Tuesday, November 20, 2012

THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT: Apocalypse Now - Israel Gaza Attacks Intensify Despite Truce Talks, Gaza Death Toll Climbs To 130 After 8 Killed In Israeli Airstrikes, U.S. Sending Warships to Israel!

November 20, 2012 - JERUSALEM - A diplomatic push to end Israel's nearly weeklong offensive in the Gaza Strip gained momentum Tuesday, with Egypt's president predicting that airstrikes would soon end, the U.S. secretary of state racing to the region and Israel's prime minister saying his country would be a "willing partner" to a cease-fire with the Islamic militant group Hamas. As international diplomats worked to cement a deal, senior Hamas officials said some sticking points remained even as relentless airstrikes and rocket attacks between the two sides continued. The Israeli death toll rose to five with the deaths Tuesday of an Israeli soldier and a civilian contractor. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a late-night meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after rushing to the region from Cambodia, where she had accompanied President Barack Obama on a visit.

"The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike," she said at a news conference with Netanyahu. Netanyahu said Israel would welcome a diplomatic solution to the crisis but threatened further military activity, saying he was ready to take "whatever action" is necessary. Top Hamas officials in Cairo, where cease-fire talks were being held, said no deal had been reached as of late Tuesday. `'Most likely the deal will be struck tomorrow. Israel has not responded to some demands which delayed the deal," Hamas official Izzat Risheq said. Israeli officials said only that "intensive efforts" were under way to end the fighting. Israeli media quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling a closed meeting that Israel wanted a 24-hour test period of no rocket fire to see if Hamas could enforce a truce. In what appeared to be a last-minute burst of heavy fire, Israeli tanks and gunboats shelled targets late Tuesday, and an airstrike killed two brothers riding on a motorcycle. The men weren't identified.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, perhaps the most important interlocutor between Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory, and the Israelis, said the negotiations between the two sides would yield "positive results" during the coming hours. Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt. It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt's Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis. Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel has rejected such demands in the past. - Huffington Post.

Gaza Death Toll Climbs To 130 After 8 Killed In Israeli Airstrikes.
Eight Palestinians were killed and several others injured on Tuesday evening in the ongoing intensive Israeli war jets airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, medical sources and witnesses said. The sources told Xinhua that three were killed in a fresh Israeli airstrike on a house of a Hamas activist in eastern Gaza city, adding that three more were injured. The sources also said a Palestinian was killed and another was injured in an Israeli airstrike on a motorbike in Rafah town in the southern Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, medical sources said that two Islamic Jihad militants were killed on Tuesday evening in an Israeli airstrike on a car which drove in the central Gaza Strip town of Deir el- Ballah. Another one was also killed in a separate airstrike in the same town. An activist was killed and another was injured when they were targeted by an Israeli missile near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, according to the sources. Hamas-run Ministry of Health said the death toll since Wednesday in the Gaza Strip has climbed to 130 and more than 1,000 people were wounded in the ongoing Israeli aerial operation on the coastal enclave. Israeli Radio reported that five Israelis were killed, including a soldier, a woman and three men. - Xinhuanet.

U.S. Sending Warships To Evacuate Americans In Israel.
Three U.S. Navy amphibious warships are returning to the eastern Mediterranean to remain on standby in the event they are needed to assist Americans leaving Israel in the coming days, two U.S. officials told CNN on Monday. The officials stressed that an evacuation remains an extremely remote possibility and the Obama administration is not currently planning for one. Americans who wish to leave the region now are able to do so using commercial airlines. The decision to send the ships even if the event is such a remote contingency underscores the growing concern about where the Israel-Gaza conflict could be headed, noted CNN. - Israel National News.

WATCH: Russia Today's Live Stream From Gaza.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Exceptional Drought - The U.S. Drought of 2012 to Last Into Spring of 2013, Worst in 27 Years, Provokes Dust Bowl Talk; UK Winter Wheat Shows Worst Fungus Symptoms Ever Recorded!

