Thursday, February 21, 2013

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Massive Sinkhole On Major New Jersey Highway Damages 18 Cars!

February 21, 2013 - NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES - The sinkhole is 4 feet by 4 feet, and smack in the middle of the right lane of the Garden State Parkway.

Some 18 drivers discovered the deep rut in the highway the hard way after 6 a.m. this morning on their way south approaching the Driscoll Bridge. They were driving, and then the tires slammed into the hole, said Sgt. Adam Grossman of the New Jersey State Police.

A product called Cold Patch is used to temporarily fill potholes in Mount Olive. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger).

A product called Cold Patch is used to temporarily fill potholes in Mount Olive. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger).
The majority of the cars ended up with flat tires from the impact, and they pulled over to the shoulder in a long line ending on the bridge, said Grossman. But no injuries were reported, he added.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is currently working on fixing the sinkhole. Grossman said the agency is hoping to plug the hole and have the highway completely opened by the afternoon’s rush hour.

During rush-hour traffic Thursday morning, Feb. 21, about a dozen cars became disabled after hitting a large sinkhole at the approach of the Driscoll Bridge on the Garden State Parkway heading south. The damaged cars were visible along the Parkway shoulder and right lane, and emergency personnel and tow trucks were assisting motorists. (Donna Gialanella/ The Star-Ledger).
Repairs were being made on the large sinkhole that opened up on the Garden State Parkway in Middlesex County on Feb. 21. About 18 vehicles were damaged, officials said. (Donna Gialanella/ The Star-Ledger).
All the disabled cars were either towed or driven away by 8:30 a.m., Grossman said. The lane with the pothole remains closed while crews work, he added.

The hole was originally described as a “pothole” by authorities.

Repairs were being made on the large sinkhole that opened up on the Garden State Parkway in Middlesex County on Feb. 21. About 18 vehicles were damaged, officials said. (Donna Gialanella/ The Star-Ledger).

A product called Cold Patch is used to temporarily fill potholes in Mount Olive. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger).
The Turnpike Authority could not be immediately reached for comment.

Motorists with damaged vehicles from potholes, construction mishaps, windshield damage or snow plows can file damage claims with the Department of Treasury's risk management division, said Tim Greeley, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

But Bill Quinn, a Treasury spokesman, said damage claims from Parkway potholes would be handled by the Turnpike Authority. - NJ.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Drought Forecast To Persist In Much Of The United States - Especially In The West!

February 21, 2013 - WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - Much of the West continues to struggle with unusually dry conditions, raising the prospect of another year of wildfires, stunted crops and unnavigable stretches of river in various parts of the country, according to a federal assessment.

Dry forecast.
More than two-thirds of the country is under abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions, "which, although serious, is a slight improvement since fall 2012," said the National Drought Early Warning Outlook.

While the report said the drought was over in most of the nation east of the Mississippi River, the portion of the country still facing drought — most of the West and Florida — should expect it "to persist or intensify."

"The 2012-2013 drought has serious implications for agriculture, navigation, recreation and municipal water supplies, costing the nation at least $35 billion in economic losses," said the outlook, which was developed by a federal interagency group and issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather patterns such as drought are being driven by climate change. As a result, federal, state and local agencies are trying to prepare for protracted drought in different parts of the country.

There are "webinars" for Great Plains ranchers to raise livestock in drought conditions, and handbooks for cities to make them "drought-resilient."

In Thebes, Ill., the Army Corps of Engineers is blowing up rock formations in the Mississippi River to make it navigable when the water is low. Emergency management staff members in Texas are readying for the possibility that some communities might run short of water, said Veva Deheza of NOAA.

NOAA predicted that most of the United States would have higher-than-usual temperatures over the next three months and that much of the West, down through Texas, the Gulf Coast and the Southeast would have below-normal precipitation.

Snowpack in several river basins in Colorado, Wyoming and Mew Mexico is "less than 50% of normal," the outlook said. If the snowpack does not recover in the next two months, farms and municipalities in California and other Western states could face considerable challenges this summer.

The Interior Department identified areas of concern for greater wildfire risk, including Upper Plains states like the Dakotas and Montana; the Southwest; Florida; and eastern Colorado down into Oklahoma and Texas.

