches in a few hours. The area got more rain on Sunday, though not quite as much. It was enough, however, to keep some areas of the city flooded on Monday, making cleanup and recovery efforts difficult.

What is the Treasure Coast?

Florida's Treasure Coast is made up of three counties that lie along the ocean -- St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River. It includes the towns of Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach, among others. Palm Beach County, while not a part of the Treasure Coast, is often included in reports concerning the other three counties. Treasure Coast was so named because of the legend of the Spanish galleons that supposedly shipwrecked there more than 3 centuries ago, spilling tons of gold and silver into the ocean.

What was the storm like that hit the Treasure Coast?

Fast. The rain that accumulated in Vero Beach fell within a six-hour period. The rain was too much for the town's drainage systems to handle. The previous rainfall record in Vero Beach was 3.99 inches in 1953.

Vero Beach is part of Indian River County, which was by far the hardest-hit area of the Treasure Coast. Overall, the county experienced rainfall estimated at 8 to 10 inches. While it is not unusual for the Treasure Coast to have rain and some mild flooding due to hurricane activity, rainfall like that experienced this weekend is rare, particularly in the record-setting amounts seen on Saturday.

What are the reports about fish swimming in the streets?

In Vero Beach, residents reported seeing catfish, albeit small ones, swimming in low-lying streets that had been overcome by floodwaters. The rainfall had caused a nearby creek and pond to overflow its banks, spreading the fish out into the neighborhood. The fish were able to swim along parts of U.S. 1, prompting residents to try and catch them.

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Weather Service Confirms Seven Fall Tornadoes Hit Virginia (ContributorNetwork)

Rare falltime tornadoes hit north central Virginia on Thursday in the midafternoon as a cold front swept through the state. The Washington Post reports the National Weather Service confirmed seven twisters touched down in Fairfax, Prince William, Louisa, Strafford and Fauquier counties. Four funnel clouds were within 50 miles of the nation's capital. No injuries or deaths were reported.

One twister was seen in the middle of rush hour traffic along Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg. A video on YouTube was uploaded by a motorist stuck in traffic watching the twister go by. The car was stopped on a bridge as the edges of the tornado crossed the highway. Leaves can be seen blowing horizontally and sheets of rain were pelting the car. Fortunately the tornado was weak enough to only blow around small bits of debris and rain.

The only victims of the high winds in Louisa County may have been historic structures. NBC 12 in Richmond, Va., reported a house built in 1746 had the roof blown off and some columns collapse in Sylvania, which is in Louisa County. The plantation house was hit around 3:45 p.m.

Damage reports in New Kent County were more drastic. About 30 homes were damaged in New Kent County and Woodhaven. Hundreds of trees were downed by the tornadoes. The elementary school suffered minor damage.

Louisa County is the same locality that was hit by an earthquake Aug. 23 that caused damage in Washington. After that, Hurricane Irene rolled through. Now a tornado has damaged parts of the county. The recent storm was just the eighth tornado to hit Louisa County since 1950. The area has suffered $18 million in damage yet has not been given any federal disaster aid.

The National Weather Service states deadly tornadoes in Virginia are rare. From 1950 to 1993, there were only two deadly tornadoes in Virginia. Twisters in 1993 accounted for four deaths and 238 injuries.

There still may be more twisters in store for the U.S. The 2011 count is already above average. Taking into account preliminary reports, there have been 1,814 twisters. That's 400 above a three-year average. The record for the most tornado deaths in one year was set in 2011 with 547 deaths, 530 in April and May. There were 160 of those deaths in one storm that destroyed 30 percent of Joplin, Mo.

There may be a spike in tornado activity in later October and early November as warm and cold air clash during the change of seasons. Tornadoes can occur anytime, anywhere, even though the most prominent times are in April and May for the United States.

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Suspected twister hits Va. county at quake center (AP)

LOUISA, Va. – A suspected tornado has torn the roof off a centuries-old plantation house in the Virginia county that was the epicenter of an earthquake in August.

Louisa County spokeswoman Amanda Reidelbach says the damage occurred Thursday afternoon at Sylvania in the town of Louisa, a house that dates to 1746.

Reidelback says the home's roof was completed blown off and columns were toppled. She says there have been no reports of injuries.

The funnel cloud was reported in the northwest area of the county about 3:45 p.m.

More than 40 aftershocks have hit the county since the August earthquake, which shook buildings in Washington and New York. The quake's epicenter was in the town of Mineral, only about 6 miles away from the town of Louisa.

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Indonesia's Bali shaken by quake; dozens injured (AP)

BALI, Indonesia – A magnitude 6.1 earthquake jolted Indonesia's popular resort island of Bali on Thursday, injuring more than 50 people and sending others fleeing from their hotels and houses in panic.

Ceilings caved in at two high schools and several ancient Hindu temples were damaged, with stones tumbling to the ground and walls crumpling.

Some cars in the bustling capital were crushed by falling slabs of concrete.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered 60 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of the island, famous for its resorts and spectacular surfing beaches. It hit 21 miles (35 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor.

Although not strong enough to trigger a tsunami, the quake was felt on neighboring Java and Lombok islands.

"It knocked me off my motorcycle," said one badly shaken Bali resident, Miftahul Chusna.

Candy Juliani, who works at the Sanur Beach Hotel, said guests ran from their rooms and into the street.

"We have special emergency routes for this type of situation," she said. "But everyone was so scared, they pretty much just ignored them."

More than 50 people were hurt, suffering everything from cuts and broken bones to head wounds, said Wayan Sudanti, a hospital spokesman.

Many were students and teachers who were injured when the ceilings in their classrooms collapsed, said I Gede Tejo from the local disaster agency.

Elsewhere, local TV showed children in red-and-white school uniforms crying as they poured into the streets, covering their heads with folded arms.

An airport and a shopping mall were also slightly damaged.

Indonesia straddles a series of fault lines that makes the vast island nation prone to volcanic and seismic activity.

A giant 9.1-magnitude quake off the country on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, half of them in the westernmost province of Aceh.


Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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Strong earthquake strikes off Papua New Guinea (AP)

SYDNEY – A strong earthquake has struck off the coast of the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea. There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries and no tsunami alert has been issued.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-6.7 quake struck Friday about 62 miles (100 kilometers) east of Lae, on the country's northern coast. The quake struck at a depth of 28 miles (45 kilometers).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a tsunami alert.

Papua New Guinea lies on the "Ring of Fire." The region is an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific Rim and where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur.

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Heavy rains kill at least 66 in Central America (AP)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Central American authorities said on Sunday that at least 66 people had died in six days of heavy rains that caused landslides, floods and bridge failures throughout the region. Officials ordered evacuations as the rain was expected to continue.