November 20, 2012 - UNITED STATES - Beneficial rains over portions of the Central U.S. during the past week put a slight dent in the nation's worst drought since 1954. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, the amount of the contiguous U.S. in moderate to extreme drought declined last week to 59%, down from the 65% peak of September 25, 2012. However, the intense drought is likely to persist through the winter, and its already heavily impacting the Winter Wheat growing season, which began in October. NOAA's latest State of the Drought product advised that the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for the Primary Hard Red Winter Wheat area reached the lowest value since the 1950s in October. The persistent drought is also a major problem for Mississippi River navigation. According to a November 17 AP story, the Mississippi is so low that if it drops another five feet, barge traffic may shut down from St. Louis to the confluence of the Ohio River at Cairo, IL. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to lower the level of the Mississippi by 2 - 3 feet over the next few weeks, due to the need to conserve water in the upper Missouri River basin. The latest two-week forecast from the GFS model predicts very little in the way of precipitation over the nation's drought-stricken region over the next ten days, which is good for holiday travel, but will worsen the drought.

Long-Term Drought Outlook.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center predicts that neutral El Niño conditions will prevail this winter, and has cancelled their El Niño watch. The expected neutral El Niño conditions have prompted the Climate Prediction Center to forecast equal chances of wetter or drier than average conditions across the heart of the drought region during the coming winter. In general, droughts are more likely in the Central U.S. when warmer than average ocean temperatures prevail in the tropical Atlantic, and cooler than average ocean temperatures are present in the tropical Eastern Pacific (La Niña-like conditions.) Currently, we do have warmer than average ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, but also in the equatorial tropical Pacific (0.5°C above average as of November 19), so this is a lower-risk scenario for Central U.S. drought than we had during the winter of 2011 - 2012. However, considering that most of the nation's drought regions need 6 - 15" of precipitation to pull them out of drought, the Great Drought of 2012 is likely to linger into the spring of 2013. - Wunderground.

US Winter-Wheat Condition Worst in 27 Years.
The condition of winter-wheat crops in the U.S. are the worst for this time of year since the government began monitoring in 1985, as drought damage spread from Midwest corn and soybean fields to the Great Plains.  An estimated 40 percent of winter wheat, the most-common domestic variety, was rated good or excellent as of Oct. 28, with 15 percent poor or very poor, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in its first assessment of the season. A year earlier, 46 percent got the top ratings. The worst U.S. drought since 1956 already has cut output of the nation’s two biggest crops, corn and soybeans, and sent prices to record highs. Wheat futures are up 32 percent this year. About 79 percent of Kansas, the biggest grower of winter grain, was in extreme or exceptional drought as of Oct. 23. Warm, dry weather the next two weeks will delay plant emergence and root growth before crops begin to go dormant for the winter. The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of wheat.  “The low crop ratings will increase concern about the yield potential of this year’s crop,” Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain analyst for Jefferies Bache LLC in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. “The weather doesn’t look promising for much improvement and may increase overseas demand for supplies left from last year’s U.S. harvest.” - Bloomberg.

US Wheat Crop Rating at Record Low for November.
Chicago wheat rose for a second straight session on Tuesday, lifted by renewed concerns over global supplies as US crop ratings dropped to a record low for the month of November following dry weather.     Soybeans eased after closing higher on Monday on expectations of a rebound in Chinese demand, while corn was little changed, holding on to last session's 1.6 percent climb amid tight supplies.     The US Agriculture Department said its rating of the winter wheat crop fell to 34 percent good-to-excellent, below analysts' expectations, due to persistent dry conditions in the US Plains.     The ratings were a record low for November and raised questions about how healthy the crop will be when it emerges from dormancy in the spring. - Business Recorder.

US Winter Wheat Conditions Continue on Downwards Spiral.
There has been no let-up in US winter wheat conditions over the past week, with eight of the 18 reporting states showing worsening conditions.Conditions have declined steadily since the USDA first issued its crop progress report for the 2013 wheat crop. This week, 34% of the crop was rated good to excellent, 2 percentage points lower than last week, and 16 percentage points lower than a year ago, when 50% of the crop was rated good to excellent. The percentage rated poor to very poor also increased by two percentage points to 24% from last week, and compared with 16% a year ago. - Public Ledger.

