Wednesday, January 9, 2013

FIRE IN THE SKY: "Potentially Dangerous" Asteroid Apophis, Which May Hit Earth In 2036, Is Bigger Than Previously Thought - See It Online Tonight!

January 09, 2013 - SPACE - A European space telescope has captured new images of the huge asteroid Apophis, revealing that the potentially hazardous object is actually bigger than previously thought — and you have a chance to see the space rock yourself in two free webcasts tonight (Jan. 9).

An artist's rendering of the asteroid Apophis. CREDIT: European Space Agency.
Asteroid Apophis has long been billed as a "doomsday asteroid" because of a 2004 study that predicted a 2.7 percent chance of the space rock hitting Earth when it passes within 22,364 miles (36,000 kilometers) of the planet in April 2029, European Space Agency officials said. Later studies proved, however, that the asteroid poses no threat to Earth during that flyby, but astronomers continue to track the object since it will make another pass near Earth in 2036.  Today, ESA officials announced that its infrared Herschel Space Observatory has discovered that Apophis is about 1,066 feet (325 meters) wide, nearly 20 percent larger than a previous estimate of 885 feet (270 m).  "The 20 percent increase in diameter … translates into a 75 percent increase in our estimates of the asteroid's volume or mass," study leader Thomas Müller of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, said in a statement. Tonight's two free webcasts will stream live views of Apophis from telescopes in Italy and the Canary Islands tonight (Jan. 10). The webcasts, offered by the stargazing websites Slooh Space Telescope and Virtual Telescope Project, will show Apophis as a bright light moving across the night sky. The asteroid is too small to be seen through small backyard telescopes.
ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory captured asteroid Apophis in its field
of view during the approach to Earth on January, 5-6, 2013. This image shows
the asteroid in Herschel’s three PACS wavelengths: 70, 100 and 160 microns.
CREDIT: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MACH-11/MPE/B.Altieri (ESAC) and
C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory).

The Slooh Space Camera webcast will begin at 7 p.m. EST (0000 Jan. 10 GMT). The Virtual Telescope webcast will begin an hour later at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT). You can watch both live webcasts of asteroid Apophis here on tonight. Apophis will be just under 9.3 million miles (15 million kilometers) from Earth at the time of tonight’s webcasts, amateur astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project told  "Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide because of its extremely close approach in 2029 and [chances of a] potential impact, albeit small, in 2036," Slooh president Patrick Paolucci said in a statement. In addition to asteroid Apophis, astronomers regularly scan the night sky for asteroids  that may pose a potential impact threat to Earth. NASA's Near-Earth Object Office and Asteroid Watch program is based at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. - SPACE.

 You can track Apophis directly via the Virtual Telescope Project here:

The webcast from the Slooh Space Camera can also be seen here:

WATCH: Potentially Dangerous Asteroid Apophis Spotted.

EXTREME WEATHER: Danger Zones - Winter Storm Wreaks Havoc in British Columbia!

January 09, 2013 - BRITISH COLUMBIA - A powerful winter storm ripping through British Columbia created havoc on highways, turned mountains into danger zones Tuesday, and even sparked an avalanche on Vancouver Island that injured one. RCMP spokesman Cpl. Darren Lan-gan said the avalanche was minor and that rescue crews were on the scene Tuesday evening to evacuate those caught in the slide. Langan couldn't say how badly injured the victim was and said everyone has been accounted for in the group.

A travel advisory has been issued for the Coquihalla Highway, where 40 centimetres of snow is expected to fall.
Heavy snow and rain are expected in many areas of B.C. The heaviest rainfall is expected for Hope with
70 millimetres predicted. Ian Lindsay, PNG Files.
The number of people involved is unclear, but as many as four people may have been in the area at the time of the avalanche, which happened in the backcountry of Strathcona Provincial Park, outside the boundaries of Mount Washington Ski Resort. At least 25 centimetres of snow was expected to fall on the North Shore mountains and Whistler region Tuesday night before tapering off by Wednesday. In the Okanagan, up to 40 cm was forecast. According to meteorologist Ross MacDonald, the Metro Vancouver area was to get at least 30 mm of rain by early Wednesday. That rain, however, was expected to clear up by Thursday or Friday. "It'll be pretty dry for a couple of days but we might see a little bit of ... showers on Saturday," said Environment Canada meteorologist Colin Tam. With temperatures above freezing in Metro Vancouver, no snow is forecast with the precipitation. The heaviest rains are expected near Hope, where 70 mm of rainfall is forecast by Wednesday morning. A travel advisory has been issued for the Coquihalla Highway.

MacDonald said at least 40 cm of snow is expected over the summit before the storm passes. A similar amount is expected for the Kootenay Pass. The Canadian Avalanche Centre has posted high danger ratings for the North, the Columbia, Monashee and Selkirks region and the South Columbia region. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. The Avalanche Centre says dangerous conditions can be expected in the North Shore backcountry with conditions already listed as high - possibly moving to extreme in the wake of blizzard-like conditions. Cam Campbell, a forecaster with the centre, said the high alert holds for Wednesday and into Thursday. "We expect the avalanche danger to spike with this storm," he said. "What it means is avoid all avalanche terrain without expert levels of safety and expertise." Overall, Campbell said the snowpack has been stable with the steady snowfall and cold temperatures. The latest snow will need time to bond with the snow from last week. "This is a storm that is loading up the previous snow from late last week," he said. Members of the North Shore Search and Rescue team have already complained that unprepared snowshoers are heading into areas far beyond their level of experience. Last weekend the North Shore team had to rescue a snowshoer who fell off a cliff on Hollyburn. - The Province.

MASS BIRD DIE-OFF: 284,755 Birds Killed Due To Avian Influenza In Mexico!

January 09, 2013 - MEXICO - The Mexican government said today addressed and resolved an outbreak of bird flu "highly pathogenic" in the state of Aguascalientes, in the center-north of the country, after the slaughter of 284,755 birds on two farms affected. 

The Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement that a producer of Aguascalientes reported Jan. 3 to the National Service of Health, Food Safety and Quality (Senasica) of increased mortality with clinical suspicion of avian influenza in a poultry farm in the municipality San Francisco de los Romo.  Immediately, more than 30 technical Senasica moved to the area to identify the cause of the mortality of hens and the level of involvement, said the ministry.  He added that Senasica laboratories in western state of Jalisco and Mexico City yesterday confirmed the presence of two farms with AH7N3 virus genetic sequence 99% similar to that presented in June last year in the region of Los Altos de Jalisco, so we proceeded immediately to the slaughter of 284,755 hens. 

The Senasica reported continuing epidemiological surveillance work and that there are six million doses of vaccine to immediately start inoculating birds in focal and perifocal area of ​​the outbreak.  Among the measures implemented to prevent the spread of the virus is the establishment of seven checkpoints and internal inspection on avian influenza to prevent the mobilization of live birds, their products and by-products, no official control.  The Secretariat Agricultrura, which depends on Senasica, said "as befits the international protocol on the matter, the fact was reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), based in Paris . "  On 24 October, the Mexican government announced that the outbreak of bird flu that emerged in mid-2012 in Jalisco was "totally controlled".  Among the measures adopted highlights the sacrifice of 22.3 million birds, the establishment of a sanitary cordon and the development and implementation of 140 million doses of a vaccine against the disease. - La Informacion [Translated].

