Friday, January 20, 2012

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 3.4 Earthquake Shakes Missoula, Western Montana!

A small earthquake with a magnitude of 3.4 struck western Montana in the area of Missoula. Fortunately there are no reports of damage or any injuries but the quake could be felt in Missoula as well as Stevensville and Clinton when it occurred just after midnight.

It struck at 12:05 am local time at a depth of 11.4 kilometers. The USGS reports that the epicenter was 24 miles (39km) east-southeast of Missoula, 29 miles (47 km) south of Seeley Lake, 45 miles (74km) northeast of Hamilton and 70 miles (114 km) west of Helena.

Other small earthquakes have hit Montana recently and reports that on December 30 a small magnitude 3.5 earthquake struck 14 miles away from Clinton. Prior to that a magnitude 3.3 earthquake hit near to Clinton in November. There are already reports on the USGS site from some people who felt the quake. - Only Kent.

Montana sits atop the Yellowstone Caldera, located in the Yellowstone National Park. The Caldera is the largest supervolcano on the American continent and considered as being active.
It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Half of the world's geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining, nearly intact ecosystem in the Earth's northern temperate zone. - Wikipedia.

EXTREME WEATHER: Severe Thunderstorm in Western Australia - Three People Struck by Lightning, 13,000 Without Power, Damage Homes and Delayed Flights!

Three people have been struck by lightning during thunderstorms in Perth that caused power cuts, damaged homes and delayed flights.

The first person was struck in Mandurah, south of Perth, at about 4am today.  Two others were struck in the suburbs of Baldivis and Welshpool. All three were taken to hospital, but their injuries are not believed to be life threatening. Emergency services have answered about 75 calls for help, including 68 in the metropolitan area, mostly for flooding. Western Power says 13,000 homes are still without power, with the worst affected areas being Spearwood, Dawesville and Murdoch.

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) says the damage is across the metropolitan area and people need to take extra care on the roads with blackouts. Arriving and departing flights at Perth Airport were delayed in the morning, but the departure schedule was cleared early in the afternoon, a spokeswoman said. Some aircraft arrivals are still slightly delayed but are expected to return to normal in the afternoon. The bad weather is expected to continue this afternoon between Minilya, Mount Augustus, Paynes Find, Corrigin, Narrogin, Mandurah, along the coast to Dongara and inland to Minilya, including Dalwallinu and the Perth metropolitan area. - Herald Sun.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Rio Grande Rift - Scientists and Geologists Declare That the Earth's Crust in New Mexico is Stretching!

The Earth's crust in New Mexico is stretching at a rate of an inch of east-west growth every 40 years, researchers said in a new study.

The Albuquerque Journal reports ( ) that scientists have long suspected it was happening because of the way the Rio Grande Rift splits the state down the middle. The rift, a tear in the Earth's crust, defines the state's central mountain chain and the valley the Rio Grande River now follows. Colorado geophysicist Henry Berglund, the lead author of a paper outlining these findings in a recent issue of the journal Geology, said that until scientists began collecting data from their monitoring network in 2006, they had no idea how widespread the stretching was. Instead of two rigid chunks of Earth's crust being torn apart at the rift, with the movement focused there, the new data suggest New Mexico and much of the territory that surrounds it is more like a rubber sheet, stretching uniformly, from Texas and Oklahoma to Arizona.

It is that relatively uniform stretching that caught scientists off guard. "We didn't expect it to be so spread out," said University of Colorado geophysicist Anne Sheehan, a member of the research team. The stretching and straining of Earth's crust is a well-known phenomenon at the edge of continental plates, the big pieces of Earth's crust that are always slowly slipping and sliding around the globe. In places like California, where the San Andreas Fault is actively on the move, the results can be dramatic and easy to detect. Similar monitoring networks have found much more pronounced movement in seismically active places like Japan and New Zealand, Sheehan said. But what happens in continental interiors has been more of a puzzle. There is movement there, but it is slower and more mysterious.

The scientists began deploying their GPS network in 2006 and now have 25 stations in Colorado and New Mexico. Sheehan said one possible explanation for what's driving the stretching is an upwelling in the mantle, the gooey region on which the Earth's rocky crust rides. Mantle movements are often cited to explain movements of the crust above. Another possibility is the crust itself sagging down and stretching in response to past mountain-building episodes, she said. The scientists plan to leave the GPS network in place to look for changes in the stretching over time, Berglund said. They also hope to determine whether Earth's crust is rising or falling across New Mexico. - KRQE.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL & UFO MEMES: ECETI RANCH - The Documentary, a Microcosmic Reality of a Worldwide Collective Phenomena!