Drought in US Wheat Areas Provokes Dust Bowl Talk.
Weather forecasts offer little relief from drought for a US winter wheat crop which data overnight showed deteriorating further to a fresh seasonal low, and prompting comparisons to the Dust Bowl years.  "No important rain is expected this week" for the US areas, largely in the Plains, growing hard red winter wheat, which accounts for more than half the US wheat crop, Gail Martell at Martell Crop Projections said.  Nor is precipitation expected further ahead, with weather service WxRisk.com saying that while a cold front in the six-to-10 day outlook "could  bring portions of the upper Plains a decent snow fall, areas south of this LOW's  track will stay dry  and mild.  And heading into December "while the Upper Plains and  Midwest look to turn seasonally cold, the pattern does not show a cold air getting into any portion of the central  and lower Plains," WxRisk.com said.  Longer-term, the US Climate Prediction Center said last week that this summer's US drought, billed as the worst in 56 years, would persist in the Plains and parts of the Midwest at least until February, likely spreading into Texas too. - Agrimoney.

UK Winter Wheat Shows Worst Fungus Symptoms Ever Recorded.
Winter wheat in the U.K., which had its wettest summer in a century this year, showed the worst-ever symptoms in the current season of fungal diseases fusarium ear blight and septoria tritici, CropMonitor said.  There was a “marked increase” in ear blight, with 96 percent of field samples displaying symptoms, the crop-quality service said in a report e-mailed today. Some types of fusarium can result in yield losses or the development of mycotoxins, chemicals that can harm humans and animals, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.  “Ear blight symptoms were recorded at the highest-ever levels since the survey began,” said CropMonitor, which is run by government and industry groups. Some field samples also showed fusarium on plant stems and nodes, where leaves emerge from stems, according to the report.  Septoria tritici, which also can cut yields, was the most common foliar disease, with 97 percent of crops affected, CropMonitor said. Brown rust was recorded on 17 percent of field samples and tan spot affected 14 percent of crops.  Powdery mildew affected only 4 percent of crops, the lowest level ever recorded and down from last year’s results showing 34 percent of crops were infected.  The U.K. is the third-largest wheat producer in the 27- nation European Union. - Bloomberg.

DELUGE: Flooding Affects Dozens of Scottish Homes - Over 100 Residents Evacuated From Their Homes!

November 20, 2012 - SCOTLAND - More than 100 residents have been evacuated from their homes after Scottish villages were affected by flooding after heavy rain. Residents in Comrie, Perthshire, were forced to leave when the Water of Ruchill burst its banks just before 8am. Tayside Fire and Rescue Service said about 70 firefighters and 10 appliances were at the scene, including water rescue teams.

Flooding Affects Dozens Of Scottish Homes.
The flooding has extended into large parts of Dalginross, Camp Road, Bank Road, Tay Avenue, Glebe Road and Duke Road, the fire service said. Roads around Dalginross have been closed by police and an emergency rest centre has been set up by Perth and Kinross Council at Strathearn leisure centre in nearby Crieff. Properties have also been flooded in Dunblane, Aberfoyle and Callander, a spokesman for Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service said, leading to the main street in Aberfoyle being closed in both directions. A Red Cross spokesman said the volunteers, who are based in Dundee, have helped more than 20 people who were evacuated from their properties, including a number of elderly people from two care homes.

Other volunteers have been standing by in a specially-equipped Red Cross Fire and Emergency Services Support (FESS) vehicle, which is an adapted mobile home where people can be given shelter, first aid, emotional support and dry clothing. Robert Colburn, Red Cross senior service manager for east Scotland, said: "Our FESS team were called in by Tayside Fire and Rescue at about 11.15am. "Just 20 minutes later, we were asked to send in emergency response volunteers by the Scottish Ambulance Service. "Our main duties are to look after the welfare of people arriving at the rest centre and to give as much help as we can to the emergency services. "All Red Cross FESS and emergency response volunteers are highly-trained in the skills needed to look after people in times of crisis such as flooding or house fires. "As an emergency response organisation, the Red Cross has vast experience of helping people in all sorts of crises." Rab Middlemiss, group manager at Tayside Fire and Rescue, said that about 30 people who had moved out of their homes because of flooding in Comrie in August had again been hit by the severe weather. "Before they get a chance to get back in, we've had these same properties affected," he said. "Now what we need to look at is how are we going to prevent this happening in the longer term." - Yahoo.

STORM ALERT: Another American East Coast Storm - New Weather System Could Snarl Holiday Travel!

November 20, 2012 - UNITED STATES - After several days' respite, we will again be watching the waters just off the Atlantic Seaboard for the potential of another coastal storm. As has been the case with the last several storms near the East Coast, the computer forecast models have been showing a range of possible outcomes for this system, which will develop this weekend and reach its peak intensity during the first half of next week -- just as millions of Americans hit the road or the airport for Thanksgiving.