El Salvador's director of civil protection, Jorge Melendez, said in a news conference that at least 24 people had died in the country, most of them buried in their houses by landslides.

The country is in a state of alert and preparing for "major disasters," Melendez said.

Authorities were evacuating people from the area around a volcano near the capital of San Salvador, where hundreds died in landslides in 1982.

Melendez said flooding had closed a major highway in the country's west and destroyed a bridge. In the eastern state of San Miguel, water overflowed from the Rio Grande river and had inundated large expanses of farmlands.

He said Sunday morning that the rain was expected to remain heavy for 24 hours and possibly continue until Wednesday. He said El Salvador had seen 7.9 inches (200 millimeters) of rain in the previous 12 hours.

Guatemalan officials confirmed 28 deaths in their country, adding that two more people were missing and that rain was expected for two more days. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom declared a state of emergency that would be sent for approval to the congress Monday.

In Honduras, officials tallied at least nine deaths and the damaging of 2,500 homes, eight bridges and 29 roads.

"The worst is yet to come," said Rodolfo Funez, deputy director of the country's emergency commission.

Officials in Nicaragua said five people had died there with the rain abating somewhat.


Associated Press writers Sonia Perez in Guatemala, Freddy Cuevas in Honduras and Filadelfo Aleman in Nicaragua contributed to this story.

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Washington-Area Commuters Watch as Tornado Crosses Freeway in Front of Them (ContributorNetwork)

Although not unheard of, tornadoes are fairly rare in Virginia, particularly in the Washington metro area. So commuters stuck in the usual traffic jam on Interstate 95 could be forgiven on Thursday if they were caught unawares when one quickly formed and then proceeded to travel right across the freeway in front of them. The tornado was one of two confirmed twisters in the area that day.

Perhaps not surprising was the fact several of those commuters thought to take photos and videos of the phenomena while stuck in their cars. Travel on the expressway had come to a halt in evening rush hour traffic, leaving motorists with nowhere to go in the face of the storm.

Here is some of the information regarding the tornadoes that hit Northern Virginia on Thursday.

* One of the tornadoes hit in the area that was the epicenter of August's earthquake.

* The tornadoes touched down primarily in New Kent County and Louisa County, Va. The New Kent County tornado is thought to have also touched down in Prince William County and Charles City.

* The New Kent funnel at times covered a path estimated to be six miles wide. That twister damaged an elementary school and at least 30 homes. Five of those homes were condemned as total losses on Friday.

* In Louisa County, the tornado endeavored to finish off the destruction of an historic plantation home that had been heavily damaged in the August earthquake. The house, known as Sylvania, was built in 1746.

* The tornadoes came as warnings and watches covered nearby areas including Baltimore and Arundel. Those areas were also under coastal flood warnings until noon on Friday.

* The weather is part of a larger severe-weather system that beat up the area on Thursday and Friday. Residents in both the Washington Metro area and Fairfax County, Virginia, were subjected to very heavy rains in addition to the tornadoes.

* There is the possibility that a third tornado actually touched down in the area as well, but the National Weather Service had yet to confirm those reports as of late Friday.

* Preliminary estimates by the National Weather Service regarding the New Kent County tornado pegged that funnel at approximately 95 miles per hour and 200 yards across. If those estimates prove accurate, that would make the New Kent twister a F1 category tornado according to the Fujita Tornado Scale.

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Indian Ocean tsunami warning system tested (AP)

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Nations along the Indian Ocean are testing a U.N.-backed early tsunami warning system put in place after the massive 2004 wave off western Indonesia that left more than 230,000 people dead or missing.

Wednesday's exercise — the first full-scale test of the system — tested communication and emergency response. Evacuation drills were held in India and Malaysia, with bulletins sent by telephone, email, SMS and fax to more than 20 countries taking part.

The switch was flipped by officials at Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency at 8:05 a.m. — the same time a magnitude-9.2 earthquake triggered a tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004, that barreled into a dozen nations.

The agency said the test would last until 8 p.m. and that no glitches were immediately detected.

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Paper shows Japan feared aftershocks at nuke plant (AP)

TOKYO – Japan feared three months after the Fukushima nuclear power plant was hit by a tsunami that aftershocks could further damage one of its fuel storage pools, causing rods inside to melt and spew radiation within hours, according to a newly released document.

The Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization said it carried out a simulation that showed some 1,500 mostly used fuel rods at the plant's No. 4 reactor building could start breaking in two hours if aftershocks further damaged the pool and caused cooling water to escape. The fuel rods could start melting within eight hours, the organization said in a report dated June 30 and published Friday.

The report shows that the pool remained vulnerable for nearly four months until its operator completed reinforcement work in July. Tokyo Electric Power Co. had said before then that the building could withstand major aftershocks without reinforcement, but made repairs after acknowledging structural damage and water leaks from the pool area.

The March 11 quake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at the plant's three reactors. Explosions also damaged their buildings, plus Unit 4 next to them.

The simulation was based on a scenario that cooling water was lost in the Unit 4 spent fuel storage pool, located on the top floor of the building. The Unit 4 pool was considered high risk as it contained more fuel than the other three pools, as it also stored fuel rods that had been moved from the unit's reactor core, which was being fitted with new parts.

In the report, the government-funded JNES said a loss of pool water due to additional cracks from aftershocks could cause the fuel rods to overheat. Their casings could break and start spewing radiation in about 2 hours. Fuel pellets inside each rod could start melting within 7.7 hours at about 2,800 Celsius (5,000 Fahrenheit), it said.

The report was part of hundreds of pages of documents containing simulation results on dozens of accident scenarios by JNES earlier in the crisis.

Plant workers are still struggling to contain radiation still leaking from the plant, although the amount is far less than before.

TEPCO said Friday that Unit 1 — one of the most damaged buildings — now has an outer shell made of airtight polyester designed to contain radioactive particles inside the building. Similar covers are also planned for other buildings.

Government officials are also making massive decontamination efforts in areas around the plant, from where tens of thousands of people had to evacuate.

Recent discoveries of radiation "hot spots" in and around Tokyo have also caused fears among people there, where many concerned parents routinely check their neighborhoods for radiation. In most cases the reading is estimated to be below the internationally accepted annual limit, but critics say the standard exceeds Japan's cap before the accident and the government should expand the scope of decontamination.

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Central America death toll at 45 from heavy rains (Reuters)

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Torrential rain in Central America this week that forced thousands to abandon their homes and trapped many more has killed at least 45 people, with Guatemala the worst hit, authorities said on Saturday.

A tropical depression hit the region early on Wednesday, causing flooding, mudslides and lightning strikes in the chain of countries between Mexico and South America. Many areas were cut off as the rain inundated villages and clogged roads.

The destructive weather system that bore down from the Pacific killed 22 in Guatemala, and nine in Honduras, two of whom were struck by lightning, emergency services said.