A rancher loads hay to feed his cattle in Hygiene, Colo. Drought has cut hay yields and driven up costs
for those raising cattle. (Greg Lindstrom, Longmont Times-Call / January 31, 2013).
Easing of the drought in much of the corn belt east of the Mississippi suggests that the corn yield could rise this year. The outlook projects 163.5 bushels per acre, weather-adjusted, compared with 123.4 last year.

But the most critical factor for the country's corn harvest will be the weather during early planting in the spring and in July, the report said.

Still, most of the country's cattle lands and hay and winter wheat fields are experiencing drought.

Efforts to monitor and respond to the drought might be complicated if deep spending cuts under a federal budget "sequester" go into effect in a week, contributors to the outlook said.

Federal agencies are looking at the kind of monitoring and data collection they might have to mothball if the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts take effect. - LA Times.

DELUGE: Streets Turned Into Rivers As Heavy Rains Swamp Italy And Greece - Extensive Flooding, Homes Inundated, Major Roads Closed, One Dead!

February 21, 2013 - EUROPE - A woman died and dozens of commuters were trapped in their cars as torrential rain swamped Athens on Friday, the heaviest downpour the normally sunny Greek capital has seen in decades.

Power outages darkened large parts of the city during the overnight cloudburst, a river broke its banks and traffic jams brought much of Athens to a standstill in the morning rush hour.

The capital's main roads and highways were overflowing with water and public transport was severely disrupted as two subway stops were briefly shut.

"This is the worst storm since 1961. We're talking about 52 years without ever having seen such a heavy downpour in this area," meteorologist Yannis Kallianos told state television.

Police said a 27-year-old woman died of a probable heart attack after being trapped in her car in the northern suburb of Halandri.

A Reuters reporter saw another woman being rescued from her jeep as a gush of water more than a metre (yard) high swept her car away. At least five other cars in the same block were overturned and three were piled on top of each other.

Officials said more than 130 litres of rainfall per square metre swamped the neighbouring suburb of Papagou in just under three hours.

By mid-morning, rescue teams received at least 900 calls from residents whose houses were flooded and more than 90 calls from commuters marooned in their cars.

In parliament, a worker was left dangling through the glass ceiling over the assembly as she tried to contain water dripping into the room below where lawmakers were about to start debate. - Reuters.

WATCH: Streets turned into rivers as heavy rains swamp Italy and Greece.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Millions In The American Midwest In Path Of A Monster Winter Storm - Unprecedented Blizzard Halts Golf Championship In Tucson, Arizona; Stunning Golfers!

February 21, 2013 - UNITED STATES - When she was very young, Kayla Avery was used to playing in the snow. But the former Boston resident hadn't seen much of the white stuff since she moved to Arizona more than a decade ago.  She got a reminder Wednesday.  "We received a blizzard warning last night through the emergency broadcasting system. Most of us didn't believe it," she told CNN iReport. "Most of the news reports said it probably wouldn't snow in the valley, and two hours later it was snowing."  Avery, a 19-year-old student at the University of Arizona, said the snow was still falling Wednesday afternoon.  "My brother and I were staring out the window saying, 'What? It's snowing in Tucson? That's not supposed to happen!' " she said, adding that she's never seen this much snow in the area since her family moved there. Usually the area gets no more than a dusting of snow once a year.

Man clears snow from the sidewalks in Wichita, Kansas. Photo by The Wichita Eagle, Travis Heying.
Trouble for the next three days 
The inch of snow also caused PGA Tour officials to postpone play at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in nearby Marana, Arizona.  The rare accumulation was all part of a massive winter storm that promises to blanket a huge swath of the nation in crazy weather, from 18 inches of snow or more in Kansas to thunderstorms and flooding along the Gulf Coast. In all, about 800,000 square miles in 18 states were under some form of watch or warning Wednesday related to a major storm pouring out of California and into the Central Plains and the Midwest, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.  About 30 million people live in the covered areas, he said.  One of the places that could be hit the hardest is Springfield, Missouri. Among the hazards expected there Wednesday: lightning, wind and ice, with a little snow and sleet thrown on top for good measure. The biggest threat of heavy snow lies in parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri, with the possibility of whiteout conditions in some places, he said. In Kansas, where the storm had already started, the National Weather Service was predicting as much as 18 inches of snow. The agency said parts of Nebraska could see more than a foot of snow, with drifts making some roads impassable. CNN affiliate KSNW in Wichita reported that crews had treated roads Monday but no matter how much salt and sand they had spread, by Wednesday morning, primary roads were snow-packed and slick. Side streets were worse. There was a break in the weather that allowed crews to get out before the afternoon rush hour and clear some of the major thoroughfares, the station reported.