The owner of the ranch, James Gilliland, maintains to have experienced UFO related phenomena, including contact with extra-terrestrials, for over 30 years. In addition to his experiences, thousands of guests gravitate to the ranch every year and attest personal accounts of seeing ships, meeting off-world visitors, and healing parts of themselves in a place they call "home".

This film is a candid look at the people and the place that create Enlightened Contact with Extraterrestrial Intelligence. After spending several months at ECETI sharing with James, ranch staff, and guests -- the MapMakers reveal new insights about a rapidly expanding universe in an era of global uncertainty. - Common Link Productions.
WATCH: The ECETI Documentary.

For more information please visit The Map Makers and ECETI.

ECOLOGICAL ALERT: The La Nina Phenomena and the Environmental Shift - NASA Data Predicts Continuing Drought With a Repeating La Nina at its Intense Peak!

"Conditions are ripe for a stormy, wet winter in the Pacific Northwest and a dry, relatively rainless winter in Southern California, the Southwest and the southern tier of the United States," says climatologist Bill Patzert of JPL. After more than a decade of mostly dry years on the Colorado River watershed and in the American Southwest, and only two normal rain years in the past six years in Southern California, low water supplies are lurking. This La Niña could deepen the drought in the already parched Southwest and could also worsen conditions that have fueled recent deadly wildfires."

The latest image above of sea surface heights in the Pacific Ocean from NASA's Jason-2 satellite shows that the current La Niña is peaking in intensity. Yellows and reds indicate areas where sea surface height is higher than normal (due to warm water), while blues and purples depict areas where sea surface height is lower than normal (due to cool water). Green indicates near-normal conditions.

Sea surface height data from NASA's Jason-1 and -2 satellites show that the milder repeat of last year's strong La Niña has recently intensified, as seen in the latest Jason-2 image of the Pacific Ocean. The image is based on the average of 10 days of data centered on Jan. 8, 2012. It depicts places where the Pacific sea surface height is higher than normal (due to warm water) as yellow and red, while places where the sea surface is lower than normal (due to cool water) are shown in blues and purples. Green indicates near-normal conditions. The height of the sea surface over a given area is an indicator of ocean temperature and other factors that influence climate.

This is the second consecutive year that the Jason altimetric satellites have measured lower-than-normal sea surface heights in the equatorial Pacific and unusually high sea surface heights in the western Pacific. NASA will continue to monitor this latest La Niña to see whether it has reached its expected winter peak or continues to strengthen. A repeat of La Niña ocean conditions from one year to the next is not uncommon: repeating La Niñas occurred most recently in 1973-74-75, 1998-99-2000 and in 2007-08-09. Repeating La Niñas most often follow an El Niño episode and are essentially the opposite of El Niño conditions. During a La Niña episode, trade winds are stronger than normal, and the cold water that normally exists along the coast of South America extends to the central equatorial Pacific.

La Niña episodes change global weather patterns and are associated with less moisture in the air over cooler ocean waters. This results in less rain along the coasts of North and South America and along the equator, and more rain in the far Western Pacific. The comings and goings of El Niño and La Niña are part of a long-term, evolving state of global climate, for which measurements of sea surface height are a key indicator. Jason-1 is a joint effort between NASA and the French Space Agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES). Jason-2 is a joint effort between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, CNES and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). - Daily Galaxy.

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Nearby Planetary Nebula Looks Like Giant Golden Eye In Space - Helix Nebula Lies About 700 Light-Years From Earth!

A nearby planetary nebula shines like a huge golden eye in a new photo snapped by a telescope in Chile.

The image shows the Helix Nebula, which lies about 700 light-years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius (The Water Bearer). The picture was taken in infrared light by the European Southern Observatory's Vista telescope, one of the instruments at ESO's Paranal Observatory. Helix is a planetary nebula, a strange object that forms when a star like our sun exhausts its hydrogen fuel. The star's outer layers expand and cool, creating a huge envelope of dust and gas. Radiation flowing from the dying star ionizes this envelope, causing it to glow.