What can we say with confidence at this point? We can confidently predict that a storm will be spinning up off the Atlantic shores of the Southeast this weekend. Breezy conditions are likely at the coast, and showers will be possible from coastal Georgia into parts of the Carolinas and Virginia this weekend. Questions arise next week about where this storm is headed during the busy Thanksgiving travel period. Computer forecast models are in broad agreement that it will crawl northward over the western Atlantic, blocked -- or at least slowed -- by a strong bubble of high pressure over eastern Canada. The models are also in good agreement that this storm will not pull a Sandy and makea a left hook into the East Coast; in fact, they broadly agree on keeping the center of the storm over the ocean, but they vary quite a bit in how far offshore. The models also agree that there won't be much cold air feeding into this system. This means the chance for snow (as opposed to rain) from this storm is quite low.

Given what we know, we expect a long fetch of easterly winds over the western Atlantic. But as we will see, those model differences will have implications for the coastal impacts of this storm. So that's the critical question: Will this storm hug the coast or stay farther out to sea? Let's take a look at two of the possibilities for this low-pressure system. On one hand, the center of low pressure could stay on a more westerly track as it moves north, keeping it closer to the East Coast. In this scenario, rain would lash parts of the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast into those heavy pre-Thanksgiving travel days, causing wet roads, traffic delays, and complications at the airports. There's likely to be more of an onshore (easterly) component to the winds along the East Coast, increasing the threat of some coastal flooding, not to mention severe beach erosion from pounding waves. Furthermore, the winds would be stronger for a longer stretch of coast in this scenario. - NBC.

TERMINATOR NOW: Rise of the Machines - Autonomous Killer Robots "Could be Developed in 20 Years"!

November 20, 2012 - UNITED STATES - Fully autonomous robots that decide for themselves when to kill could be developed within 20 to 30 years, or 'even sooner', a report has warned.  Militaries across the world are said to be 'very excited' about machines that could deployed alone in battle, sparing human troops from dangerous situations.  The U.S. is leading development in such 'killer robots', notably unmanned drones often used to attack suspected militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.   

Rise Of The Machines: The third instalment of the Terminator film franchise imagines the chain of events
that leads to death-dealing computers taking over the planet using robot soldiers.
Drones are remotely controlled by human operators and unable to kill without authorisation, but weapons systems that require little human intervention already exist.  Raytheon's Phalanx gun system, deployed on U.S. Navy ships, can search for enemy fire and destroy incoming projectiles by itself. The Northrop Grumman X47B is a plane-sized drone able to take off and land on aircraft carriers, carry out air combat without a pilot and even refuel in the air.  But perhaps closest to the Terminator-type killing machine portrayed in Arnold Schwarzenegger's action films is a Samsung sentry robot already being used in South Korea.  The machine is able to spot unusual activity, challenge intruders and, when authorised by a human controller, open fire.   

The warnings come from a new report by Human Rights Watch, which insists that such Terminator-style robots are banned before governments start deploying them.  The report, dubbed Losing Humanity and co-written by Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic, raises the alarm over the ethics of the looming technology.  Calling them 'killer robots,' it urges 'an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.'  Such machines would mean that human soldiers could be spared from dangerous situations, but the downside is that robots would then be left to make highly nuanced decisions on their own, the most fraught being the need to distinguish between civilians and combatants in a war zone.  'A number of governments, including the United States, are very excited about moving in this direction, very excited about taking the soldier off the battlefield and putting machines on the battlefield and thereby lowering casualties,' said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. 

While Goose said 'killer robots' do not exist as yet, he warned of precursors and added that the best way to forestall an ethical nightmare is a 'preemptive, comprehensive prohibition on the development or production of these systems.' 'If a robot goes wrong, who's accountable? It certainly won't be the robot'  Noel Sharkey, University of Sheffield  The problem with handing over decision-making power to even the most sophisticated robots is that there would be no clear way of making anyone answer for the inevitable mistakes, said Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics at University of Sheffield.  'If a robot goes wrong, who's accountable? It certainly won't be the robot,' he said.  'The robot could take a bullet in its computer and go berserk. So there's no way of really determining who's accountable and that's very important for the laws of war.' - Daily Mail.