Hundreds were stranded on the roofs of their homes in Honduras, especially in the southern regions of Choluteca and Valle, local emergency officials said.

In El Salvador, where seven people were killed, President Mauricio Funes declared a state of emergency. At least seven others died and thousands more were evacuated in Nicaragua.

No deaths were reported in Costa Rica, although dozens of families were evacuated from communities on the Pacific coast and the capital, San Jose.

Strong rain continued to fall in parts of Honduras and Guatemala on Saturday, while precipitation was easing in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

At least four people also died in Mexico earlier in the week when Category 2 Hurricane Jova struck from the Pacific, forcing the country's busiest port to close. The main cargo port of Manzanillo later reopened.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegicugalpa, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador, Mike McDonald in Guatemala City, Ivan Castro in Managua and Alex Leff in San Jose; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Britain has hottest October day on record (AP)

LONDON – Britain has experienced the hottest October day on record.

National weather service the Met Office says Saturday's temperature reached 85.8 F (29.9 C) at Gravesend in southeast England.

That is the highest October temperature since records began a century ago, beating the previous high of 84.9 F (29.4 C) reached on Oct. 4, 1985.

The average maximum temperature for early October is about 59 F (15 C).

After a cool and wet summer, much of Britain has been basking in several days of sun and unseasonably high temperatures. Forecasters say cooler temperatures should return by Tuesday.

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Accuweather forecasts extreme cold winter for Chicago (Reuters)

(Reuters) – Private forecaster said on Wednesday that heavy snow and extreme cold should be expected in the north central United States, especially in the Chicago area, in the coming winter.

The East Coast faces average to slightly above average snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012 as a Pacific La Nina again drives weather patterns across the United States.

"People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter," Accuweather Long-Range Meteorologist Josh Nagelberg said in a statement.

Accuweather's forecast projects Chicago will again be hit by extreme cold weather and several blizzards, as it endured last winter when more than 50 inches fell on the city including a single storm that dropped 20 inches.

Severe cold and heavy snow should expected from the Great Lakes across the Midwest and northern plains states, according to Accuweather.

La Nina, the name for a recurring phenomenon when sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean are below normal, will fuel weather across North America, including a persistent flow of tropical moisture that brings heavy rains to the West Coast called the "Pineapple Express."

The southeastern United States could again see flooding in the lower Mississippi Valley in late winter, Accuweather said.

Dry, mild weather is expected over most of the southwestern United States, with no relief seen for drought-stricken Texas.

The Mid-Atlantic states could see snow and ice with South Carolina and Georgia seeing rain. Florida should expect a mild, dry winter.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston; Editing by Gary Hill)

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Philippine flood waters start to recede (Reuters)

MANILA (Reuters) – Rescue helicopters and boats distributed food, water and medicine to thousands of Filipinos marooned in flooded towns north of the capital on Monday and authorities said water levels were starting to recede.

Wide areas of rice-producing Bulacan and Pampanga provinces have been submerged since late last week after the Philippines was hit by two typhoons. A third storm may develop this week.

Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae killed nearly 60 people, with 36 still missing, and damaged about 9 billion pesos worth of crops and infrastructure on the main island of Luzon, the national disaster agency said on Monday.

Josefina Timoteo, head of the civil defense office in the central Luzon region, said water levels has started to recede in some areas in Bulacan, allowing delivery of relief goods to isolated coastal areas.

"I was told the water level has gone down by one foot since Sunday morning," Timoteo told reporters. "As long as there's no new typhoon and more rains, it will normalize in about a week."

Government engineers were trying to clear landslides in the north to allow delivery of relief goods, and the restoration of electricity and telephone services.

Weather forecasters are now watching another lower pressure area in the Pacific because it might develop into a new typhoon and hit the same areas.

(Reporting By Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair)

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Ga. man ordered to pay in Joplin tornado case (AP)

JOPLIN, Mo. – A Georgia man who claimed to be raising money to help tornado victims in Joplin has been ordered to pay restitution for what officials called a scam.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Thursday he obtained a judgment in Jasper County Circuit Court against Steve Blood, of Thomasville, Ga.

Blood runs Internet radio business Georgia Triangle Broadcasting. Koster says Blood sold T-shirts, announced concerts and took donations, claiming the money would help victims of the spring tornadoes in Joplin and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Koster says the money was instead used for personal expenses.

The judgment requires Blood to pay restitution, court costs and $13,000 in civil penalties.

Blood has blamed rivals and former businesses associates, saying concerts he tried to arrange in Branson and Alabama didn't work out.

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Homeowners gradually rebuild in tornado-ravaged Joplin (Reuters)

JOPLIN, Mo (Reuters) – Four months ago, a tornado swept Rick and Jolene Huffman out of their house and dumped them unconscious into a clearing more than a block away.

A harrowing way to lose their home and nearly their lives but the Huffmans are rebuilding on the same spot, undaunted by memories of the tornado or devastation of their neighborhood.

"It will look a little haggard here for a while, but it will bounce back," Jolene Huffman said.

Slowly, new homes are sprouting from the ruins of the May 22 tornado in Joplin. The city has issued 307 permits to build new homes, a figure that has climbed by 25 to 30 each week.

Each house is a step toward recovery from the tornado that wiped out about 7,500 homes and took 162 lives, said Troy Bolander, manager of planning and community development for Joplin.

"The shock is just now wearing off, and that is understandable," Bolander said. "People lost their home and everything else and they didn't want to face the future.

"What is encouraging and what may help is people seeing something going up. They don't want to be the only home on the block," he said.

To rebuild in Joplin demands tolerance of a stark landscape of barren lots, shredded trees and damaged properties that remain standing. Many residents still can't get used to the empty horizon.

"This was pretty wooded around here, and now you can basically see from here to the Kansas state line," said John Hughes, who is building a new home where his old one was destroyed.

Hughes plans to plant 35-foot trees around his house.

"We can't wait for the trees to grow again. We have to buy instant shade," he said.

Like the Huffmans, Hughes said he and his wife, Carla Hughes, chose to rebuild for practical reasons -- close to jobs, close to relatives, a familiar location.

"I was hoping more of our neighbors would come back, but they chose to do something else," Hughes said.

Construction contractor Harlin Stoner, who is building the Huffmans' home on the same slab where the previous house stood, said many people can't bring themselves to rebuild.

"They are devastated and shocked, and some don't want to deal with it," Stoner said.

Some empty lots have "For Sale By Owner" signs on them, others are listed through agencies.

Ryan Flanagan, a real estate agent in Joplin, said some people with young children don't want to live around empty lots that may have old foundations or debris. Other people simply don't want to wait for their house or neighborhood to get rebuilt, he said.