Despite their name, planetary nebulas have nothing to do with planets. Rather, the term refers to their superficial resemblance to giant planets, when observed through early telescopes. [Photos: Nebulas in Deep Space]  The dying star at the heart of the Helix Nebula is evolving to become a white dwarf, a shrunken, super-dense object that can pack a sun's worth of material into a sphere the size of Earth. The star is visible as a tiny blue dot at the center of the picture, researchers said. The Helix Nebula is a complex object composed of dust, ionized material and molecular gas, arrayed in an intricate, flower-like pattern. The main ring of the Helix is about 2 light-years across, roughly equivalent to half the distance between our sun and its closest star.

However, wispy material from the nebula spreads out at least 4 light-years into space from the central star, researchers said. These thin clouds of molecular gas are difficult to see in visible light, but Vista's infrared detectors can pick them out, and they show up in the new image as a dark red haze. Vista's keen eye also reveals fine structure in the planetary nebula's rings, showing how cooler molecular gas is organized. The material clumps into filaments that radiate out from the center. While they may look tiny, these strands of molecular hydrogen -- known as cometary knots -- are each about the size of our solar system. The molecules that compose them can survive the powerful radiation emanating from the dying star precisely because they clump into these knots, which in turn are shielded by dust and molecular gas. It is currently unclear how the cometary knots may have formed, researchers said. The new Vista image also shows a wide array of stars and galaxies in the background, farther away than the Helix Nebula. - Huffington Post.

WATCH: The Helix Nebula.

FIRE IN THE SKY: First Ever Solar Death of a Comet Captured - Comet's Death Dive Into Sun Seen in Great Detail!

A comet has been spotted disintegrating in the atmosphere of the sun for the first time.

Such sun-diving comets are common but none have been seen surviving entry into the sun's atmosphere until now. They could help reveal what comets are made of and also uncover hidden properties of the sun's atmosphere, researchers said today (Jan. 19) as they announced the discovery. A group of comets known as the Kreutz family regularly flies perilously close to the sun. In the past 15 years, more than 1,400 of these dirty snowballs have been detected, likely originating from a giant parent comet 20 to 100 kilometers wide (12 to 62 miles) that broke apart as recently as 2,500 years ago. However, until now, none of the telescopes trained on the sun was sensitive enough to follow any of these comets to their demise in the sun's atmosphere.

Using NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), scientists followed the Kreutz comet C/2011 N3 in its mad dash to the sun. [Photos of Death-Defying Comet Lovejoy]  "It was very surprising to see this comet at all," Karel Schrijver, an astrophysicist at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif., told "We may think that an object of some 60,000 metric tons and some 50 meters [164 feet] across is large and heavy, but if you compare it to the sun, which can easily hold a million Earths, it is astonishing that such a small object glows brightly enough to be seen." Schrijver is the lead author of the study of the disintegrating comet. The scientists detail their findings in the Jan. 20 issue of the journal Science.

Doomed comet's death dive.

Researchers first detected the comet last July 4, two days before its destruction. It initially had a tail more than 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers) long and was diving at the sun at about 1.3 million mph (2.1 million kilometers per hour). During the final 10 minutes of observations, the comet lost about 1.5 million to 150 million pounds (700,000 to 70 million kilograms). "We've been able to bracket its size as between 30 and 150 feet (9 and 45 meters) long, with a greater likelihood that it lies at the upper end of that range," Schrijver said. "And it most likely weighed in at as much as 70,000 tons, giving it about the weight of an aircraft carrier when it first became visible." On July 6, the comet managed to reach deep into the sun's atmosphere, about 62,000 miles (100,000 km) from the surface. As it approached that point, it broke up into many large pieces ranging in size from dust up to about 150 feet (45 meters) wide. Then it completely vaporized.

A glimpse inside comets.

As sun-diving comets disintegrate, they could reveal much about how comets in general are put together and what their components are scientists say. Since comets date back to the origins of the solar system, such details about their death throes could lead to a better understanding of how the planets evolved from protoplanetary gas and dust. The behavior of these comets as they graze the sun also could shed light on the sun's mysterious high-altitude atmosphere. Scientists normally are unable to see this part of the sun because its glow is not bright enough for telescopes, while it is still too close to the sun to observe with instruments that block out the bright disk of the sun, Schrijver said. Understanding how the sun's atmosphere works could in turn reveal more about the operations of the sun's roiling surface, which can often burst with solar flares that affect Earth. - SPACE.