WATCH: South Korea's Machine Gun Sentry Robot.

HIGH STRANGENESS: Weird Genetically Engineered Experiment - Bizarre Muppet-Like Beast Discovered in Namibia?!

November 20, 2012 - NAMIBIA - Namibian media report a strange muppet-like beast has been shot dead after a group stumbled across several of the creatures in dense jungle.

Source: The Daily Telegraph.
Locals came across the bizarre being while they were escorting a shooting party in Namibia, local media reported.

Witnesses state that the creature was spotted apparently foraging for food, one of the shooting party wounded it with his rifle and it escaped into the thick brush.

The locals tracked it to a nearby lair or nest where they found three more creatures of similar size.

The wounded creature attacked one of the shooting party and it was shot dead, the others escaped into the brush

The body of the creature was taken back to the local camp, police later removed its corpse and a full forensics investigation is under way. - The Telegraph.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Volcano Discovery Report - Paluweh, Marapi, Popocatépetl, Fuego, Santiaguito, Concepcion, Masaya, Nevado del Ruiz, Reventador, Sakurajima, and Ruapehu!

November 20, 2012 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing report from the Volcano Discovery Group.

Ash explosions occur almost each day at Paluweh volcano (Rokatenda) off Flores, Indonesia. The activity seems to be increasing. The largest explosions have produced plumes rising up to 3 km altitude.

Marapi volcano on Sumatra (Indonesia) is showing signs of unrest or minor activity. A small steam (and possibly ash) puff was observed from the crater yesterday morning.

Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico has calmed down to only about 1-2 emissions per hour during the past days. Few of the explosions contained small amounts of ash. Glow remains visible at night.

Fuego volcano in Guatemala has picked up in activity again. Strombolian explosions have been gradually returning at the volcano: 5 were recorded between 18-19 and 13 during 19-20 Nov. They produced gray ash columns of 200-500 meters above the crater and dispersed up to 8 km towards south and southwest. The explosions ejected incandescent material to 100-150 meters above the crater and generated weak avalanches on the upper slope. The lava flow toward Ash Canyon is still active and had increased to 800 meters length this morning.

Santiaguito's activity remains at low levels and mainly effusive. There are only few and small explosions and the lava flows from the dome continue to be weakly active.

Pulses of volcanic tremor are regularly visible on the seismograms of Concepcion volcano in Nicaragua. In the past days, seismic activity seems to have been increased.

As Earthquake-report noted, tremor at Masaya volcano also in Nicaragua has been a bit higher recently with some few local earthquakes appearing on the seismic recordings.

A significant SO2 plume from Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia is visible on the current NOAA satellite image. Seismic activity shows an increased number of small quakes and long-period events.

Reventador volcano in Ecuador continues to build up its lava dome and produce lava flows on the upper flanks. The latest report of the Instituto Geofisico warns of the possibility of increased explosive eruptions accompanied by pyroclastic flows that could affect a larger area.

After a phase of intense activity during 15-16 Nov, Sakurajima volcano has been more at average activity levels, with 1-2 daily explosions with ash plumes rising 7-8,000 ft (2.1-2.4 km) altitude.

Small earthquakes appear on the otherwise seismic recording from Ruapehu volcano in New Zealand. Alert level remains at 1 as an eruption is not thought imminent, but as a precaution, the New Zealand government has placed a safety exclusion zone of 2 km around the summit area. - Volcano Discovery.

HIGH STRANGENESS: The Invasion of the Mutant Super-Rats - Poison-Resistant Rodents Found in Henley, England?!

November 20, 2012 - ENGLAND - With its pretty riverside location and the annual Royal Regatta, Henley-on-Thames has never had much trouble attracting visitors.  But the latest ones won’t be welcome – the upmarket town in South Oxfordshire has been invaded by a plague of mutant ‘super-rats’. 