"It's going to be a long-term project, and it may be ten years before anything feels normal," Flanagan said.

Bolander said an estimated 88 percent of residents who lost their housing in the tornado still live within 25 miles of Joplin. Some rent, some bought other homes, some live with family members and some live in temporary housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bolander said the city is doing a housing analysis to help predict how many people might stay in Joplin long-term.

Construction contractor John Adams said houses in many neighborhoods destroyed by the tornado were 70 or more years old. People with patience and foresight will be rewarded for rebuilding, he said.

"Sooner or later they will be surrounded by new homes," Adams said. "It will probably be much nicer than it ever was."

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Ellen Wulfhorst)

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Hurricane Irwin forms in Pacific Ocean (AP)

MIAMI – Forecasters say Irwin has been upgraded to a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean, becoming the eighth hurricane of the Eastern Pacific season.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says early Friday that Irwin had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph) and was centered about 910 miles (1,460 km) southwest of the southern tip of Baja California.

It is moving west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).

There are currently no coastal watches or warnings in effect from the storm.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jova was continuing to gradually strengthen in the Pacific. It had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) and was centered about 520 miles (835 km) southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico. It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). Jova could become a hurricane by Saturday.

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Philippe was far off the U.S. coast and was not expected to threaten land.

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48 mph Winds Wreak Havoc in Michigan (ContributorNetwork)

While other parts of the world are getting hurricanes and typhoons, Michigan is getting tropical storm strength winds as 48 mph winds, deluging rain and 21-foot waves have hit the state. With temperatures in the 30s and 40s, the wind speed is the only thing that feels "tropical."

* 40 mph: The wind speed recorded in Pontiac, Mich., on Friday.

* 48 mph: The wind speed recorded in Port Hope, Mich.

* 51 mph: The wind speed in Holland, Mich.

* 55,000: Consumer's Energy customers who lost power. Most have had their power turned back on but some pockets continue in darkness.

* 11,000: Detroit Thomas Edison customers who lost power. Most of these have also had their power turned back on.

* 23 feet: The recorded high wave height on Lake Michigan. It was set in Muskegon, Mich.

* 7 feet: Wave height on Lake St. Clair, in southeast Michigan.

* 18 feet: Wave height on Lake Huron.

* 6.2 inches: Rainfall at Detroit Metro Airport. This amount is twice the normal amount of rain for September and made it the third rainiest September since 1902.

* 2: Men killed when their SUV hit a puddle and hydroplaned into a home in Grand Rapids on Thursday. The home suffered extreme damage.

* 2: ferries closed due to winds and high waves on Lake Michigan. The Lake Express Ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee canceled service as did Ludington's S.S. Badger car ferry.

Other damage occurred in Berrien Springs, Mich., where a golfer was killed while playing during the storm. Friends visiting ArtPrize in Grand Rapids had their visit abbreviated due to high winds and rain. Some construction was halted due to heavy winds.

Gale-force wind speeds are still in effect for areas near Lake Huron. Waves are at 14 feet. Small craft advisories are in effect for most lakeshore regions on all of the five great lakes in Michigan. Frost advisories are in effect for most of Michigan.

Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes about wild weather from 25 years teaching science and social studies.

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Early fall storm hammers Calif raisins in fields (AP)

FRESNO, Calif. – A storm dumped more than an inch of rain on parts of California's agricultural heartland in less than five hours, flooding streets, uprooting trees and soaking a bumper crop of raisins drying in vineyards.

The storm hit Tuesday in Northern California, then swept through the central portions before bringing rainfall to Southern California by midmorning on Wednesday.

A live web cam at China Peak in the central Sierra Nevada showed snow accumulation on the slopes. Squaw Valley USA reported eight inches of new snow overnight, with up to nine more predicted by Thursday. The snow forced the closing of the 9,300-foot Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park.

"It is an early winter storm. It is not unheard of to have one this early," said Cindy Bean, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

The storm was especially painful to California's agriculture industry.

Leading up to the deluge, alfalfa growers worked to bale late cuttings, and cotton growers were scrambling to harvest before the storm hit. Rain can soak bolls and cause the cotton to fall out, making it unusable.

Wine grape growers, who are in the midst of harvest, generally did not expect the rain to be as much of a problem as it would have been if it had come earlier, when mold can develop. In Napa County, only cabernet sauvignon remains in the fields, and its thick skin serves as a protection, growers said. On the Central Coast, growers in the midst of harvest said the rain would serve to wash the dust from the grapes, but likely would not cause damage.

But their colleagues in the raisin industry were hammered. An unseasonably cool spring delayed the peak harvest, for some even past even the Sept. 25 deadline they needed to qualify for crop insurance.

Growers say nearly half of the raisin crop was soaked as it dried in the fields.

"Overall, we think 40 to 50 percent of the raisin crop has been exposed," said Eric Cisneros of Fresno Cooperative Raisin Growers. "If we get a little bit of wind and sun, it could help. But with the rain comes mold, so it all depends on what stage of drying they are in."

California produces 360,000 tons of raisins annually, or about 40 percent of the world total.

The rain in the Central Valley turned to snow when it reached the Sierra Nevada, where chains were required at higher elevations.

"It's a storm similar to early December, but we just got it in early October," said Johnnie Powell, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sacramento.

No major damage was reported. Temperatures were expected to return to normal by the Columbus Day holiday weekend.

A storm warning remains in effect until late Wednesday for elevations above 6,000 feet. In the Central Valley and foothills, more showers and a chance of thunderstorms were expected.

"First and foremost, we want people to slow down," California Highway Patrol spokesman Adrian Quintero said.

Pacific Gas & Electric had nearly 2,200 customers without power in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, San Joaquin and Yolo counties.

"Cars into utility poles on slick roads, that sort of thing," said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno. "We're looking to get almost everyone back on by early afternoon."

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which provides electricity to Sacramento and part of Placer County, had outages affecting 1,100 customers when trees and branches collapsed onto power lines or blew fuses overnight.

In Southern California, the Los Angeles Fire Department had sandbags available for anyone concerned about flooding.


Associated Press writers Sheila V Kumar in Sacramento, Brooke Donald in San Jose and Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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Hurricane Season Is Past Its Peak (But Stay on Guard) (

This year's active hurricane season, already impressive in its activity, still has two months remaining. As Ophelia withers, the season seems to have hit another lull.

Are we past the peak of the season?

"From a climatological standpoint, about 75-80 percent of all hurricane activity has occurred," said Phil Klotzback, a hurricane forecaster at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "So, yes, we are past the peak of the season."

Ophelia was the 15th named storm of the 2011 season, followed by number 16, Tropical Storm Phillipe, which is still swirling over the open Atlantic basin.