WATCH: Comet's death dive.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Historic Snowfall in Seattle and Western Washington - Records Smashed, State of Emergency Declared With Nearly 200,000 Without Power in Western Washington!

Nearly 200,000 people are without power across Western Washington. Puget Sound Energy is reporting 180,000 customers without power, Seattle City Light has more than 6,700, Tacoma Power was reporting about 5,200, and PUD has roughly 5,100. And it may not be restored for some of those homes until the weekend.

Andy Wappler, with PSE, tells 97.3 KIRO FM the number is likely to rise throughout the day as the ice builds up and weighs down tree branches. "Even when the ice storm ends, that ice won't be going anywhere." Wappler says only about 20,000 were without power around 4:00 a.m., but that number grew by over 80,000 in just five hours. To make matters worse, he says the utility trucks are having trouble getting around on the region's icy roads, which is making recovery efforts that much slower. If the power goes out, Wappler says stay away from the line and call the utility or 911. Whatever you do, do not use a barbecue indoors to heat your house.

Puget Sound Energy serves more than 1 million electrical customers in eight Western Washington counties. The National Weather Service has extended its Ice Storm Warning to 2:00 p.m. It's also snowing again in several areas, including downtown Seattle. Governor Chris Gregoire has declared a state of emergency, authorizing the use of the National Guard.

    "This is purely a precautionary measure," Gregoire said. "So far, we haven't received any requests for state assistance, but we know weather conditions are rapidly changing. I want to make sure we have every resource available to ensure our communities are safe. This proclamation would allow us to activate the National Guard if we need to. It also allows state agencies to respond quickly to any storm-related requests from cities and counties for state assistance. A brief waiver of the restrictions on dairy truck drivers' work hours is needed now to avoid shipment delays that could mean the loss of nearly $1 million a day for the state's dairy industry."

Those who braved a morning commute are no strangers to the severity of Wednesday's snow storm and today's ice storm. "It's mornings like this that I think are actually worse than mornings like what we were dealing with yesterday," says KING 5's Jim Guy. "You look at the roads and you think they don't look that bad, and then you get out there." A Washington Transportation Department worker was injured in a crash on I-405 near I-5 in Lynnwood. DOT spokeswoman Jamie Holter says he's been taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Holter says the worker had responded about 6:45 a.m. Thursday to a collision in which one car slid into a barrier and was hit by another car. The icy conditions led officials at Sea-Tac Airport to close all three runways early Thursday morning. Check your flight before you leave the house.

One runway reopened around 7:30 a.m. and a second at 11:00 a.m. Airport officials say it is very rare to have to close all the runways. "We have one person who can remember that in the last 10 years, all runways being closed for ice," says Charla Scaggs with Sea-Tac Airport. The NWS suggests that, if you must be out on the roads Thursday, you should carry an extra flashlight, food, water, and blankets in case of an emergency. Wednesday saw significant accumulation in the lowlands: Lake Stevens 9", Stanwood 8.7", Lynnwood 5.5", Kent 9.8", Federal Way 5.5", Woodinville 5" Issaquah 4.3", Sea-Tac 4.2", Shoreline 3", Bellevue 2", Seattle 2", Orting 8", Tacoma 7.5", Puyallup 6", Parkland 4.8." As it continues to warm up, Ted Buehner, with the National Weather Service, says there are two important tasks as the temperatures shift: Clear the storm drains near your house and get the snow off flat roofs.

"When it starts raining into that snow, you increase the weight of that snow dramatically," he said, recalling the collapse of roofs at the Edmonds marina in 1996. Many forecasters continue to say that until temperatures warm and the roads are safer for travel, people should telecommute or stay home from work. The winter driving conditions are expected to ease up as rain returns Friday when temperatures hover in the 40s. Washington State Patrol responded to 726 accidents statewide on Wednesday morning. Many of those were spinouts, a result of driving too fast. "You need to pick a rut and stay in it. If you get off the beaten path, you're in deep trouble," said Trooper Guy Gill. "I saw a guy in my rear mirror - I saw headlights and tail lights and headlights and tail lights again as he spun around off the road." "For the first time in my career I had to put chains on," Gill said. "You stay in the path laid down on the freeway. You get off that, you are in trouble." In anticipation of difficult road conditions and continuing cold temperatures many schools have canceled or delayed classes Thursday. Those on the road have been advised by the Washington Department of Transportation to drive slowly.