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: The Electric Universe - Recent Starbursts In The Milky Way Galaxy's Center!

Figure 1a: SOFIA/FORCAST mid-infrared image
of the Milky Way Galaxy’s nucleus showing the
circumnuclear ring (CNR) of gas and dust clouds
orbiting a central supermassive black hole. The bright
Y-shaped feature is believed to be material infalling from
the ring toward the black hole that is located where the
arms of the “Y” intersect. Image credit:NASA
January 09, 2013 - SPACE - Researchers using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have captured new images of a seven light-year-diameter ring of gas and dust surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, and of a neighboring cluster of extremely luminous young stars embedded in dust cocoons. These images are the subjects of two posters presented this week during the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Long Beach, Calif. Ryan Lau of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) and his collaborators studied the Milky Way’s circumnuclear ring, or CNR (Figure 1a). Matt Hankins of the University of Central Arkansas (Conway, Ark.) is lead author of the other paper, regarding the Quintuplet Cluster, or QC (Figure 2a).

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.5 meters) to altitudes as high as 45,000 feet (14 km). The images were obtained during SOFIA flights in 2011 with the FORCAST (Faint Object infraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope) instrument built by a team with Principal Investigator Terry Herter of Cornell. Each image is a combination of multiple exposures at wavelengths of 20, 32, and 37 microns that are partially or completely blocked by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere and thus inaccessible to ground-based observatories even on high mountain peaks. Our Galaxy’s nucleus lies behind interstellar dust clouds in the mid-plane of the Milky Way which are mostly or completely opaque to visible and near-infrared light but more transparent at longer infrared wavelengths.

Figure 1b: HST/NICMOS near-infrared image
showing the same field of view with the same
scale and orientation as Figure 1a. At this
wavelength, opaque dust in the plane of the
Milky Way hides features that are visible in
the SOFIA image. In contrast, the stars seen
 in the HST image emit mostly visible and
near-infrared light and so are not apparent
in the SOFIA mid-infrared image. Extra opacity
due to especially dense concentrations of dust
in the CNR produces patches of apparently
lower star density in the near-infrared image.
Image credit:NASA.
Figure 2a: SOFIA/FORCAST mid-infrared image
 of a region including the Quintuple Cluster (QC),
 a group of young stars located about 35 parsecs
(100 light years) from the galaxy’s nucleus, near
the left margin of the frame. The compact bright
objects rendered white and blue in this image are
dust cloud “cocoons” heated from within by the
highest-luminosity stars in the cluster to temperaturesthat make them prominent at mid-infrared wavelengths. Other features in this image are interstellar clouds ofgas and dust. The large rounded oblong feature below the QC is an expanding cloud of debris produced by
violent ejections of material from a massive star
nearing the end of its life. Image credit:NASA
Figures 1b and 2b show comparison images of the CNR and QC regions made with a near-infrared camera on the Hubble Space Telescope. The CNR and other exotic features revealed by the FORCAST camera on SOFIA are invisible in the Hubble images. Figure 3 shows the two fields studied in these papers as square insets on a large-scale image of the galactic center made by the Spitzer Space Telescope at a wavelength of 8 microns. The nucleus of the Milky Way is inhabited by a black hole with 4 million times the mass of the Sun that is orbited by a large disk of gas and dust. The ring seen in Figure 1a is the inner edge of that disk. The galactic center also hosts several exceptionally large star clusters containing some of the most luminous young stars in the Galaxy, one of which is the Quintuplet Cluster seen in Figure 2. The combination of SOFIA’s airborne telescope with the FORCAST camera produced the sharpest images of those regions ever obtained at mid-infrared wavelengths, allowing discernment of new clues about what is happening near the central black hole. “The focus of our study has been to determine the structure of the circumnuclear ring with the unprecedented precision possible with SOFIA” said Mr. Lau. “Using these data we can learn about the processes that accelerate and heat the ring.” Mr. Hankins, lead author of the QC paper, noted that, “Something big happened in the Milky Way’s center within the past 4 to 6 million years which resulted in several bursts of star formation, creating the Quintuplet Cluster, the Central Cluster, and one other massive star cluster.” Hankins added, “Many other galaxies also have so-called ‘starbursts’ in their central regions, some associated with central black holes, some not.

Figure 2b: HST/NICMOS image of the QC
region matching the SOFIA/FORCAST field
of view in Figure 2a. The QC itself is at the
left of the frame. Most of the features in the
SOFIA mid-infrared image are not seen in
the HST image due to their sub-stellar
temperatures and intervening interstellar
dust. Image credit:NASA
Figure 3: Spitzer Space Telescope wide-field
 image of the galactic center at a wavelength
intermediate between those of the SOFIA/FORCAST
 and HST/NICMOS images. The QC and CNR
field locations and orientations are shown.
Image credit:NASA

The Milky Way’s center is much nearer than other galaxies, making it easier for us to explore possible connections between the starbursts and the black hole.” SOFIA Chief Scientific Advisor Eric Becklin, who is working with the CNR group, determined the location of the galaxy’s nucleus as a graduate student in the 1960s by laboriously scanning a single-pixel infrared detector to map the central region. Becklin said, “The resolution and spatial coverage of these images is astounding, showing what modern infrared detector arrays can do when flown on SOFIA. We hope to use these data to substantially advance our understanding of the environment near a supermassive black hole.” SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) that is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. - SETI.

The SETI Institute and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific are partners in leading the SOFIA Education and Public Outreach programs.

For more information about SOFIA, visit:

For information about SOFIA's science mission, visit:

MASS FISH DIE-OFF: 50 Baby Sharks Mysteriously Found Dead Along Nukulau Beachfront in Fiji?!

January 09, 2013 - FIJI - The Great Fiji Shark Count is willing to work with the Ministry of Fisheries to ascertain how 50 baby hammerhead sharks were found dead along the Nukulau beachfront over the weekend. 

Fifty baby hammerhead sharks (like the one pictured) were found dead on Nukulau beach. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU.
Nanise Ledua, a member of the GFSC, said they were working on sending a team to Nukulau Island to gather samples of the dead baby sharks and to determine the cause of their deaths.  "We have so many theories surrounding the dead baby sharks, but we cannot prove it right now," she said.  Ms Ledua said the toxic spill theory was not possible as other species of fish and other marine lives were not affected and the other possibility of the cause of their deaths was the change in water temperature, but this could not be confirmed. 

"It's all assumptions, we are assuming that maybe because baby sharks are always in shallow waters, they could have suffocated due to the change in water temperature.  "This is really, really sad to see that this number of sharks are dead," she said.  Ms Ledua added that they had assumed that it was not a failed attempt at shark fishing as the hammerhead sharks still had their dorsal fins.  "There are a lot of questions that we are asking and we can only determine the answers to these questions when we get samples of it," she said.  The GFSC-run Fiji shark dive website in one of its blogs reported: "With Nukulau sitting within the reach of the waters from Rewa where there is a hammerhead nursery, chances are that something has happened there."  "I'm saddened that only one species of shark is involved," Ms Ledua added. - The Fiji Times.

HIGH STRANGENESS: "Zombie" Planet Fomalhaut b Shocks Scientists - Rogue Orbit Around Star Makes The Planet Even Weirder?!