The 2011 season was predicted to be a doozy, with 14 to 19 named storms (which include tropical storms and hurricanes), seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). So far, there have been 16 named storms, four hurricanes (Irene, Katia, Maria and Ophelia) and three major hurricanes (Irene, Katia and Ophelia).

But just because the season is past its peak is no reason to let down your guard. Hurricane season isn't officially over until Nov. 30, and deadly hurricanes can strike at any time through then, and even after. The tropics could heat up in these final months as storms shift their birthplace to the west in the Atlantic basin.

At the beginning of the season, tropical cyclones tend to form near Cape Verde, off the coast of western Africa. Cape Verde-typehurricanes are Atlantic basin tropical cyclones that strengthen into tropical storms within about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) of the Cape Verde Islands and then become hurricanes before reaching the Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Center. Cape Verde-type hurricanes are most common in August and September.  In rare years, such as 1995, a Cape Verde-type hurricane will form in late July or early October.

Toward the end of the season, storms begin closer to the United States.

"Typically, late-season [tropical cyclone] activity occurs in the Caribbean or the subtropical Atlantic," Klotzbach told OurAmazingPlanet.

This puts the southeastern United States in the crosshairs. October is typically an active month for that region.

And with the warm Atlantic waters and La Niña's return — which has been linked to active hurricane seasons — more big storms could be on the way.

You can follow OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel on Twitter: @btisrael. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet and on Facebook.

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Chill falls across eastern half of U.S. (Reuters)

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Cool winds coming out of Canada pushed temperatures lower across much of the eastern United States on Saturday and forecasters said residents in some higher East Coast elevations could see chilly rain turn into snow flurries before the weekend was over.

Rain was falling across the Northeast from New England all the way down to West Virginia, and forecasters at said some of that could turn snow in higher elevations in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina overnight.

New York City, where the Yankees are scheduled to resume Game 1 of the American League Division Series playoffs tonight, was dry. On Friday night, the game was suspended in the middle of the second inning with the teams tied 1-1 because of rain.

A warm front in the Midwest, meanwhile, was expected to bring temperatures in that region back to comfortable, early summer-like levels next week before moving into the east, and could give Chicago its first string of days in the 70s in several weeks.

But on Saturday, the Midwest was enduring yet another day of below average temperatures.

In Chicago, where the normal average high this time of year is 68 degrees Fahrenheit, forecasters predicted Saturday's temperature would top out in the mid 50s and warned the western suburbs, away from the relatively warm waters of Lake Michigan, might see their first widespread frost of the season.

"We're going to be 10 degrees below the normal high and then well below the normal lows as well," said Ben Deubelbeiss, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chicago.

"Then, as early as Monday, we'll see temperatures rebound -- as a big upper level ridge builds overhead and brings up some warmer air from the southwest."

The high winds that whipped up big waves on the Great Lakes on Friday, shutting down shoreline parks and trails in Wisconsin and Illinois, had largely subsided on Saturday.

Chicago's 18.5 mile lakefront bike and running path, closed on Friday as giant waves smashed onto the shore, was back open -- though gusts coming off the lake continued to churn the waters and make them dangerous for swimming.

Thousands of people were still without power in Wisconsin and Michigan, according to utility companies in both states, as a result of damage caused by Friday's strong winds.

In Door County, Wisconsin, a picturesque peninsula that juts out into northern Lake Michigan and is popular this time of year with tourists seeking fall color, all state parks and trails remained closed as a result of downed trees and unsafe conditions, the state Department of Natural Resources said.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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VT tries to save historic buildings after Irene (AP)

WATERBURY, Vt. – The floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene that ripped up roads and washed into living rooms across Vermont took a dramatic toll on quaint old villages — filling white, steepled churches with muck and knocking 19th-century clapboard houses off their foundations.

That's a big problem for a small state that cherishes its history.

The classic villages of clapboard and stone buildings hugging the state's rivers and streams are the essence of Vermont and a big tourist draw. While Irene damaged many "individual gems" with historical and architectural value, preservationists also fear the broader toll the storm levied on entire neighborhoods deemed historically important by the state and federal governments.

A preliminary survey of downtowns and village centers around the state found more than 700 buildings with at least some flood damage, though the ultimate number statewide is believed to be far higher.

"One of the things that's wonderful about Vermont and Vermont's historic resources is each of them is important individually — but it's really the collection that really makes a place special," said Paul Bruhn, executive director of The Preservation Trust of Vermont, pointing out villages like hard-hit Waterbury.

"If you wiped it out, it would be like losing your front teeth."

The vicious rush of floodwaters from Irene that ripped through the region on Aug. 28 spared National Historic Landmarks like the statehouse in Montpelier and President Calvin Coolidge's homestead in Plymouth Notch. One landmark, the American Precision Museum of early machine tools in Windsor, had a flooded basement and damaged grounds.

Still, there were many other historically significant buildings damaged by the flood. In Brattleboro, the 73-year-old Art-Deco Latchis Hotel & Theatre is temporarily shut down while crews repair infrastructure damage from a flooded basement. In Wilmington, an inundated Baptist church built in 1839 is closed for repairs and the beloved Dot's diner, a wood-frame building in the center of town that dates to 1832, is going to be torn down.

"That hits people's hearts more than anything else because it was such a landmark," said Wilmington zoning administrator Alice Herrick.

Wendy Nicholas, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Northeast Office, said while some past mega-storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike hit historic districts harder, Irene still "clobbered" many significant Vermont settlements.

Crews counted 183 damaged buildings in Waterbury's historical district alone, including homes where water from the Winooski River crept up first-floor walls.

"This whole street, Elm Street and Randall Street, everybody had anywhere from six inches to four feet of water on their first floor, it filled their basements and everything has to be replaced, all the appliances, furnaces. There isn't anything the floodwaters, with the mud, doesn't damage," said resident Skip Flanders.

Flanders spoke outside his vacated home, where the inside walls were stripped to skeletal studs as he plugged away at saving the decades-old building with tin ceilings. Like many flood victims, Flanders got a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His grant was the maximum of $30,200 but he expects repairs to cost more than twice that.

In Brattleboro, basement work on the Latchis Hotel and Theater building is expected to cost more than $500,000, said Gail Nunziata, managing director the Brattleboro Arts Initiative, which owns it. They expect to lose another $200,000 in business while they remain closed through mid-October.

"Don't forget, it's foliage season," she said.

Nunziata said the maximum they could get from flood insurance, "which is not a magic bullet," is $279,000. They secured a $100,000 economic development loan from Vermont and are looking at a Small Business Administration loan.

The financial crunch can be especially hard for people without flood insurance. Pastor Doug LaPlante of the Wilmington Baptist Church said the congregation is seeking donations to pay for repairs that will cost more than $100,000.