97.3 KIRO FM's Brandi Kruse discovered on a ride-along with a WSP trooper on Wednesday that drivers who get into accidents can be issued a ticket for driving at "speeds not safe for the conditions." The state patrol urges drivers to be prepared if they decide to head out on the roads. "Our advice, be prepared, really number one is to watch what it's going to do. Keep tuned into what the weather is going to be doing. Have your vehicle full of gas. Make sure you've got some extra clothing in your vehicle, some extra food," says Trooper Keith Leary with the Washington State Patrol. For those that choose not to get behind the wheel, King County Metro buses and Pierce Transit are running on snow routes. A falling tree has killed a person in the ice storm that followed heavy snow in western Washington. King County sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West says the person was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a shed near Issaquah Thursday morning when it was hit by the tree. The ATV rider died at the scene. - My Northwest.
A historic snow and ice storm paralyzed Seattle on Thursday, shutting the airport and schools, causing car crashes, downing trees and cutting power to at least 90,000 households as blown-out transformers lit up the skies.  The National Weather Service declared an ice storm warning early on Thursday through noon local time for eight western Washington counties. Record-setting daily snowfall of 6.8 inches was measured early Thursday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, shattering the previous record of 2.9 inches in 1954, said meteorologist Dan DePodwin on As a result of the storm which arrived on Tuesday evening and was nicknamed "Snowmageddon," the airport remained closed with its three runways and ramps coated with ice.

"We're still not seeing departures at this point," airport spokesman Perry Cooper said. The airport was stocked up on de-icing supplies, but "the best we can hope for is a warming situation," he said. Streets were also a mess as frigid temperatures and freezing rain in the Tacoma area, 35 miles south of Seattle, coated roads with ice and played havoc with traffic. In the greater Seattle area, downed trees blocked lanes on at least three state highways, Washington State Patrol spokeswoman Julie Startup told Reuters at 6:30 a.m. local time. She said there were many collisions on the icy roads. Power outages kept residents in the dark but blown-out transformers put on a spectacular show. "Skies just keep lighting up," Startup said.

Charles Tomala, spokesman at the Washington Emergency Operations Center, said that 24,000 residents in the Tacoma area were without power at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday. An additional 70,000 people in southern King County, Thurston and Pierce counties were without power at 7:15 a.m. local time, Puget Sound Energy spokesman Roger Thompson said. "Ice is really the big issue right now," Thompson said. Puget Sound Energy warned that power outages in some areas may not be restored until Saturday.

Mark Clemens, a spokesman with the state's Emergency Operations Center, said Governor Christine Gregoire issued an unannounced "proclamation of emergency" late on Wednesday that would officially extend the hours that truck drivers could legally transport milk and other dairy products throughout the state. Gregoire spokeswoman Karina Shagren, however, said she was unable to confirm that Gregoire had signed the proclamation. - Yahoo.

A winter weather storm that has hammered the Pacific Northwest forced Alaska Airlines to cancel nearly 100 flights out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Thursday, creating a backlog of stranded passengers that may take days to clear up. In all, Alaska Airlines, along with its subsidiary Horizon Airlines, scrubbed 310 flights in or out of Seattle on Thursday, according to a release from the airlines and reports by The Associated Press. More than 29,000 passengers have been affected by the cancellations, the release states. Alaska Airlines President Brad Tilden told the AP rebooking passengers may take days. Additionally, the Seattle-based carrier canceled 38 flights in and out of both Seattle and Portland, Ore. on Wednesday, as a precaution against predicted snow. Icing conditions Alaska Air described as “unusual” caused plane de-icing procedures to take one hour per aircraft — four times longer than normal, a release from the airline stated.

The storm closed Sea-Tac Thursday morning. The airport managed to get its three runways open one by one during the day, according to the AP. As of 6:25 p.m. Thursday, all three runways were open. Freezing rain was expected to drop four-tenths on an inch of ice on Seattle on Thursday, according to the AP. This is on the heels of a snowstorm that blanketed the Alaska Air travel hub with more than 7 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures in Seattle were below freezing at 28 degrees at 5:53 p.m., according to the NWS. However, temperatures were expected to climb to about 36 degrees by 4 a.m. Friday, and stay above freezing for the rest of the week. If the forecast holds, Alaska Airlines will have “mostly normal” operations Friday, the release from the airline states. Alaska scrubbed eight of 10 flights going to or from Seattle from Juneau international Airport on Thursday. A flight left Seattle at 5:42 p.m. Thursday en route to Ketchikan, nearly four hours after its originally scheduled departure time, according to the Alaska Airlines website. That flight was set to make a stop in Sitka before continuing on to Juneau with an estimated arrival time of 10:18 p.m, more than three hours late. One flight from Juneau to Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle on Thursday afternoon made nearly on-time arrivals and departures.