Student makes her way across the campus of Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.
Photo by The Wichita Eagle, Travis Heying.
Kansas State University announced on its website that Thursday classes were canceled. Forecasters were predicting as much as 2 inches of snow in St. Louis, with the precipitation turning into sleet and freezing rain Thursday. The conditions will have "a significant impact on travel," the weather service warned. North of where the most snow will fall, Chicago could receive what would be its largest single snowfall of the year -- 4 inches, Miller said. The city usually gets up to 4 feet of snow a year. So far this year, only about a foot has fallen, he said. South of the snow belt, dangerously icy conditions are possible in parts of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, he said. That includes Springfield, where windy conditions will precede the possibility of up to 3 inches of snow and sleet Thursday, with the possibility of a quarter of an inch or more of ice to boot.

Wichita Police work an accident on west Kellog in Kansas. Photo by The Wichita Eagle, Travis Heying.
Heavy rains forecast 
Elsewhere, severe thunderstorms moving in from the Gulf of Mexico are expected to dump from 2 to 6 inches of rain over New Orleans, Louisiana, and Montgomery, Alabama, according to CNN's weather center, before rolling up toward Atlanta.  The torrential rains could lead to significant river flooding near the Gulf, as flood watches are still in effect from last week's heavy rains.  Heavy winds, hail and tornadoes are possible, the National Weather Service says. Downpours are expected to continue into Friday

A Wichita driver clears snow from his windshield in Kansas. Photo by The Wichita Eagle, Travis Heying.
Travel delays 
It was snowing Wednesday in Denver where almost a dozen inbound flights were canceled, according to the flight-tracking website More than 200 flights into or out of U.S. airports were canceled, the website said, with almost 175 already called off for Thursday.  Kansas City International Airport posted a statement on its website advising passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.  "There is potential for more cancelled or delayed flights as the storm continues," the statement said. Flight Aware reported that more than 100 flights were affected at that airport. - CNN.

WATCH: Today's National Weather Forecast.

WATCH: Snow and Ice for Central U.S.

Rare Blizzard Halts Golf Championship In City More Used To Scorching Temperatures.
It may be more associated with sweltering temperatures, arid land and cacti than snow.  But a rare blanket of the white stuff stopped some of the world's most famous golfers teeing off at a major tournament in Tucson, Arizona, yesterday.  Instead of the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods gracing the greens, snowmen occupied the course at the Ritz Carlton Club in Dove Mountain.  And normally used to lugging around the pros clubs, the players' caddies enjoyed an hour long snowball fight in the course car park. Even American golfer Rickie Fowler joined in the fun firing snowballs. This year's championship is a far cry from last year's tournament which saw American Hunter Mahan run out the winner in glorious weather.  World number one golfer Rory McIlroy came second last year.  

Freak weather: Play was suspended at the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Arizona,
when heavy snow fell yesterday.

Winter wonderland: Spectators make their way off the course during a snow storm yesterday.

Spot the ball: two golf balls blend in with the snow as a freak blizzard stopped play.

Camouflage: The white flag on the 18th green can barely be seen through the snow.
This year he had time to tweet about the adverse weather conditions at the course on the edge of the Tortolita Mountain park.  He said: 'Snow coming down again! More like Alaska than Arizona!!'  Golfer Chris Wood, who hails from Bristol and whose first European Tour title came in the warmth of Qatar four weeks ago, said: 'It's like playing at home in January. It was cold when we teed off and then got colder.'  Less than four hours play had been completed when the snow fell with not one of the tournament's 32 first round matches completed when play was halted.  None of the top seeds, McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald, had played a stroke.  The city is hardly known for its wintery climate.  Just 11 inches of rain fall each year and temperatures hit almost 40C at the height of the summer months.  Even February only sees temperatures drop to a minimum low of 5C with the monthly high sometimes soaring as high as 20C - around the same average maximum temperature as the UK in July or August.  Although snow is not unheard of in the state, it is still rare. Meteorologist and weather blogger for the New York Times Eric Holthaus said that an accumulation of snow in the city is 'nearly unprecedented.'  According to the US National Weather Service there have been just 71 days of measurable snow - where it is 0.1 inches or deeper - since records began in 1894.  It has snowed at all just 165 times.  The last time snowfall was recorded in the city was February 27 2011 with the last settled snow more than 11 years ago on January 30 2002 when 0.6 inches of snow settled. - Daily Mail.