Carrying a poison-resistant gene, they have been found by researchers on farms and other properties around Henley after previously being identified in parts of Berkshire and Hampshire.  The brown rats look the same as  their non-mutant counterparts and, like them, can carry life-threatening diseases, but are resistant to typical pest controls thanks to genetic mutation.  Dr Alan Buckle, a research fellow at the University of Reading who carried out the study that found the rats in Henley, said: ‘Rats carry a vast range of diseases, including Weil’s disease.  ‘These diseases are very harmful and potentially fatal to both humans and animals.’ Weil’s disease is a water-borne bacterial infection linked to the urine of infected rats. It killed Olympic rowing champion Andy Holmes in 2010.  Dr Buckle used new DNA techniques to determine the prevalence of rats with the poison-resistant gene. As well as areas around Henley, they were found in Berkshire near Caversham and Sonning.  ‘For 30 years we have been using the same two poisons,’ Dr Buckle said. ‘This has meant that the susceptible rats died and the resistant ones lived and bred.  ‘We are now in a situation where the rat poison which pest controllers are legally allowed to use is ineffective, meaning it is becoming harder to control rats.’  

The Health and Safety Executive is evaluating whether new poisons should be approved to control rats. However, many animal welfare groups believe that this is not the answer as poisons, or rodenticides, can be detrimental to wildlife.  Jeff Knott, of the RSPB, said: ‘The risk to wildlife by the use of rodenticides is very real, particularly to animals which eat rats such as birds of prey and barn owls.  ‘Rat control is necessary but the RSPB does not believe that the answer is the licensing of more and more toxic poisons.  ‘The more poisons we use, the more resistant rats will become to them. The answer is firstly prevention and then other control methods such as trapping and shooting.’  But Richard Moseley, a technical manager with the British Pest Control Association, said: ‘Tons and tons of poison are being used to little effect.  ‘In terms of the threat to wildlife, it would be a lot better if new poisons which actually work could be used as a much smaller amount of them would be needed.  ‘Rats are very intelligent and would soon become behaviorally resistant to traps.’  Dr Buckle, whose survey was funded by nine organizations involved in pest control, said: ‘My view is that we need to use the stronger poisons but we need to tell people how to use them carefully. If we can do that we can solve the problem.’  There are thought to be 10.5million rats in the country. In areas where resistance exists around  70 per cent carry the rodenticide- resistant gene. - Daily Mail.

EXTREME WEATHER: Fierce Storm, Strong Winds and Heavy Rains Pummel American Pacific Northwest - 1 Dead, Trees Uprooted, Vehicles Toppled, Nearly 50,000 Without Power!

November 20, 2012 - UNITED STATES - Residents in Washington and Oregon braced for more wet weather after a fierce storm swamped streets, toppled trees and large trucks, cut power to nearly 50,000 residents, and caused at least one death.  Though the main threat is over, the rain will continue but shouldn't disrupt Thanksgiving holiday travel plans, since all major roads and passes in the Northwest are open. 

Traffic plows through high water as it merges onto Interstate 5 in Portland, Ore., Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.
A powerful storm is pounding the Oregon coast, shutting down marine traffic in and out of several coastal
rivers and closing part of highway U.S. 101. (AP Photo/Don Ryan).
Flood warnings were issued for a handful of western Washington rivers, with moderate flooding expected Tuesday along the Chehalis River in the Centralia area. Residents there were told where to find sandbags and were directed to move any endangered livestock to higher ground.  Nearly 2 inches of rain fell in six hours Monday in one Seattle neighborhood — a total that Seattle Public Utilities meteorologist James Rufo-Hill called "extraordinary."  "It was a pretty big storm for most of the city — lots of rain in a relatively short amount of time," he said, but several neighborhoods "really got drenched." 

The rain caused widespread reports of flooded roads and highways, some mudslides and residential flooding, and even sewage overflows in parts of Seattle and Everett. Several blocks of downtown streets were briefly flooded in Port Orchard, west of Seattle.  Puget Sound Energy reported 24,000 electricity outages at mid-afternoon in its western Washington service area, with most service restored by Monday evening.  In Oregon, the storm knocked out electricity to as many as 24,000 Pacific Power customers. Several thousand remained in the dark Monday night, mainly in Clatsop, Lincoln and Coos counties.  BNSF Railways imposed a 48-hour moratorium on passenger and commuter trains travel between Everett and Seattle, starting around noon Monday, after at least 10 mudslides affected the tracks, spokesman Gus Melonas said.  Wet weather was expected to continue through the week, but National Weather Service meteorologist Jay Neher in Seattle said Monday night that the "heavy rain is over."  "We're into showers now," Neher said. - Statesman Journal.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Ecuador's Reventador Volcano Activity Continues at Elevated Levels - Growing Dome and Change to More Explosive Eruption Style!