One Friday flight, No. 60 from Juneau to Seattle through Ketchikan, has been cancelled as of 7 p.m. Thursday, according to the Alaska Airlines website. That flight was to leave Juneau at 7:15 a.m. and arrive in Seattle at 11:11 a.m. All other Friday flights between Juneau and Seattle were operating as scheduled as of 7 p.m. Thursday. However, flight statuses may change throughout the night and Friday morning, and Alaska Airlines urges passengers flying into or out of Seattle to check their flight statuses on before leaving for the airport. Passengers needing to reschedule flights are asked by Alaska Airlines to call 800-252-7522. Alaska Airlines is waiving change fees for passengers affected by the weather-related cancellations. Passengers booked on canceled flights into or out of Seattle between Tuesday and Friday can use the airline’s website by Wednesday to request a refund of the unused portion of their tickets. - Juneau Empire.
WATCH: Ice storm in West Seattle.

WATCH: Snowstorm Wallops Washington State.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Rare Sea Creature Climbs Onto Seattle Woman's Dock - Unusual Sighting of Ribbon Seal, an Arctic Species That Normally Spends Most of its Life at Sea?!

As you read the following article, please bear in mind what is currently happening with the weather in Seattle and the parts of western Washington in America.

A Seattle resident recently got a big surprise when she discovered a strange-looking furry visitor on her property. "She woke up and it was lying on her dock, hanging out and sleeping - just chilling," said Matthew Cleland, district supervisor in western Washington for the USDA's Wildlife Services, and the recipient of a photo of the bizarre intruder. "I thought, 'That's an interesting-looking creature,'" Cleland told OurAmazingPlanet. "I had no idea what it was." A quick glance through a book in his office soon revealed it was a ribbon seal, an Arctic species that spends most of its life at sea, swimming the frigid waters off Alaska and Russia. Somehow, the seal turned up on the woman's property, about a mile from the mouth of the Duwamish River, a highly industrialized waterway that cuts through southern Seattle. In 2001, the EPA declared the last 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) of the river a Superfund site - an area contaminated with hazardous substances in need of cleanup. The sighting was "pretty exciting," said Arctic seal researcher Peter Boveng, leader of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory's Polar Ecosystems Program. "It's really unusual."

Ribbon seals, named for the unmistakable stark white markings that ring their necks, flippers and hindquarters, typically shun dry land. Boveng said the animals spend only a few months per year on sea ice, to molt and give birth, and have almost never been seen so far south. "So it's a surprise, but knowing the species, it's not a complete surprise to me," he said. "They're good travelers." The ribbon seal, which Boveng identified as an adult male, "looked to be in really good shape," he said. "We don't have any way to rule out other possibilities, but I'd say it's almost certain that it swam there." Satellite tracking studies have revealed that ribbon seals do sometimes make it as far as the north Pacific Ocean, south of the Aleutian islands, but much about the species remains mysterious. Because they spend so much of their lives in the open water, it's a challenge to track them. "Unfortunately we don't know a lot about their numbers," Boveng said. "There's never been a reliable survey."

A conservation groups has made efforts to list ribbon seals as an endangered species because of concerns about disappearing sea ice in the Arctic. So far the federal government has declined to do so, but is continuing to review the case for listing. The Seattle ribbon seal appears to be only the second on record to make it so far south. In 1962, a ribbon seal showed up on a beach near Morro Bay, Calif., a town about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. According to contemporary reports, the seal was in good shape, but totally bald except for hair on the head, neck and flippers. It died a month later at the local aquarium. The Seattle ribbon seal's story is unknown, but one could be forgiven for thinking it a harbinger of things to come. This week, cold winds from Alaska helped create a record winter storm in Seattle, slamming the metro area with 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of snow. The ribbon seal hasn't been seen again since it was first spotted last week. "It stirred up a lot of interest," Cleland said. "There are a lot of people out here looking for it." - Our Amazing Planet.