January 09, 2013 - SPACE - The unbalanced orbit of a so-called "zombie planet" in a dusty star system has astronomers struggling to explain the exoplanet's behavior. New observations of the planet Fomalhaut b by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed the oddball orbit, which has wild extremes between its closest and farthest points from the parent star and appears to cross through a vast minefield of dusty debris. "We are shocked. This is not what we expected," said study leader Paul Kalas, an astronomer with the University of California at Berkeley and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., in a statement Tuesday.

This false-color composite image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals the orbital motion of the planet Fomalhaut b. Based on these observations, astronomers calculated that the planet is in a 2,000-year-long, highly elliptical orbit. NASA, ESA, and P. Kalas (University of California, Berkeley and SETI Institute).
Fomalhaut b is a giant alien planet that is nearly three times the mass of Jupiter. It was the first alien planet ever directly imaged in visible light. The planet orbits the dust-shrouded star Fomalhaut and is located about 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. In October, scientists dubbed the world a "zombie planet" because it appeared to rise from the academic grave. After first being discovered in 2008, subsequent studies suggested the planet was nothing more than a huge dust cloud. In 2012, astronomers resurrected Fomalhaut b's planet status when new observations proved there was a planetary object embedded in a free-floating dust cloud. The latest observations of the odd planetary system revealed that the dusty debris disk surrounding the star Fomalhaut is much wider than previously thought. The debris belt spans a vast region of space between 14 billion and 20 billion miles (22.5 billion to 32.1 billion kilometers) around the star. Stranger still: The planet Fomalhaut b appears to approach within 4.6 billion miles (7.4 billion km) of its star at the closest point in its orbit, then swing way out to a point about 27 billion miles (43.4 billion km) away at the farthest point. Scientists call the extremes of such a planet’s path a highly eccentric orbit. Fomalhaut b's path, scientists say, sends the planet crashing through the surrounding debris disk during its 2,000-year orbit around its parent star. The research was unveiled Tuesday at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.

This diagram shows the orbit of the exoplanet Fomalhaut b as calculated from recent Hubble Space Telescope observations. The planet follows a highly elliptical orbit that carries it across a wide belt of debris encircling the bright star Fomalhaut. NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI).
Among the several theories to explain Fomalhaut b's extreme orbit is the possibility that the exoplanet had an encounter with another planet, a yet-to-be discovered neighbor. The cosmic close encounter could have gravitationally ejected Fomalhaut b into its current orbit, scientists said. "Hot Jupiters get tossed through scattering events, where one planet goes in and one gets thrown out," study co-investigator Mark Clampin, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. "This could be the planet that gets thrown out." Hubble telescope images revealed an apparent gap in the dust and ice debris around Fomalhaut, a region that could have been swept clean by the presence of the undetected planet, researchers said. Another theory suggests that Fomalhaut b could have once had a small dwarf planet as a neighbor, but that the giant planet obliterated the smaller world in a catastrophic collision. Such a crash could explain why the star Fomalhaut has a narrow outer debris disk that is less than 10,000 years old, scientists said.

Another tantalizing theory suggests Fomalhaut b may have Saturn-like rings and be destined for a spectacular crash through the debris disk around the star Fomalhaut in the year 2032. A set of rings or a nearby shroud of dust and ice could explain why Fomalhaut b appears so bright in visible light images, but is relatively dim in infrared light, according to Kalas. The rings or dust around the planet would reflect starlight, making the planet bright. A dust cloud could be created by impacts on moons around Fomalhaut b, if they exist, researchers said. In 2032, astronomers expect to solve one riddle that has perplexed scientists since Fomalhaut b's discovery: Is the exoplanet in the plane of the debris disk around its star, or not? If the planet is on the same plane as the debris disk, than it will be bombarded by dust and ice in 2032 when it crosses through the disk during the outbound leg of its orbit, researchers said. That would make the planet increase its brightness in infrared light, they added. Impacts from the debris could create a celestial light show on the planet similar to that seen on Jupiter when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 battered the gas giant in 1994. If Fomalhaut b is not in the same plane as the debris disk, then it should gradually get dimmer as it gets farther and farther from its parent star, researchers said. One way or another, the clues should come out starting in 2032, scientists said. Hubble telescope officials said astronomers plan to continue to monitor the Fomalhaut star system over the next few years and decades to see how the star system changes over time. - MSNBC.

WATCH: Constellation's 'Eye of Sauron' Look-Alike.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Livestock Epidemic Causing Havoc In Marakwet, Baringo Districts In Kenya!

January 09, 2013 - KENYA - The Government is mobilising emergency support in Marakwet and Baringo Districts to counter rapid spread of peste des petits ruminants, a virulent goats and sheep disease. The disease not only threatens food security, but could also result in a spillover to other regions and neighbouring countries that have never had the disease.

Marakwet District Veterinary Officer Joseph Kiyeg, said peste des petits ruminants (PPR) has infected hundreds of goats, and more than 2,000 of the herds have died from the disease in the last two months. The worrying trend has sent shivers down the spines of farmers who depend on livestock, mainly for livelihood. The crisis has seen farmers sell their goats and sheep at a throwaway price of Sh1,000. Chelakirap Tilem, who has reared livestock for a decade in Tot, Marakwet District said they usually sell goats for Sh4,000 when they are in good health. But due to the outbreak, they are now selling them for as little as Sh1,000 and below, a fact he attributes to fears of the disease by buyers.

Butcheries in towns like Eldoret, Nakuru and Kitale that normally receive animals from the area had to source supplies from elsewhere. Farmers lost Sh6 million to the disease that occurred in the area for about three months. The disease spread fast within days with Government intervention and action by the farmers to mitigate the outbreak coming in late. Kiyeg disclosed that at least 5,000 animals predominantly goats and sheep were infected, with 50 per cent of them dying. He said farmers are recording new cases of the disease, traditionally confined to pastoralist areas, which is now spreading fast to neighbouring areas causing a slump in animal prices. “The outbreak has had a negative impact on the farmers who depend on livestock as their primary source of income year-in-year out,” he explained. - Standard Media.

SHADOW WARS: Marching Towards The Inevitable War - Japan And China Step Up Drone Race As Tension Builds Over Disputed Islands!

January 09, 2013 - EAST CHINA SEA - Drones have taken centre stage in an escalating arms race between China and Japan as they struggle to assert their dominance over disputed islands in the East China Sea. China is rapidly expanding its nascent drone programme, while Japan has begun preparations to purchase an advanced model from the US. Both sides claim the drones will be used for surveillance, but experts warn the possibility of future drone skirmishes in the region's airspace is "very high".

The row between China and Japan over the disputed islands – called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku
by Japan – has escalated recently. Photograph: AP.
Tensions over the islands – called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan – have ratcheted up in past weeks. Chinese surveillance planes flew near the islands four times in the second half of December, according to Chinese state media, but were chased away each time by Japanese F-15 fighter jets. Neither side has shown any signs of backing down. Japan's new conservative administration of Shinzo Abe has placed a priority on countering the perceived Chinese threat to the Senkakus since it won a landslide victory in last month's general election. Soon after becoming prime minister, Abe ordered a review of Japan's 2011-16 mid-term defence programme, apparently to speed up the acquisition of between one and three US drones. Under Abe, a nationalist who wants a bigger international role for the armed forces, Japan is expected to increase defence spending for the first time in 11 years in 2013. The extra cash will be used to increase the number of military personnel and upgrade equipment.