WATCH: Snow Suspends Match Play.

Major Winter Storm Lashes U.S. Great Plains, Stuns Golfers At The World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Tournament In Tucson, Arizona.
Golf spectators look for cover as snow forces suspension of play during the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship golf tournament in Marana, Arizona February 20, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan.
A major winter storm pounded the U.S. Great Plains on Thursday as it headed east from the Rocky Mountains, dumping 10 inches of snow on Kansas after blanketing parts of Arizona.  Winter storm warnings and advisories were in place for much of the central and southern Plains and into the upper Midwest and Mississippi River valley as the storm moved east, packing snow, sleet and freezing rain, the National Weather Service said.  Ice storm warnings were in effect for parts of northern Arkansas. The massive storm was expected to spawn thunderstorms and rain on its southern edge from eastern Texas to Georgia, the forecaster said.  Winds from the storm gusted as high as 74 miles an hour (119 km per hour) at San Augustin Pass in New Mexico and 72 mph at El Paso, Texas.  Accuweather, another forecaster, said 10 inches of snow were reported at the Wichita, Kansas, airport by 6 a.m. CST (1200 GMT). Twelve inches would tie for the city's fifth-biggest snowfall, it said.  Kansas Governor Sam Brownback ordered state offices closed on Thursday because of the storm.  The snow also meant relief for drought-stricken regions of the Great Plains, one of the world's biggest wheat-growing areas.  Snow from the powerful storm fell as far south as Tucson, Arizona, on Wednesday and snarled evening rush-hour traffic in Denver. The rare snowfall halted play at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play tournament near Tucson.  Between 4 inches and 12 inches of snow were possible in Iowa and northern Missouri as the snowstorm moved to the east, the National Weather Service said.  Boston faced significant snowfall for the third weekend in a row, potentially making it the snowiest February in the city's history, the National Weather Service warned on Thursday.  After recording 25.5 inches two weekends ago and more than 5 inches last weekend, the service forecast a "high probability for a strong coastal storm" on Saturday night into Sunday for the city and the region. Another 10 inches would set a record for the month.  At least one local television network forecast 5 inches to 10 inches of heavy, wet snow for the city from the storm, with higher totals to the north. - Reuters.

SOLAR WATCH: Massive Sunspot Rapidly Forming - Six Times The Size Of Earth, May Trigger Solar Activity And Flares, NASA Says!

February 21, 2013 - THE SUN - A colossal sunspot on the surface of the sun is large enough to swallow six Earths whole, and could trigger solar flares this week, NASA scientists say.

A colossal sunspot on the surface of the sun is large enough to swallow six Earths whole, and
could trigger solar flares this week, NASA scientists say. 
The giant sunspot was captured on camera by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory as it swelled to enormous proportions over the 48 hours spanning Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb. 19 and 20). SDO is one of several spacecraft that constantly monitor the sun's space weather environment.

"It has grown to over six Earth diameters across, but its full extent is hard to judge since the spot lies on a sphere, not a flat disk," wrote NASA spokeswoman Karen Fox, of the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in an image description.

The sunspot region is actually a collection of dark blemishes on the surface of the sun that evolved rapidly over the last two days. Sunspots form from shifting magnetic fields at the sun's surface, and are actually cooler than their surrounding solar material.

A prominence show is currently underway off the western limb this afternoon. Image by SDO.
According to Fox, some of the intense magnetic fields in the sunspot region are pointing in opposite directions, making it ripe for solar activity.

"This is a fairly unstable configuration that scientists know can lead to eruptions of radiation on the sun called solar flares," Fox explained.

The sun is currently in the midst of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach peak activity sometime this year. The current sun weather cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory launched in 2010 and is just one of a fleet of spacecraft keeping close watch on the sun for signs of solar flares, eruptions and other space weather events. - Huffington Post.

CHANCE OF FLARES: New sunspot AR1678 has developed a delta-class magnetic field that harbors energy for strong explosions. NOAA forecasters estimate a 45% chance of M-flares and a 15% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours. - Space Weather.

WATCH: Several low level C-Class flares, including a C2.5 at 05:05 UTC Thursday morning, have all been detected around Sunspot 1678 within the past 3 hours. This region may produce a stronger M-Class event within the next 12-24 hours as it makes its way towards the northwest limb. Attached 12 hour video captures some of the activity around 1678 along with several nice prominences off the western limb.