EXTREME WEATHER: The Season of the Wind - Wind-Whipped Brush Fire Destroys 20 Homes and 3,700 Acres in Reno, Nevada; 2,000 Persons Remain Evacuated!

Authorities in Reno, Nevada, are battling a wind-whipped brush fire that forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people and destroyed at least 20 homes.
Firefighters wait for water before attacking an outbuilding adjacent to a home in Pleasant Valley, Nevada.
The fire started about noon Thursday in an area near U.S. Highway 395. The highway is expected to remain closed today. The blaze has burned at least 3,700 acres. Officials confirmed one fatality but said it was unclear whether it was fire related. Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said firefighters had stopped the progression of the fire, but there were still acres of hot spots. "This is not to say that the fire is 100 percent contained and extinguished. Only that the active burn or the areas at the leading edge of the fire have been halted," he said.

But Hernandez said they were able to save 800 homes that were directly in the burn areas. At least 2,000 people remain evacuated this morning. "To say we are in the thick of battle is an understatement," Hernandez told reporters at a news conference overnight. The fire also cut short a speech by Vice President Joe Biden Thursday. Biden was giving a speech at Galena High School about college costs when the school was evacuated. "They have just told me if I don't let you guys get out of here relatively soon they're going to make you get out of here," Biden said. Fire officials said Thursday's fire was similar to a fire that ripped throughsouthwest Reno in November. That fire also forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people. "It's inconceivable that this community has been struck by tragedy again," Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval told The Associated Press. - ABC News.
WATCH: Wildfire Near Reno Destroys More Than 20 Homes.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Storm Brings Snow to Sahara Desert - Strong Wind Blew the Snow Across Roads and Buildings in the Province of Bechar, Algeria?!

Snow fell Tuesday in the Sahara Desert in western Algeria. A 24-hour cold spell brought snow and rain to the region. Strong wind blew the snow across roads and buildings in the province of Bechar.

Meteorologists predicted a return of good weather Wednesday. People who live in the region said the snow was good for the palm trees because it killed parasites. Bechar is located in the northern Sahara, about 36 miles south of the Moroccan border. - 9 News.
WATCH: Storm brings snow to Sahara Desert.

PLANETARY TREMORS: 5.5 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Northeastern Iran - Strongest Tremor in 10 years! UPDATE: Iran Quake Leaves at Least 230 Injured!

An earthquake hit northeastern Iran on Thursday but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.

The magnitude 5.5 quake hit at 4:05pm (local time) about 10 kilometres outside the city of Neyshabur, which is some 70km away from the holy city of Mashhad, the official IRNA news agency said.

"There have been no reports of casualties yet," Red Crescent official Ali Asghar Hassanzadeh told the semi-official Fars news agency, adding that windows of some houses in Neyshabur had been shattered.

The IRNA news agency said the quake lasted seven seconds and was the strongest felt in the region in 10 years.

Many parts of Iran are prone to earthquakes. At least seven people were killed in a magnitude 6.5 quake that jolted the south east on December 20 in 2011, the same region where a huge tremor killed some 31,000 people in the city of Bam in 2003. - ABC Australia.

The earthquake on Thursday evening in the northeastern city of Neishabour in Khorasan-e Razavi Province left 58 people injured. Head of Neishabour Medical Sciences University, Kazem Farahmand said on Thursday that 17 people have been hospitalized and others were treated and sent home.

According to Farahmand, the majority of injured people suffered from fractures in different parts of their bodies. According to seismological center of Tehran University the quake occurred at 12:35 GMT near the city of Neishabour. Iran is located on major seismic fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.  - IRNA.

UPDATE: Iran Quake Leaves at Least 230 Injured.
Iran's state TV says the number of people injured by a Thursday earthquake of moderate strength affecting the northeastern city of Neyshabour has increased to around 230. The Friday report says 30 of the injured people were hospitalized, with the others treated for minor injuries and released. No deaths have yet been reported. State TV reports that many residents of the city camped out overnight in subzero weather in streets and parks, fearing further tremors. Since Thursday afternoon's magnitude 5.5 earthquake, some 75 aftershocks have jolted the city of 220,000 about 550 miles northeast of the capital Tehran. Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes, experiencing at least one slight quake a day on average. - USA Today.