The country's deputy foreign minister, Akitaka Saiki, summoned the Chinese ambassador to Japan on Tuesday to discuss recent "incursions" of Chinese ships into the disputed territory. China appears unbowed. "Japan has continued to ignore our warnings that their vessels and aircraft have infringed our sovereignty," top-level marine surveillance official Sun Shuxian said in an interview posted to the State Oceanic Administration's website, according to Reuters. "This behaviour may result in the further escalation of the situation at sea and has prompted China to pay great attention and vigilance." China announced late last month that the People's Liberation Army was preparing to test-fly a domestically developed drone, which analysts say is likely a clone of the US's carrier-based X-47B. "Key attack technologies will be tested," reported the state-owned China Daily, without disclosing further details. Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canadian-based Kanwa Defence Review, said China might be attempting to develop drones that can perform reconnaissance missions as far away as Guam, where the US is building a military presence as part of its "Asia Pivot" strategy. - Guardian.

WATCH:  Drone warfare priority in China-Japan standoff.

EXTREME WEATHER: Brutal Winter - Snowstorm, Fierce Winds And Deadly Flooding Trash The Middle East!

January 09, 2013 - MIDDLE EAST - Brutal winter weather is making dire conditions even more unbearable in parts of the Middle East, especially for Syrian refugees who must endure frigid temperatures in tents.  The coldest air of the season is moving in behind a heavy snowstorm that has blanketed refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon.  And inside Syria, residents in cities pummeled by warfare are taking drastic measures to stay warm -- and alive -- through the winter.  In a video posted online, three men and two children are burning pages of schoolbooks to stay warm in the besieged city of Rastan.

"We can't use the heaters inside our residences. No fuel, no wood, no electricity," one of the men says.  Rastan, near the dissident bastion of Homs, has been choked off from basic supplies such as electricity, bread and water.  In the Syrian city of Busra, a video shows a man gathering snow in a bucket to save as drinking water.  "We don't have water, we don't have heat," the man says. "We will try to make the snow into water because they cut off the water long ago."  CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the videos. But they're the latest reports of how winter storms are pummeling residents across the region.  Temperatures are running about 5 to 10 degrees Celsius (9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit) below average for this time of year across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, CNN forecaster Brandon Miller said. The region has seen above-average winter temperatures up to this point, so this is the first big cold snap, making it feel much more severe, he said.  The wind has also been particularly strong, in some cases over 70 kilometers per hour (43 miles per hour), which makes the wind chill much colder than the air temperature.  But in one ray of hope for those shivering in tents, Wednesday and Thursday are expected to be the coldest days before the weather clears up and temperatures rebound by the end of the week.

West Bank 
More than 500 Palestinians have been injured and more than 400 homes submerged by floodwater this week from a storm that struck the West Bank area, Palestinian media reported.  The flooding claimed the lives of two women who were in a taxi that was swept away, a Palestinian medical official told CNN.  "All of a sudden, floods started carrying the vehicle and sweeping it in the (path) of the fast-moving floods over in a valley," Dr. Ghassan Hamdan said.

At a Syrian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan, temperatures plunged early Wednesday to 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), with fierce winds expected to intensify over the day.  Torrential rain and increasing snowfall are paralyzing much of the country, and most government and public offices in Jordan are closed Wednesday, the state-run Petra news agency said.  In the next three days, temperatures in Amman will drop below freezing, Petra said, citing the Jordan Meteorological Department.  Amman has received 101 millimeters (4 inches) of rain over the past three days, whereas the January average for the entire month is only 63 millimeters, CNN forecaster Miller said. The city gets snow about once a year, on average.

At the Atme refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border, a mother decries the latest setback to a family that has already endured a rash of violence.  "My husband was detained six months ago. The two uncles were killed. This child will die in my hands," she said, pointing to her injured son in a video posted online. "Why is this happening to us? Why (must) a child die in front of his mother's eyes, and we can't do much?"

More than 40 displaced Syrians in Bar Elias were trapped inside their tents Tuesday by rising floodwater from the Ghazeel River, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.  Authorities rescued those trapped and provided them with adequate housing, the agency said.  Elsewhere in the country, the army evacuated residents trapped by torrential snowfall, according to news agency.

'Miserable' Conditions For Syrian Refugee Children 
Those who fled the relentless violence in Syria are facing harsh conditions abroad, the United Nations children's agency said.  "The cold is making life increasingly miserable" at the Zaatari camp in Jordan, UNICEF said last week. It cited health problems such as diarrhea and dehydration, a lack of hot water for bathing, and a need for winter clothes, blankets and better food.  More than 540,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, the United Nations said. About half the refugees are children. - CNN.

WATCH: Snowstorm, Fierce Winds And Deadly Flooding Trash The Middle East.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: First Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Cases Detected In North America - Completely Incurable Gonorrhea May Be At Hand!

January 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - The fears of major health organizations have come true: Gonorrhea that is immune to the last remaining effective oral antibiotic has been detected in at least nine North American patients, meaning the era of "incurable" gonorrhea could be close.

Gonorrhea infects close to 700,000 Americans each year.
In a study released Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group of scientists led by Vanessa Allen of Public Health Ontario, found that 6.7 percent of patients with gonorrhea at a Toronto clinic still had the disease after a round of cephalosporins, the last effective oral antibiotic used to treat the disease. Of 133 patients who returned for a "test of cure" visit, nine remained gonorrhea-positive. This is the first time cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea has been found in humans in North America. Last year, both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control warned that untreatable gonorrhea—the world's second most common sexually transmitted infection—could soon be a reality as the bacteria showed increasing resistance to cephalosporins in lab tests.  "These are the clinical cases we've been waiting for," Allen says. "This is the translation of the lab information into what the clinical consequence is."  Previously, there had been a couple individual case reports of untreatable gonorrhea cases in the United Kingdom, Austria, France, Norway, and Japan. In an accompanying editorial, Robert Kirkcaldy of the CDC writes that gonorrhea is quickly becoming a more threatening disease.

"Cephalosporin treatment failures have now been documented in North America," he writes. "Although this milestone was expected, its arrival is deeply troubling."  Gonorrhea is estimated to infect close to 700,000 Americans each year. Symptoms include painful urination, abdominal pain, genital discharge, itching, and infertility in women. Women who have both HIV and gonorrhea are more likely to pass HIV to their offspring than women with just HIV.  Less than a year ago, Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's sexually transmitted disease prevention program, wrote that the "threat of untreatable gonorrhea is emerging rapidly." At the time, just 1.7 percent of gonorrhea isolated in the lab were considered resistant to cephalosporins. Allen says her study shows just how fast antibiotic resistance is evolving in the organisms. "Our results aren't generalizable to the overall population because they all came from one clinic," she says. "But basically, the problem appears worse than we originally thought." Although each of the nine patients in Canada were cured with the injectable antibiotic known as ceftriaxone, Allen warns that there's been "a parallel increase" in resistance to that antibiotic.  "I think without a doubt this will become a bigger problem," Allen says. "The next threat is when, not if, the same thing happens with ceftriaxone. And then what?"  According to Kirkcaldy, "clinicians now face the emergence of cephalosporin-resistant [gonorrhea] without well-studied, effective backup treatment options." - US News.

BIG BROTHER NOW: The Rise Of The Police State - Kids Visiting Disney World To Be Tracked By "Magical" RFID Wristbands?!