SUNSPOTS: Updated image of the visible solar disk on Thursday morning. Solar activity declined to very low levels over the past several hours. Sunspot 1678 continues to rotate towards the western limb and will begin to rotate out of direct Earth view over the weekend. There will remain a chance for C-Class flares and perhaps an isolated M-Class event.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Volcano Discovery Report For February 20 - 21, 2013 - Updates On Etna, Askja, Bagana, White Island, Colima, Popocatépetl, Reventador, Salton Buttes, Shiveluch, Tolbachik, Grozny, Santa María, Santiaguito, Fuego And Turrialba!

February 21, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing report from the Volcano Discovery Group.

Etna during the 3rd New SE crater paroxysm.
Etna (Sicily, Italy): A 4th paroxysm from the New SE crater has occurred in rapid succession to the previous eruptions during the past 2 days. It will be interesting to see how long Etna will keep up this busy pace.

The characteristic tall tremor peak of Etna's tremor signal. 3 peaks of the tremor amplitude
represent the paroxysmal eruptions (INGV).
On February 20th, Etna had no less than 3 paroxysms (particularly violent brief eruptive episodes) with lava fountains, lava flows and tall ash plumes from the New SE crater within the past 20 hours (so far). This marks a change from the previous 9-month period characterized by intermittent mild to moderate, but often long-lasting periods of strombolian activity. With much likelihood, more paroxysms could be expected in the near future.

Askja (Central Iceland): Another swarm of quakes has been going on in a SW-NE trending area under and SW of the caldera.

SO2 plume from Bagana today (NOAA).
Bagana (Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea): A phase of increased activity has been occurring today, a relatively large SO2 plume suggests.

Current seismic spectrum and amplitude from White Island (GeoNet).
White Island (New Zealand): Tremor remains continuous and has increased. Earthquakes also continue, including a 2.2 event at 6 km depth 5 km south of the island earlier today. Elevated continuous tremor interspersed with earthquakes continue.

Current seismic signal from Colima volcano last night (SOMA station, Univ. Colima).
Colima (Western Mexico): The volcano continued to produce intermittent small explosions and rockfalls during the past week. Seismograms seem show a somewhat slowly increasing trend of volcanic quakes and other signals recently.

Degassing plume from Popocatepétl today (CENAPRED webcam).
Popocatépetl (Central Mexico): CENAPRED reported 13 mostly small emissions during 19-20 Feb, but also some that were larger than most of the ones recorded during the past weeks. One on the evening of 19 Feb produced a plume with some ash content rising 1.5 km and drifting east. Two other significant emissions occurred in the morning of 20 Feb. A phase of increased degassing has been taken place today. This is likely caused by a surge in fresh magma supply.  Elevated activity is also visible on the recent seismogram.... [read more]

Current seismic signal from Reventador (CONE station, IG).
Reventador (Ecuador): The volcano continues to erupt, but usually the activity is hidden in clouds. The seismic signal shows a phase of increased tremor today. IG reported 41 long period events, 6 tremor pulses and 2 explosion signals on the seismic recording for 20 Feb.

Map of recent quakes near the Salton Sea.
Salton Buttes (California): A small swarm of earthquakes has been occurring under the SE shore area of the Salton Sea during the past few days, but the recorded quakes are very small and should not be reason to worry.

Small pyroclastic flow from Shiveluch on 19 Feb 2013 (KVERT webcam).
Shiveluch (Kamchatka): A small partial collapse of the active lava dome occurred last night at 23h45 (GMT) and produced a relatively small pyroclastic flow, followed by mud flows towards the ravine at the NE flank. Ann ash plume rose to about 7000 m altitude, VAAC Tokyo reported.

Tolbachik (Kamchatka): The eruption continues with no changes reported by KVERT.

Grozny (Iturup Island): SVERT reported that a gas and ash plume rose to an altitude of about 3000 m on 16 February.

Santa María / Santiaguito (Guatemala): Activity continues to be dominated by moderate explosions. Ash plumes rising up to about 700 m, causing light ash fall in nearby areas. The dome shows a 200 m high degassing plume and there is only relatively weak effusive activity at the lava flows on the dome's flanks

Fuego (Guatemala): The volcano is back to its typical mild, but continuous activity. INSIVUMEH reports 6 weak strombolian explosions with ash plumes rising about 400 m and incandescent bombs ejected to 100-150 m height above the crater.