The Preservation Trust found about a fifth of the buildings they surveyed had actual structural damage to the foundation or elsewhere. Eric Gilbertson, who assessed damaged properties for the survey, thinks most of the buildings he saw can be saved. But he is worried that homeowners with limited resources might not be able to get enough in grants and low-interest loans to do the job.

"I think it may be driven by finances in the sense we have these nice little villages with rows of houses ... And how many of those are people going to walk away from?" Gilbertson asked.

Preservationists were confident there will be enough contractors with the proper skills in areas like masonry and roofing to do the work. Nicholas noted there are no special restrictions guiding work on buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, although local historic districts might set standards.

Still, worries are compounded for historic structures because a common flood-proofing solution is to jack a building's frame above high-water levels. History lovers might blanch at the thought of putting a 19th-century Vermont meeting house on stilts, but officials with the state and FEMA stress that doesn't have to happen.

"A lot of times when the folks were out they were saying, `You need to raise your structure. When you rebuild, you need to raise your structure six feet above the flood plain,' And that's not necessarily true of historic buildings," said Noelle MacKay, state Commissioner of the Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development.

Officials with FEMA and the SBA said they both work with owners of historic buildings. When it comes to flood insurance, FEMA says buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Placed or designated historic through other approved channels get special treatment.

Buildings in flood zones are often raised or relocated, but there are other choices, too. One option is to simply brace the building for the next flood.

In Lincoln, Burnham Hall, a 1920s building by the New Haven River, was "wet flood proofed" after the New Haven River jumped its banks and inundated the building's lower floor during a terrible flood in 1998. The lower level was fitted with mold-resistant walls and a concrete floor.

Building committee member Mark Benz said that when Irene came, volunteers put up temporary flood walls around the windows and doors.

As water flowed outside during Irene, there was a half-inch of water on the floor, but it was a controlled release of "crystal-clear" water from valves designed to relieve pressure. The water was pumped out and the hall was back in business two days

"We're learning to live with the river," Benz said.

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21-Foot Waves, Wild Winds Assault West Michigan (ContributorNetwork)

It was a crazy day, weather-wise, in West Michigan and more is expected today and Saturday. Gale-force winds, 21-33 foot waves on Lake Michigan, torrential rains blasted the western counties. Temperatures are dropping into the 30s this evening. Over on the east side, Detroit gears up for 18-foot waves on Lake Huron and seven foot waves on little Lake St. Clair.

Michigan may not be seeing the hurricane winds and rains that plague Florida and the east coast, but gale force is enough to knock out the power and create hazards for locals. Most of Michigan is outlined in small craft advisories and all the lakes are pink, meaning gale-force winds on the lakes.

High winds and rain knocked down trees and damaged power lines in several areas in West Michigan. This came on top of storm damage along the lakeshore, earlier in the week, too. The Lake Express car ferry which shuttles passengers across Lake Michigan from Muskegon, Mich., to Milwaukee Wis., canceled scheduled passages on Friday, due to wind advisories on the lake. Ludington's S.S. Badger, a car and tourist ferry also canceled service.

Though not as large as Lake Superior up north, we locals have always referred to Lake Michigan as the "big lake." Winds and high waves on the lake, can be more difficult to navigate even than out on the ocean. Bill Moore, Sylva, N.C., is a seasoned boater. He also served on different ships in Vietnam.

He explains sailing on the Great Lakes is completely different than sailing on the ocean. For one thing, the Great Lakes are more like small seas, than lakes. On the ocean, high waves appear as swells. On the lake, there are shorter distances between waves especially close to shore and near harbors. Waves "crest" in a shorter space, creating white caps. 14-20 foot waves (the current highs) on the lake can be more treacherous because there are more of them in a smaller space.

Also, the majority of boats on the Great Lakes are speed boats, pleasure crafts, yachts, sailboats and fishing boats. These vessels aren't designed for rough seas. There are fewer safety requirements for these smaller boats. Life jackets, flares and safety equipment are mandatory, but skippers aren't made to take boater safety courses. Many do, but licenses aren't required.

When storms and rough waters hit, this means more amateur boaters are unprepared for conditions. It's essential that boaters respect the lake and it's capacity for danger. Boaters should keep a marine radio on board. Here are mobile weather alerts and cellphone apps for land and marine conditions.

Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes about wild weather from 25 years teaching science.

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Second storm in a week hits China's Hainan (AP)

BEIJING – A tropical storm has hit southern China, bringing heavy winds and rain and forcing the cancellation of dozens of flights. It is the second storm to hit the area in a week.

The provincial weather office in the southern island of Hainan says Tropical Storm Nalgae made landfall on Tuesday with winds of about 55 mph (90 kph).

The airport in Sanya on the southern end of the tropical island said it had been forced to cancel or postpone dozens of flights.

Hainan was lashed by Typhoon Nesat last week, leaving hundreds of thousands without power and killing three people.

Both storms battered the Philippines before moving on to China.

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Alabama Schools Chilly Places for Immigrants, Notwithstanding Weather (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | It's not the weather than makes the Alabama schools too chilling for immigrant children this season. It's a new immigration law requiring parents to document citizenship or lack thereof when enrolling their children in public school.

With a judge upholding the state's right to require verification of citizenship status Thursday, Hispanic students fled the schools in droves, according to media reports. Supporters and opponents of the law can bicker over the true intentions behind it, but the people affected by it define its effects. They did so this week in keeping their children away from the school bureaucracy.

There's nothing to fear, school officials keep saying. But take a close look at what they're asking for and their assurances don't ring true. To enroll in an Alabama school, a family must now provide:

* A birth certificate documenting a child's place of birth;

* In the absence of a birth certificate, a signed, sworn statement providing the place of birth.

But that's not all. The failure to provide documentation results in the recording of the child as an illegal alien.

This law can't fulfill its purpose of documenting the undocumented because it relies on faulty methodology. The assumption that anyone failing to supply proof of citizenship is an illegal alien is likely to grossly inflate the number of illegal aliens reported to be attending school. Language and cultural barriers are two likely reasons Hispanic families might not provided documentation, even if their children are in the country legally.

The fact children might be legal while one or both parents isn't is another wrinkle. But might the over-counting inevitably resulting from presumption of illegal states be just what the anti-illegal alien movement wants? It's understandable people would question the motives behind a law so obviously biased.

Alabama's law also requires illegal aliens to incriminate themselves. In the media, the schools promise that parent answers won't be used to support deportation efforts, but that's not exactly what the law says. Under federal law, a state can't refuse this information to Homeland Security and Alabama expressly permits the information to be used for purposes consistent with federal law.

We won't use it against you is also today's answer. What happens next year or the year after when Alabama looks at its inflated count and decides that the cost of educating a slew of illegal immigrants is prohibitive? The Supreme Court has already spoken on the issue of kicking undocumented aliens out of public schools in Plyler v. Doe.