January 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - New wireless-tracking wristbands designed to make the "Most Magical Place on Earth" even more hassle-free will hit Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., over the next few months. The "MagicBands" will be linked to customers' credit-card information and function as room keys and park entry passes, thanks to radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, which are most commonly used in wireless toll collection and public-transit turnstiles.

The MagicBands are part of a bigger system called "MyMagic+," which also allows the theme park to collect sensitive personal information, including names of guests both young and old, their purchasing and riding patterns and real-time location data. "Imagine booking guaranteed ride times for your favorite shows and attractions even before setting foot in the park," wrote Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in a blog posting on Monday. "With MyMagic+, guests will be able to do that and more, enabling them to spend more time together and creating an experience that’s better for everyone."

Compared with many companies foraying deeper into the world of data collection, Disney seems to make it very easy for customers to control what and how much information is shared with whom or to opt out of the program completely.  The New York Times reports that, for example, mascot characters could use the information transmitted by the MagicBands to greet visiting children by name — and even wish them happy birthday if so informed.  But parents could also choose not to share their children's information with park employees in that manner.  The Times said a new part of the official Disney World website, called "My Disney Experience," makes it fairly straightforward to manage MagicBand privacy controls for each member of a family. (There's already a MyDisneyExperience app for iOS and Android devices.)  Parents could share more information about themselves and less about their children, or choose whether to link a credit card to the wristband or simply use it as a ticket to a park or attraction.

The operation is a huge one. Analysts told the Times that they estimate the cost of installing the system, which will impact 60,000 employees and more than 100,000 guests every day, at somewhere between $800 million and $1 billion.  Some commenters on the StitchKingdom Disney fan site said they felt "a bit creeped out" and "not terribly comfortable with the idea" in response to an article on MyMagic+ posted in March.  But most commenters there and on other Disney fan sites either thought MyMagic+ was a great idea, or lamented that its users would be able to jump queues ahead of holders of other premium Disney ticket options.  There's no word on when the MyMagic+ program will spread to the four other Disney theme parks in southern California, Japan, Paris and Hong Kong. - NBC News.

WATCH: Kids Visiting Disney World To Be Tracked By "Magical" RFID Wristbands.

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise Of The Machines - First Humanoid Robot Pictured On The International Space Station!

January 09, 2013 - SPACE - But the C3PO lookalike, the first humanoid robot in space, has spent almost two years orbiting the Earth while learning to perform tasks which are more suited to machines than human crew members.

Robonaut 2 aboard the ISS.
Robonaut 2 – nicknamed R2 in a nod to the Star Wars trilogy – was launched in February 2011 on the last flight of NASA’s Discovery space shuttle.

It began work last March, practicing some of the duller or more dangerous jobs which astronauts hope it will carry out on their behalf, and was pictured on Wednesday during another round of testing.

An Earth-based team of programmers remotely controlled the robot as it operated valves on a task board in the space station’s Destiny laboratory.

One of the roles R2 was designed to fulfil was monitoring air flow in front of vents on board the ISS – a crucial check to make sure that none of the ventilation apparatus becomes blocked or clogged up.

The task requires a very steady hand and samples can be spoiled by other sources of air flow, such as human breath, making a robot the perfect candidate for the job. - Telegraph.

WATCH: Humanoid robot pictured on International Space Station.

SOLAR WATCH: Monster Sunspot Regions Emerge On The Sun - Sunspot 1652 Has Beta-Gamma Magnetic Field, Chance Of Flares! UPDATE: Very Humongous Sunspot 1654 Emerges Over The Sun's Eastern Limb!

January 08, 2013 - THE SUN - According to Space Weather, Sunspot AR1652 has a beta-gamma magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares.

CHANCE OF FLARES: NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of M-class flares and a 5% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours. The most likely source would be sunspot AR1652; it has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class eruptions. The active region is circled in this Jan. 8th image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Of greater interest, perhaps, is the large sunspot emerging just south of AR1652. Denoted by an arrow, the unnumbered region is crackling with C-class solar flares and, based on its size, could be capable of even stronger eruptions. We will know more in the days ahead as the sunspot turns toward Earth; a more direct view will reveal what kind of magnetic field the sunspot posseses. - Space Weather.

UPDATE: Very Large Sunspot 1654 Emerges Over The Sun's Eastern Limb.

A very large sunspot is emerging over the sun's eastern limb. Numbered AR1654, it consists of two dark cores each 4 or more times wider than Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory took this picture during the early hours of Jan. 9th:

So far the sunspot is relatively quiet, producing only a smattering of low-level C-class solar flares. We will know more about AR1654's flare-producing potential in the days ahead as the sunspot turns toward Earth. A direct view will reveal what kind of magnetic field the sunspot posseses, which is a key requirement for flare forecasting. For now, NOAA forecasters are estimating a 35% chance of M-class flares and a 5% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours. - Space Weather.

WATCH: Monster sunspots on the sun.

EXTREME WEATHER: Severe Storm Outbreak To Bring Major Threat Of Flooding And Tornadoes To Texas!

January 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A big outbreak of severe storms may unfold across Texas Tuesday night into Wednesday. A powerful storm system moving from northern Mexico into Texas will be the trigger for the severe weather.

Locally drenching thunderstorms with hail were the early indications of what is likely to be a severe weather outbreak. During Tuesday morning, there were just shy of a dozen reports of hail from Galveston and Port Arthur to Lufkin. Additional hail reports were coming in around San Antonio and the lower Rio Grande Valley. The severe weather is forecast to ramp up later Tuesday into Wednesday. "For early January, this storm system is very unusual," AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said. "It is something you would normally see in March." Enough humid and warm air will be pulled northward ahead of the system to fuel very violent storms. "The potential [exists] for damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes with an area of very heavy rain that could cause flooding problems," AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said.

The severe weather threat zone will include the Hill Country of Texas northeastward to Dallas and northeastern Texas and southward to Houston. The worst thunderstorms are expected to develop Tuesday night into the day Wednesday, especially across southeastern and eastern Texas. Be prepared to take shelter if a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued for your area. Have a weather radio and extra batteries on hand. Flooding will also be a big concern with the thunderstorms across southeastern and eastern Texas, since 1-3 inches of rain can fall over a very short time. There may be isolated rain amounts of 4-5 inches, according to Kottlowski. A squall line of severe storms will progress across eastern Texas and Louisiana by Wednesday afternoon and evening. On Thursday, the storm system will move northeastward, spreading locally heavy rain and thunderstorms into the Tennessee and western Ohio valleys. The main threat for severe weather will be across Mississippi and Alabama, mostly near the Gulf Coast. Another storm system will move eastward across the U.S. late in the week into the weekend. Even more rain will be unleashed over southeastern Texas to the lower Mississippi Valley, potentially leading to more flooding issues. - AccuWeather.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Experts Say That The Giant Louisiana Sinkhole Gas Is Burning Off Slowly!

January 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - One-tenth to one-twentieth of the methane gas estimated to be trapped under the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities in northern Assumption Parish has been burned off so far, according to parish emergency response officials.  Scientists believe the failure of an abandoned underground salt cavern owned by Texas Brine Co. LLC set in motion a series of events that scrambled the substrata thousands of feet deep, creating a 8.5-acre sinkhole at the surface and unleashing oil and gas from nearby natural formations underground.  The cavern, which was never used to store methane, was carved over a 27-year period from the Napoleonville Dome, a large subterranean salt deposit. 