November 20, 2012 - ECUADOR - Reventador volcano's activity continues at elevated levels with the possibility of larger explosive eruptions and pyroclastic flows, according to the latest report of the Instituto Geofísico.

Current seismic signal from CONE station (IG).
During the first months of 2012, the volcano started to produce lava flows and build up a new lava dome that has by now over-topped the Nov 2002 crater rim. Over the past months, there has been a steady in crease. Steam plumes above the crater were mostly less than 500 m tall in the first months, they started to be larger since 4 Nov, when heights of the plume at times reached 3 km height during moderate ash explosions. In parallel, seismic activity increased as well.

From 16 Nov, seismicity increased again to higher energy levels and increased frequency of harmonic tremor pulses. This went along with the occurrence of emission columns containing ash that reached 4000 m above the summit and drifted mainly to the N and NW. Light ash falls occurred in areas located between the volcano and the town of Chaco.

IG notes that a gradual change in activity from effusive (lava flows) to a more explosive style can be observed, with more frequent ash explosions that could affect populated areas at greater distances from the volcano. This is thought to be caused by an influx of new magma into the system and could lead to a further increase of explosions with more ash content.
Additionally, explosions or gravitational collapse could destroy the lava dome and form dangerous pyroclastic flows, especially down the Marker and Reventador rivers and affect people and infrastructure located downstream in these areas. - Volcano Discovery.

PLANET X MEMES: Scientists Discover Massive Planet Outside Our Solar System - Super-Jupiter Spotted 170 Light Years Away, Could be Considered As A Brown Dwarf Star!

November 20, 2012 - NASA - Scientists have discovered what could be a massive planet outside our solar system, NASA said Monday. Astronomers used infrared data from the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii to identify Kappa Andromedae b, a "super-Jupiter" object that appears to be nearly 13 times the mass of Jupiter.

The planet shown in this illustration, Kappa Andromedae b, is a "super-Jupiter" object.
The planet orbits a star called Kappa Andromedae. It's not entirely certain whether Kappa Andromedae b is a planet, however, NASA said. If it can generate energy by fusion, it would be considered a "brown dwarf" star. Fusion is the process by which atomic nuclei combine, releasing a huge amount of energy. The sun produces energy by fusing the common form of hydrogen into helium. But a brown dwarf fuses deuterium, a heavier form of hydrogen gas. Brown dwarf stars are dimmer and cooler than other stars, but purely in the temperature sense; they have also been called "failed stars."

Planets do not produce energy through fusion. However, planets do emit heat that is left over from their own formation. If it is a brown dwarf, Kappa Andromedae b would have the lowest possible mass for a brown dwarf. The discovery sets a record for Kappa Andromedae, the host star. It is now the most massive star to host a planet that has been directly imaged, or to have a lightweight brown dwarf companion. The research comes from a five-year effort called the Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS). You can see the star Kappa Andromedae without a telescope; it is in the direction of the nearby constellation Andromeda. But you won't be visiting any time soon, since the star is 170 light years away. Slate blogger Phil Plait emphasizes that this discovery is exciting because although scientists have detected more than 850 planets beyond our solar system, few of them have been directly detected. In other words, it's not often that we can get an image with light coming from them. - CNN.

WATCH: Super-Jupiter planet discovered.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Volcano Activity For November 19, 2012 - Little Sitkin, Mammoth Mt., Popocatepetl, Pacaya, Santa Maria, Masaya, San Miguel, Machin, Galeras, Ruapehu, Tongariro and White Island!

November 20, 2012 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - Earthquake activity has fallen-off again at Little Sitkin volcano (Aleutians).  Earthquakes beneath the South Moat of Long Valley caldera (CA) have now become infrequent and of very low magnitude.

 A few deep low-frequency earthquakes have occurred the past few days beneath nearby Mammoth Mountain volcano.

Surface activity remains subdued at Popocatepetl volcano (Mexico), about two gas and ash emissions per hour on average. The Popocatepetl seismogram shows volcanic tremor subsiding to background levels and a regional earthquake.

Tremor remains fairly continuous at Pacaya volcano (Guatemala) this morning.

Volcanic tremor ebbs and flows at nearby Fuego volcano and continues at relatively lower levels than we’ve observed at Santa Maria volcano during the past year.