Preservation of a state's limited education budget for lawful students isn't sufficient justification, so Alabama would have to show a substantial state interest warranting exclusion of undocumented alien children from its schools to withstand a constitutional challenge. How much easier to pull out those incriminating documents and turn them over to police or immigration authorities. To do that would require a confidentiality waiver from the State Attorney General, but in a political climate hostile to immigrants, how hard would that be to obtain?

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Algeria floods kill 10; homes damaged (AP)

ALGIERS, Algeria – Authorities in Algeria say torrential downpours have killed at least 10 people and ruined hundreds of homes. A mother and her infant daughter are also missing.

The country's meteorological service had warned about strong thunderstorms across the country from Saturday into Sunday.

The civil protection authority said in a statement that on Sunday it recovered eight bodies from one town, El Bayadh, 435 miles (700 kilometers) southwest of the capital. Rescuers are still looking for a woman and her 9-month-old baby there.

Two other bodies were found in towns to the north of El Bayadh. Hundreds of families were affected when the waters either tore down or inundated their homes.

Algeria often sees heavy rain and flooding in October.

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Clarification: Irene-Waterway Work (AP)

MONTPELIER, Vt. – In a story Sept. 30, The Associated Press reported that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had made 125 visits to sites of waterway remediation after the remnants of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee hit New York. The 125 visits were in the eastern Adirondacks; the state has made 1,300 visits statewide.

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Strong winds whip up waves, down trees in Midwest (Reuters)

James Kelleher

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A gusty cold front sweeping into the Midwest from Canada triggered gale, rip current and shoreline flood warnings along Lake Michigan on Friday and whipped up waves as high a 23 feet, the National Weather Service said.

Areas of North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and adjoining parts of Canada - were buffeted by winds as high a 70 miles an hour and downed trees, knocked out power and prompted the closure of waterfront parks in several states.

In Wisconsin's Door County, a picturesque peninsula that juts out into northern Lake Michigan popular this time of year with tourists seeking fall color, all state parks and trails were closed until next week. The state's Department of Natural Resources said this was because of closed roads, downed trees and unsafe conditions.

No injuries were reported.

"We have all available local crews at work clearing roads and more help is on the way," said Dan Schuller, director of the DNR's Wisconsin State Parks and Trails system.

"We are concentrating on damage assessment and clearing of roads to campgrounds and other high use areas. Campers currently in the parks are being asked to leave ... We will reopen all properties as soon as they can be declared safe for visitors."

Chicago lived up to its nickname as the "Windy City" on Friday as huge swells forced the closure of the city's 18.5 mile lakefront bike and running path.

Mark Bardou, a meteorologist with in the Chicago bureau of the NWS, said some of the strongest winds associated with the storm were measured over the Great Lakes, where gusts neared 65 knots an hour, about 75 miles an hour, and buoys in the middle of the lake measured swells as high as 23 feet.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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Gas boom means little space for Pa. flood victims (AP)

TUNKHANNOCK, Pa. – Pennsylvania residents who lost their homes to Tropical Storm Lee more than three weeks ago are having a tough time finding affordable housing, or any housing at all, because workers in the area's natural gas drilling boom have filled nearly every room.

Last month's record flooding has worsened a housing crunch in north central and northeastern Pennsylvania, where a surge in drilling over the past few years has led to housing shortages and skyrocketing rents. Flood victims say that available units are few, and federal disaster assistance doesn't come close to paying the rent on the scattered vacancies that are left.

Kim Eastwood, whose home was severely damaged in the flood, has been staying with her son, daughter and elderly mother in a Red Cross shelter in a high school gymnasium while she tries to find a place for them to live.

It hasn't been easy — not shelter life with its cold showers and hard cots, nor her quest for an apartment or house. "The couple we saw are way too expensive," said Eastwood, 35, of Mehoopany.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it will provide temporary trailers to residents who qualify — the first batch of about 250 trailers has been approved, and they are being rolled out in the coming days and weeks — but that process takes time. In the meantime, flooded-out residents are on a difficult and sometimes fruitless search for housing.

"They can't find any place to go because there is no place to go," said Brian Wrightson, emergency services director for 10 American Red Cross chapters in northeastern Pennsylvania. "They don't want to uproot their children from the schools and leave their communities and it's become an issue."

Storms that wreaked havoc on much of the Northeast last month caused historic flooding of the Susquehanna River and small streams and creeks in Pennsylvania, damaging or destroying many thousands of homes. Statewide, more than 57,000 victims of the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene have registered for federal disaster aid, with about $75 million distributed to date, most of that as rental assistance.

State officials have set up a website,, to help flood victims find houses and apartments. But in this region of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation believed to hold the nation's largest reservoir of natural gas, much of the housing stock is clearly geared toward gas-industry workers.

"The rental rates are severely inflated," said Kim Wheeler, a state Department of Community and Economic Development staffer who has been working to secure housing for flood victims in heavily drilled Lycoming County.

In Bradford County, the center of the Marcellus industry, three-bedroom homes are listed for $1,200 to $1,700 per month, far above what a flood victim can be expected to receive from FEMA. That's because rental assistance is based on what the government calculates as fair-market rent for the area — and the fair-market rent for a three-bedroom in Bradford County is only $704.

The supply is grossly inadequate, too. In hard-hit Wyoming County, where Eastwood and 13 others have been sheltering in the gymnasium of Tunkhannock High School, the state website lists only two properties for rent.

Gene Dziak, Wyoming County's emergency management coordinator, said FEMA trailers will be needed to help meet demand.

"To find an apartment within Wyoming County is virtually impossible," he said. "We're kind of waiting for our temporary housing situation to be squared away and for FEMA to step in and help. That's in the very near future, we hope."

As of Friday, FEMA had identified 2,721 disaster relief applicants statewide that qualify for trailers, or "temporary housing units" in FEMA parlance. Of those, the agency had managed to contact more than 1,800 applicants and confirmed 249 of them for the housing units, which come fully furnished with a kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom.

"We are very aware there's a shortage of rental resources in the state, and we are addressing it," said FEMA spokesman Michael Sweet.

High rents and low supply aren't the only challenges confronting flood victims in the Marcellus Shale. Even for more reasonably price units, landlords often balk at signing leases with terms under a year, or they don't accept pets, or there's some other reason it's not a good fit, Wheeler said.

A majority of the six dozen families who have come to Wheeler for help are still looking.

"Very few of (the landlords) are really doing this (to provide) true assistance to the flood victims. They're a business and they want someone in there who they don't have to worry about for a while," Wheeler said. "It's not an easy or pretty picture."