This “free gas,” as it is known, presents a risk to the 150 households in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou areas, scientists have said, because the colorless and odorless gas can accumulate in enclosed spaces in homes and garages and pose a risk of explosion.  The risk is one of the reasons evacuated residents remain out of their homes more than five months since discovery of the swampland sinkhole Aug. 3, parish officials have said.  The pace of installing the wells that will vent the gas has drawn fire from residents and parish officials. Parish Police Jury President Martin “Marty” Triche raised this issue last month during a community meeting in Napoleonville.  As a comparison, he pointed to the reaction of Gulf South Pipeline Co. LP to a natural gas leak in late December 2003 in the Grand Bayou area east of where the sinkhole is now located.  The underground leak resulted from the failure of metal casing in an access well to an underground gas storage cavern on Dow Chemical Co.’s property. The cavern also was carved from the Napoleonville Dome.  The leak led to a 50-day evacuation of 28 residents who lived in Grand Bayou, most of whom were later bought out.  Gulf South, which was in a partnership with Entergy Corp. and Koch Gateway Pipeline at the time and was leasing the cavern from Dow, installed 36 vent wells. Triche said that took only weeks to do.  “I just want to tell that you sit here and you tell us you’ve committed to doing everything you can to resolve the situation and all we can do is take you at face value,” Triche told Bruce Martin, Texas Brine’s vice president of operations, during the meeting amid a broad critique of the company’s response.  “But I can tell you, for those of you that were here, the response to the 2003 incident and what we see today are night and day,” Triche said.  Triche, a lawyer, represented Dow in later litigation over the gas leak.  The 2003 Gulf South leak released an estimated 600 million cubic feet of gas underground in the same water aquifer now affected by the Texas Brine-cavern leak.  Seventeen of the 36 wells drilled collected or burned off gas, removing 375 million cubic feet before officials started closing down the wells in July 2004, according to the Louisiana Office of Conservation and an insurance report filed in connection with litigation over the 2003 leak.

In the latest incident in Bayou Corne, between 50 million and 100 million cubic feet of gas is believed under the area, scientists have estimated. And in the five months since the sinkhole was found, various kinds of wells have drawn off a combined 4.95 million cubic feet of gas through Friday, the new parish estimate says.  At latest count from the state Office of Conservation, three wells are burning off a combined 59,200 cubic feet of gas per day.  But the venting process in Bayou Corne has run into hurdles, affecting the number of wells burning gas and how much gas they burn.  The first batch of four wells installed by the Office of Conservation and its agent, Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc., ran into problems with blockages and water infiltration. Two of their wells are now venting gas.  Two other wells Texas Brine installed on its 40-acre site hit hydrogen sulfide, a potentially lethal gas. That discovery forced the permanent closure of one well and the installation of specialized equipment in another before flaring will be allowed to resume.  Water infiltration ended flaring last month from a converted pressure well, a separate kind of well that measures underground gas, company officials have said.  Texas Brine is looking at two other pressure wells for new flaring options and has one vent well burning off gas.  Texas Brine officials have also pointed out they continue to have trouble with land access around Bayou Corne where there are multiple property owners, including residential owners.  In the Grand Bayou incident in 2003, most of the gas was found over the Napoleonville Dome, east of Bayou Corne and under property owned by industrial users, Texas Brine officials noted.  “I think the circumstances were different,” company spokesman Sonny Cranch said.  The Office of Conservation noted access difficulties Dec. 17 when it did not fine Texas Brine a second time for failing to meet vent well deadlines. The agency had cited that issue in an initial round of fines levied Dec. 1.  But Triche, who reached an agreement with Texas Brine on reimbursement of parish response costs Friday, contends Texas Brine could have started much sooner to find well sites, a delay that is part of a pattern, he says, of not being proactive on its sinkhole response.  Triche said he is glad Texas Brine will pay for its responsibilities, but he remains upset that the company has not done more to mitigate the sinkhole event.  “They still got a lot of work left to do, and it’s long overdue,” he said. - The Advocate.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Russia's Tolbachik Volcano Erupts Violently - Sending Gas And Ashes Two And Half Miles Into The Sky!

January 09, 2013 - RUSSIA - The ongoing eruption of the Plosky Tolbachik volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia has sent gas and ashes almost 2-1/2 miles into the sky, officials say.

A Russian volcano which started erupting last week has continued to spew ash. In this photo
taken on Sunday, January 6, 2013.  APTOPIX.
The plume of vapor and gas with a high gas content has stretched for 12 miles northeast of the volcano, the Kamchatka branch of the Geophysical Service of the Russian Academy of Sciences reported Monday.

The eruption has been given the "orange" color code of hazard to aviation, and could pose risks to small-scale aviation, ITAR-Tass reported.

The 10,121-foot volcano began erupting Nov. 27, ending a 36-year dormant period.

Experts predict the Plosky Tolbachik eruption could go on for four months and the lava field deposited so far by lava flowing from a crack on the southern slope covers more than 5 square miles.

There is no hazard to inhabited areas, they said. - UPI.

WATCH: Plosky Tolbachik Erupts Violently.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Strong 5.8 Magnitude Quake Strikes Nagaland Close To The India-Myanmar Border!

January 09, 2013 - INDIA - An earthquake of moderate intensity on Wednesday rocked the entire north eastern region of India, but there was no report of any injury to people or damage to property.

USGS earthquake map.
The quake, measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale, hit the region at around 8.11 AM with its epicentre being 89 km underneath the earth's crust along the Indo-Myanmar border, officials at the Regional Seismological Centre here said. The quake lasted a few seconds and rocked all major towns in the region, they said.  Dr H Lallenmawia, Joint Director of Mizoram Geology and Mineral Resources department said the epicentre was in Phek district of North-Eastern state of Nagaland. 

Lallenmawia said the technical information about the quake was received from the seismological centre of the North East Institute of Science and Technology, Jorhat in North-Eastern state of Assam.  The tremor was felt in North-East cities of Itanagar, Guwahati, Agartala, Kohima and Imphal.  An Imphal report said the quake lasted in Manipur for almost a minute.  There was no injury to people or damage to property anywhere in the region, but fear stricken people ran out of their houses for safety, police said. - India Today.

DELUGE: Tel Aviv Underwater - Floods & Rains Bring City To Halt And Prepares For Snow As Storm Rocks Country From North To South!

January 09, 2013 - ISRAEL - Tel Aviv braced for further floods Tuesday afternoon, even as the city began to recover from a morning in which its main traffic artery and rail services ground to a halt due to fierce storms that hit much of Israel. The rains were so powerful on Tuesday morning that flooding caused the closure of Tel Aviv's main artery - the Ayalon Highway, or Highway 20 - as well as the city's train stations.