Increased tremor at Masaya volcano (Nicaragua) (station MASN) has given way to a few local earthquakes this morning.  Pulses of low-frequency earthquakes and/or tremor  are visible on seismograms at Concepcion volcano, also in Nicaragua.

Numerous low-frequency (volcanic) earthquakes have merged into low level tremor at San Miguel volcano (El Salvador).

What appear to be tiny local seismic events have appeared from time to time during the past week at Machin volcano (Colombia).

Equally small events and some volcanic tremor can be seen on this morning’s seismogram at Galeras volcano, also located in Colombia.

Low level tremor continues within Ruapehu volcano (New Zealand) today, while small earthquakes still occur at nearby Tongariro volcano (a few larger regional events are also visible on seismograms recorded at both volcanoes).  Relatively strong, continuous volcanic tremor rattles-on within White Island volcano.

Recent satellite imagery has not detected significant gas plumes from any of the volcanoes we watch. - EarthQuake Report.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Sinkhole Suddenly Opens up to Swallow Moving Car in Cosmopolis, Washington!

November 20, 2012 - UNITED STATES - Power outages, standing water, broken limbs, and at least one sinkhole.

A driver in Cosmopolis was in for a surprise as they drove towards the hill on C Street. Right as they passed the entrance to Mill Creek Park, they fell into a hole in the road.

Mayor Vickie Raines says that the culvert underneath C Street collapsed and tried to swallow the vehicle.

The road to the hill has been blocked to traffic as crews wait out the storm and prepare to assess the damage. - KXRO.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Euro-Zone Crisis - Moody's Downgrades France, Sets Negative Outlook!

November 20, 2012 - FRANCE - Credit rating heavyweight Moody's Investors Service has stripped France of its top AAA rating to Aa1 with a negative outlook, sending a warning to President Hollande’s endeavours to rebuild French economic growth and credibility. ­Moody’s said its decision to downgrade Europe’s second largest economy reflects France’s deteriorating economic outlook, the recession in the wider Eurozone and "substantial" challenges to the government's reform plans.

"The first driver underlying Moody's one-notch downgrade of France's sovereign rating is the risk to economic growth, and therefore to the government's finances, posed by the country's persistent structural economic challenges," Moody's announced in a press release. Moody’s negative assessment follows Standard & Poor’s decision in January to cut the country’s credit rating thus intensifying pressure on Hollande to find ways to increase growth in the country. "The track record of successive French governments in effecting such measures over the past two decades has been poor," Moody's said about the French reform plans. Analysts believe, given the EU’s economic trajectory since the start of the crisis, there isn’t much any of the euro countries including France can do to reverse the situation. “I do not think there’s much of a chance for France and Germany and some of the other countries to really prevent this. There has to be a major structural change both within these countries and economies individually and within the European Union broadly” Margaret Bogengrief from ACM crisis management told RT. The rating agency also cautioned Paris against becoming victim of the bail-outs for eurozone partners via the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) saying: “France is disproportionately exposed to peripheral European countries such as Italy through its trade linkages and its banking system.”

With Paris serving as one of the guarantors of the ESM, there’re some voices calling for a restructuring of the EU. “The European Union economically as it stands is an unsustainable organization. It is an unsustainable financial and economic Oedipus. With this downgrade, it pushes France and Germany and some of the biggest countries to recreate the European Union. I mean, stop supporting some of the other economies, such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and regroup and recreate the European Union,” Bogengrief says. Bailout facilities, such as the temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the permanent European Stability Mechanism, rely on heavyweight countries backing them to keep their costs down. In July, Moody’s signalled a negative outlook on its AAA rating of the EFSF and said the facility's rating is dependent on its key contributors, including France. Since being elected as president this spring, Hollande has introduced tax increases to cut France’s budget shortcomings. In September, the leftist government announced its intent to reduce the deficit to 3 percent of GDP in 2013 by introducing 20 billion euros in new taxes on big business and their owners. The president also wants to overhaul France’s job regulations by the end of the year in an effort to combat unemployment which is at a 13-year high. But the reforms are unlikely to be popular with the public; “in order for the European Union generally and France specifically to reset itself, the economy and the people are going to suffer. There will be significant shocks to their comfort…We will start seeing more protest across France,” Bogengrief beleives. But Moody’s is not all doom and gloom, it says France still possesses “significant credit strengths,” a “large and diversified economy” and “the government's commitment to structural reforms and fiscal consolidation.” - RT.