At the Red Cross shelter in Tunkhannock where 14 people remained late last week, caseworkers have proposed splitting up the Eastwood family and moving them to Carbondale, an hour's drive to the east. Eastwood is resisting. "We're not moving to Carbondale. I have kids in school, my mom is older and her doctor's here," she said.

So they remain at the shelter, using $600 of their $1,700 in FEMA rental assistance on a pair of two-night stays at a hotel — a small taste of normalcy.

Another family staying at the shelter plans to move to Georgia. Christy Fowler, 43, a Georgia native who lived in Mehoopany with her husband and three children, said the family had talked about moving south for a while. The flood that wrecked the first floor of their home made it an easy call — there's nowhere else in the area they can afford.

Private rentals and FEMA trailers will end up housing only a portion of the victims of last month's flood. Most displaced residents have moved in with high-and-dry family members.

That has made for some very cramped quarters.

Lori Chilson, 40, has seven extra people living in her house in Laporte, Sullivan County, all of them from her husband's side of the family. Her husband, a contractor, installed a second full bathroom to accommodate the influx, especially his mother, who's on oxygen and needed a bathroom near her sleeping quarters.

"We had to do what we had to do," Chilson said. "It's been hard, but everyone's adjusting. It's working well so far."

With expenses mounting, especially for heating oil, Chilson has inquired about getting federal disaster assistance but was told it's only for flood victims.

"They said we're not flood victims," she said, "but we kind of are."

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The nation's weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – 2 hrs 5 mins ago

Expect more early season snow showers across the West, while the East will remain under pleasant Fall conditions on Friday. A large area of low pressure that has brought rain and snow to most of the Western US will slightly advance northeastward and over the Northern Rockies throughout the day. The system will bring rain and high elevation snow to Wyoming and Montana, while the leading edge of the system will reach into the Northern Plains. The system will push a cold front over the Northern Plains and into the Upper Midwest, which will kick up scattered rain showers. The tail end of this front will reach into the Southern Plains, also bringing light rain with it. There is a slight chance that this front could trigger some severe thunderstorms with large hail, strong winds, and periods of heavy rains.

In the East, a broad ridge of high pressure remains the dominant weather feature from the Mississippi River, over the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley, and extends to the Eastern Seaboard. This will create another mild Fall day with sunny skies and highs in the 70s and 80s.

In the South, however, onshore flow over Florida and southern Georgia will create warm and humid conditions. This will be favorable for thunderstorm development, some of which may turn severe. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Thursday have ranged from a morning low of 15 degrees at Mt. Washington, N.H. to a high of 98 degrees at Pecos, Texas

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Philippe keeps its strength in far Atlantic (AP)

MIAMI – Forecasters say Tropical Storm Philippe is maintaining its strength in the far Atlantic and could become a hurricane, but it's not expected to threaten land.

The storm's center was located Wednesday about 580 miles (930 km) south-southeast of Bermuda and was moving west-northwest at 6 mph (9 kph).

Its maximum sustained winds were 65 mph (100 kph) and Philippe could become a hurricane before moving out to sea. Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 90 miles (150 km) from the center.

There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect.

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Lightning Delays Washington Monument Rappel (ContributorNetwork)

Engineers began rappelling down the sides of the Washington Monument today as part of an inspection team looking over possible damage to the structure. When the weather forecast turned to possible lightning and thunderstorms in the area, the Associated Press reports the first-of-its-kind operation had to be put on hold.

The obelisk was damaged when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia in late August 2011. The shaking was felt in Washington and numerous cracks formed on the outer facade of the monument. Although the entire structure is sound and the monument isn't going to collapse, the National Park Service has closed the tourist attraction indefinitely until repairs can be made.

Rain from late summer storms and from Hurricane Irene seeped into the structure through the cracks. The reason for the rappelling team is to ascertain how many cracks are up and down the 555 foot-tall structure. After the initial inspection, teams will begin filling in cracks with caulk to weather proof the building once again. The largest crack is four feet long and an inch wide. Daylight can be seen through some cracks.

Rappelling in less-than-ideal weather conditions can be dangerous. Lightning is a factor because there are lightning rods on the Washington Monument. Even rain can be hazardous as the engineers may slip on the slick marble that is on the outside of the obelisk.

Even dressing appropriately for the weather is also a must. If it gets too cold while a climber is unable to move very quickly, he or she can suffer from hypothermia. Although it won't be as big of deal in warmer months, hypothermia can become a factor if temperatures cool suddenly.

Overly windy conditions may also spell trouble for climbers. Although the ropes are secured at the very top of the Washington Monument, winds can make it difficult for the climbers to stay still and do their work. If they are halfway down the tall structure it may be awhile before they can ascend into the hatch from which they came. The other option is to descend to the bottom to safety on the ground.

Rappelling down the Washington Monument is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will likely not happen again for another 150 years if at all. All precautions will have to be taken in weird weather so the climbers are safe while they do their jobs.

If all goes well, the Washington Monument will reopen in mid-October.

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North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue Suggests Suspending the Next Election (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | Faced with a political tsunami that might make the 2010 election seem mild by comparison, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue suggested suspending the next election so government can focus on the economy.

Was she joking or was she in earnest? Does it matter?

Perdue seems to reflect a wide spread discontent among Democratic elites with the angry voters who keep messing things up by objecting to the government's handling of the economy. Former Barack Obama Budget Director Peter Orszag, for example, proposed using commissions and automatic triggers to insulate Congress for the ire of voters over tax increases and budget cuts he feels will be necessary to reduce the massive budget deficit. At least Orszag's idea pretends to adhere to the Constitution, which Perdue does not.

Trust in the federal government is at an all-time low, according to recent polling. To be sure that it is understandable that people like Perdue and Orszag are searching for some kind of mechanism to get Congress to do its duty and do what is necessary. But do they really think the American people will be appeased by, in effect, suspending democracy?

Mind, Perdue is enjoying the double standard the media imposes on Democratic lawmakers vis-à-vis Republicans. Imagine if in 2007 a Republican governor had proposed suspending the 2008 election so President George W. Bush could conclude the war in Iraq favorably. Such a person so incautious would be forced to resign the very next day amidst headlines that Republicans want to overthrow the Constitution. But Perdue gets a pass by the media, with suggestions she is just joking.

American democracy, particularly in these troubled times, is not a thing to joke about. If people are irate at their government now, imagine the anger if someone seriously proposed to just not have an election next year. Elections are, after all, a means for people to peacefully express their anger by throwing the bums out. Take that mechanism away, and what is left?

Is it any wonder, then, the tea party, inspired by the American Revolution, has become the greatest force in American politics? When people in public office behave like King George, they should expect Americans to start behaving like the men who gathered at Lexington and Concord. For a growing number of people, November 2012 cannot come fast enough.

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