The Ayalon Highway overflows from the River. © Rivka Finder.
By mid-afternoon, however, both northbound and southbound lanes of the Ayalon reopened to traffic. The section of the central Namir Road, which had also been closed due to flooding, reopened at around 2 p.m., police said. The Tel Aviv Municipality provided shelter for 19 residents seeking refuge after heavy rains and flooding damaged their homes. The municipality said five residents had sought shelter in the Beit Barbour community center, and another 14 at the Neve Eliezer center. Israel Railways closed rail traffic between Tel Aviv Hagana and Tel Aviv Savidor-Merkaz train stations due to the flooding of the Ayalon Highway, which it runs in the middle of. Traffic in the entire railway system was slowed due to the weather and low visibility, and the company requested the public only use trains in urgent cases. By mid-morning, the Herzliya train station was also shut down. From Monday morning at 7 a.m. through Tuesday at 7 a.m., the Tel Aviv Municipality had already coped with 521 storm-related incidents - five flooded apartments, eight flooded yards, 231 fallen trees and branches, 24 obstacle removals from roads, 45 fallen traffic lights and signs, 14 potholes, 57 blocked antennas, four sewage system issues, 13 fallen building parts, 15 objects dropped from roofs, 46 torn cables and electricity issues, seven broken or loose street lamps, one road erosion incident, 36 problematic road puddles, six telecommunications issues and two shut down water taps, according to the city.

The municipality said it also already opened the Neve Eliezer and Beit Barbour community centers and was preparing the Magid and Frankfurt community centers in the city's north, in the event that residents need to seek refuge from flooding. Both the Yarkon and Ayalon rivers have reached their capacity limit and are at risk for continued flooding, the city warned. Particularly prone neighborhoods include Yedidiya, Ezra, HaArgazim and areas along the Yarkon, as well as Bnei Dan and Ussishkin streets. If moving residents to the community centers becomes necessary, the municipality said that it would be helping transport the public, operating shuttles from the Amiel Rambam School in Ezra - on Derech HaLechi 46 - and providing hot drinks, blankets, beds and psychological services upon arrival. Outside of the Tel Aviv region, roads were closed all over the country on Tuesday morning, particularly in the North and Center. In the North, Road 99 was still closed in the Banias area as of 11:30 a.m., while Road 899 between Mattat and Sasa and Road 804 in the Nahal Hilazon region also were shut down due to flooding. In the Center, portions of roads 463, 465, 4613, 4311 and 41 were also closed due to flooding. Road 4, which had been suggested as an alternative for Tel Aviv's Ayalon travel, was ridden with traffic jams. Earlier on Tuesday morning, a vehicle lost control on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway amid heavy storm conditions, leading to the death of three people with an additional man suffering severe injuries. - The Jerusalem Post.

WATCH: Flooding in Tel Aviv.

ICE AGE NOW: Global Cooling Across The World - China's Extreme Cold Snaps Records, Lowest Average Temperature In More Than 40 Years!

January 09, 2013 -  CHINA - An unusually cold winter across China has some regions hitting their lowest average temperatures in more than 40 years, according to state media reports. The Chinese national meteorological agency said polar fronts caused by global warming are to blame for the frigid air.  The freeze is the coldest winter in 28 years, the English-language newspaper China Daily reported. The national average temperature across China's vast territory was a chilly 25.2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 3.8 degrees Celsius) since late November. In northeast China, which typically has snowy, cold winters, the average temperature was an icy 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15.3 degrees Celsius), the lowest in 42 years.  Temperatures have dropped down to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius) in eastern Inner Mongolia, northern Xinjiang and the Arctic reaches of northeast China. (Mohe, in northeast China, holds China's record low temperature of minus 62.1 F, or minus 52.3 C, set on Feb. 13, 1962.)

The wintry weather doesn't disprove global warming, however. In fact, an expert a China's National Climate Center blamed rising temperatures for the deep freeze. Global warming is shrinking ice in the Arctic and pushing polar fronts south, Zhou Botao told China Daily.  The loss of Arctic ice could affect weather in China in several ways, said Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist specializing in Arctic ice at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo. "It's hard to separate out cause and effect, but one of the things we do know is when we have less sea ice, the Arctic atmosphere is a lot warmer," Stroeve told OurAmazingPlanet.  With less ice cover, the Arctic Ocean absorbs heat and solar energy from the sun that the ice would have reflected back into space. The heating of Arctic sea water can shift weather patterns in the Arctic and also affect the jet stream, Stroeve said. The jet stream is a persistent river of air that circles the planet, and has a strong influence on winter storms and movement of frosty polar air. Dips and troughs created by the shifting Arctic wind patterns could let Arctic air sneak south, studies show. 

November and December also saw a strongly negative Arctic Oscillation, a winter weather pattern that drives colder-than-normal weather, Stroeve said. The NSIDC reported today (Jan. 8) that the Arctic Oscillation is weakening, so relief may be coming to hard-hit areas. "Temperatures aren't quite as cool now as they have been," Stroeve said. As of last week, about a thousand ships were stuck in ice in Laizhou Bay in the eastern Bohai Sea, according to China Daily. Some 10,500 square miles (27,000 square kilometers) of sea surface has frozen in Bohai Bay, the greatest ice extent since records began in 2008, according to the Chinese Meteorological Association.  Northern India is also suffering from record cold winter temperatures, Weather Underground reported. In Uttar Pradesh, home to New Delhi, 175 people have died from the cold. The high on Jan. 2 was just 49.6 F (9.8 C), the coldest daily maximum in 44 years.  Brutal cold is also shattering records across Russia. This winter is the coldest on record since 1938, and temperatures plunged as low as minus 58 F (minus 50 C) in some areas. - OAP.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Chicago Expected To Tie Record For Lack Of Snow - As The Greatest Snow On Record For December Hits The Northern Hemisphere?!

January 09, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Chicago's mild winter reaches another milestone on Tuesday: 319 days without an inch of snow falling.  That ties the record set in 1940. Wednesday will break the record and, with temperatures forecast to surge into the 50s Friday and Saturday, the record streak will continue. 

Chicago Expected To Tie Record For Lack Of Snow?
While Chicago has seen 1.3 inches of snow through Jan. 6 this winter, it has yet to see a calendar day with at least an inch of snow falling.  On average, the lowest temperature logged in a Chicago winter is 9 degrees below zero, and only 13 winters of the past 142 have failed to log at least one sub-zero reading. To date, this season's lowest reading has been 10 degrees (above zero).  A shift to temperatures more typical of January, possibly accompanied by snow, is forecast for late Saturday and Sunday.  Until then, expect considerably higher temperatures and much-needed rain. - Chicago Tribune.

Greatest Snow On Record For December In The Northern Hemisphere.
This image from the Rutgers Snow Lab shows that there was so much snow in the Northern Hemisphere that it broke a December record.

So how is that global warming rhetoric working out for you? Steven Goddard exposed past global warming articles that predicted less snow.
2001 Ice Storms

Milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms

IPCC Draft 1995

shrinking snow cover in winter

- Reagan Coalition.

ICE AGE NOW: Global Cooling Across The World - UK Temperatures Set To Drop As Low As -15C Next Week With Cold Weather Front Lasting Until February!

January 09, 2013 - BRITAIN - Parts of Britain could see temperatures drop as low as -15C next week, as a cold front which will last until February sweeps the country. Weeks of mild weather, which has led to spring flowers blooming early in many parts of the country, will be replaced with freezing temperatures and icy winds that could even bring snow.

Temperatures set to drop as low as -15C next week. © Mail Online.
Clear skies and sunshine will precede a widespread frost later this week, with temperatures plunging further over the weekend as warm southerly winds give way to icy blasts from the north east. A Met Office forecaster told the Daily Mail: "It does look like it's going to get colder. There's the scenario where we will get winds coming in from the North East that will cause colder weather. Usually that means we'll see snow flurries as well." Forecasters say the temperature could plunge to -15C in parts of the north by next week. 2013 got off to a mild start with above average temperatures often hitting the double figures.

At night temperatures have been holding up at 6-8C - far warmer than the 0C typical at this time of year. The mild spell saw unseasonably high temperatures over the holiday period, with 14.3C in Wester Ross, Scotland, last Wednesday and 12.8C in Usk, Monmouthshire on Thursday. Tom Tobler, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, said: 'It will be freezing in some areas this week but could get slightly colder if the skies are clearer than forecast. 'This would be a return to more typical January temperatures than the milder weather we've been having. There is the potential next week for some colder weather.' - The Independent.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursors - Large Humboldt Squid Continue To Invade Coastal California In Record Numbers?!

January 08, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Humboldt squid have overrun the waters off the coast of Southern California, and the area's fishermen have taken to the sea en masse - catching boatloads of the ultra-fresh calamari.  One report noted a fishing boat that had caught more than 200 squid in an hour, leading the captain to return his ship to port early.  "I have enough for a whole year," John Plaziak, one of the fishermen, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.  "We saw a few of them last year, but nothing in fishable quantities," part-time fisherman Rick Marin told the newspaper.

Humboldt Squid. © NOAA/MBARI 2006.
"It has probably been two or three years since we've seen a lot of them."  The squids were first spotted as "dark blobs" near the surface early last week and the fishing boats began hauling in large numbers of the sea creatures over the weekend. Some speculated that tidal forces in the eastern Pacific drove scores of krill into the region. The overabundance of the squid's favorite prey likely attracted the cephalopods.  According to reports, the majority of the squid have been found 3 to 4 miles from Dana Point Harbor, located in southern Orange County. Large groups of the animals were reported as far south as the Mexican border with the U.S.  Conservation of the Humboldt squid off the coast of California is not a major concern because the squid can reproduce in mass numbers.  Also known as the jumbo flying squid, the Humboldt squid normally grows to about five feet long. The squid is capable of changing its coloration and fishermen have dubbed it, "Diablo rojo", or red devil because its skin flashes red while it is on the hunt. They have been known to eat up to 60 different species of fish, will change their size from generation to generation, and are capable of defensively squirting ink - which they often do when being hauled onto a fishing boat. 

They latest reports of Humboldt squid follow reports from last month by beach visitors who spotted several hundred of the animals washed ashore along the Santa Cruz County shoreline.  The reports puzzled marine biologists who could not determine the cause for the mass suicide. Some observers speculated that the high tide may have something do to with the sea creatures' self-culling. Scientists from Stanford University said that the dead squid were probably conceived and born in Monterey Bay, but were unable to navigate their way out to open waters.  The Santa Cruz stranding marked the third time such an event happened in California over a six-week period this past fall. Marine biologists are still analyzing the contents of the animals' stomachs to see if they ingested something that might have disoriented them.  Humboldt squid have not been observed in the Monterey Bay waters for a few years, making the strandings and 'mass invasions' all the more suspicious. Some scientists attribute the phenomenon to this year's El Nino weather patterns, which could have attracted them to the cooler environs of Northern and Central California's coast. - Red Orbit.

ICE AGE NOW: Global Cooling Across The World - Death Toll Rises As Severe Winter Storm Batters Lebanon, 4 Dead, 55 Injured!

January 09, 2013 - LEBANON - A severe winter storm that has raged in Lebanon since the weekend has claimed the lives of four people and forced the closure of schools across the country and some mountainous roads.  The Beirut suburb of Hay al-Sellom witnessed some of the worst devastation caused by the heavy winds and rain and raised fears that buildings in the area could collapse.  Lebanese Red Cross official George Kettaneh told the Voice of Lebanon radio station late Monday that four people died and 55 others were injured as a result of traffic accidents caused by rains and floods.  A homeless man was also found dead in Beirut Monday. Cold weather contributed to his death. 

A motorist drives during a snow storm in Sofar, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. © The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir.
The storm, which arrived from Russia on Sunday, has also caused extensive damage to homes, businesses, crops and public infrastructure across Lebanon.  Its effects were also felt by poor families and vulnerable Syrian refugees throughout the country.  Public and private schools were ordered shut Tuesday and Wednesday over safety concerns as Lebanon braced itself for more high winds, rain and snow.  Commenting on the damage in Hay el-Sellom, Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi warned of an imminent collapse to the buildings in the southern suburb.  "[Structures] in Hay al-Sellom were not built on solid foundations and are at risk of collapsing at any time in addition to the fact that the river has become narrower given illegal construction around it," Aridi told LBCI.  He was referring to the overflowing of the Ghadir River which caused heavy material damage in the area.  While flights at Beirut airport were not affected by the blizzard, maritime operations were halted at south Lebanon's Sidon and Tyre ports.  In the northern town of Abrin, Batroun, the municipality said some 10,000 books had been destroyed as a result of the flooding of a public library and said it would sue the contracting company responsible for sanitation projects in the area. 

In a statement released after an emergency meeting by the municipal council members, the municipality said that the rain "flooded the public library located at the municipality's headquarters and ruined 10,000 books."  It added that it would prepare a legal case against the contracting company for damages.  In the northern city of Tripoli, the municipality's emergency team remained on alert, diverting the direction of rainwater through canals in order to prevent flooding of roads and streets.  Mayor Nader al-Ghazal told The Daily Star that his team was following up on the weather conditions via its contingency plan and "working hard to resolve within its capabilities the issue of old buildings with cracks."  Despite efforts by the municipality to prevent costly damages and loss of life, mud slides almost killed a family of nine in the city when a bolder collapsed on the metal shack they were living in.  "Around 4 a.m., we felt the strength of the water flooding and the mud slide," the mother, who was slightly injured in the foot, said.  The family ran out of the house minutes before the bolder collapsed on the metal structure. They have moved to their relatives' house.  In Minyeh, irrigation streams were flooded, blocking roads and damaging crops.  A resident of the area said the only positive aspect to come from the rainstorm was that it brought families together. 

People push a car in a flooded street in Hay al-Sellom, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. © The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban.
"The storm took us back to our houses like our grandparents where we now sit around the heater. We bake potatoes and chestnuts and follow events of the storm on television.  "I guess the only positive aspect of the storm is the gathering of the family just like the old days," he said.  All but some mountainous roads in the Kesrouan district, the Chouf, Mount Lebanon as well as in some east and north Lebanon regions remained closed for a second day Tuesday, the police said.  Other roads were open for metal chain-equipped vehicles.  The storm, one of the strongest in Lebanon in 25 years according to Mona Shahine Khauli of the Nicholas Shahine Meteorology center, flooded several highways in the capital, Beirut, Monday as well as roads in north, east and south Lebanon that led to massive traffic jams.  Authorities reopened roads after they were blocked with trees uprooted by rain and strong winds.  The Lebanese Army said it had rescued a "large number" of citizens stranded in their vehicles by snow and floods, particularly in the barren terrain of Baalbek in east Lebanon and Akkar in north Lebanon as well as in Jbeil and Kesrouan, north of Beirut.  In a statement issued Tuesday, the military said people who were injured in the storm were taken to local hospitals for treatment.  It said Army engineer units also reopened several roads blocked by snow and landslides. - The Daily Star.