SO2 plume from Turrialba or Poás volcano (NOAA).
Turrialba (Costa Rica): An SO2 plume from either Turrialba or Poás volcano is visible on today's satellite data, suggesting increased degassing activity at one of the volcanoes.

Volcanic activity world-wide 13-19 February 2013 - USGS / Smithsonian weekly summary.

Photo of the Day: Volcanic explosion in moonlight from Sakurajima volcano, Japan.
Volcanic explosion in moonlight from Sakurajima volcano, Japan (Photo: Martin Rietze).
Photo of the Day: Aerial view of the erupting Pu'u 'O'o vent, Kilauea volcano, Big Island, Hawaii
Aerial view of the erupting Pu'u 'O'o vent, Kilauea volcano, Big Island, Hawaii (Photo: Janka).
- Volcano Discovery.

SHADOW WARS: Escalating Towards World War III - Syria Says 53 Killed In Damascus Car Bomb; Russia Warns Syria Rivals Risk 'Mutual Destruction'; Syria Claims To Down Israeli Drone Over Lebanon; Bloodbath Looms In Lebanon As Syria War Spills Over; Israeli Scientists Create ‘Stealthy Fiber Optic Communications’; 6 World Powers "Offer Iran Serious Plan" Nuclear Weapons!

February 21, 2013 - MIDDLE EAST - A car bombing near Syria's ruling party headquarters in Damascus killed 53 people on Thursday, according to state media, while mortar rounds exploded near the army's central command in the city.  It was the third straight day of attacks on the center of the capital, among the deepest and fiercest on the heart of Bashar Assad's seat of power during the civil war.  The car bombing was the deadliest attack inside Damascus in nine months and within hours, two other bombings and a mortar attack on the military compound followed. 

Syria Says 53 Killed In Damascus Car Bomb.
While no one group has claimed responsibility, the attacks suggest that rebel fighters who have gotten bogged down in their attempts to storm the capital are resorting to guerrilla tactics to loosen Assad's grip on the capital.  The day's deadliest attack struck a main street on the edge of central Mazraa neighborhood, near the headquarters of Assad's Baath party and the Russian Embassy, as well as a mosque, a hospital and a school.  TV footage of the blast site showed firemen dousing a flaming car with hoses and lifeless and dismembered bodies blown into the grass of a nearby park. The state news service, SANA, published photos showing a large crater in the middle of the rubble-strewn street and charred cars holding blackened bodies.  Witnesses at the scene said a car exploded at a security checkpoint between the Russian Embassy and the central headquarters of Assad's ruling party.  "It was huge. Everything in the shop turned upside down," one local resident said. He said three of his employees were injured by flying glass that killed a young girl who was walking by when the blast hit.  "I pulled her inside the shop but she was almost gone. We couldn't save her. She was hit in the stomach and head," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution for speaking with foreign media.  Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast, which shattered windows and sent up a huge cloud of smoke visible throughout much of the city, witnesses said.  State TV called it a "terrorist" attack by a suicide bomber. It said at least 53 people were killed and more than 200 wounded. 

The Britain-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 42 people were killed, most of them civilians. Some members of the Syrian security forces were also killed, it said.  There was no way to immediately reconcile the differing death tolls.  The bombing appeared to be the second most deadly in the Syrian capital since the uprising against Assad began 23 months ago. Fifty-five people were killed in the first, a double suicide bombing outside of an intelligence building in May, 2012.  The most extreme of Syria's rebel groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, claimed responsibility for that and other bombings that have struck targets associated with the regime but also killed civilians.  Such tactics have galvanized Assad's supporters and made many other Syrians distrustful of the rebel movement as a whole, most of whose fighting groups do not use such tactics.  There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack.  Russia's state owned RIA Novosti news agency quoted a Russian Embassy official as saying the Embassy building had been damaged in the blast but no one was hurt.  Among those wounded by flying glass was Nayef Hawatmeh, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical Damascus-based Palestinian group.  An official at his office, about 500 yards from the site of the explosion, said Hawatmeh was wounded in the hands and face from flying glass. He was taken to hospital and later released.  In a separate attack, Syrian state TV said mortar shells exploded near the Syrian Army General Command in central Damascus, causing no casualties. The station said the building was empty because it was under renovation.  The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two mortar rounds struck near the building but did not report casualties.  On Wednesday, two mortar shells exploded next to a soccer stadium in Damascus, killing one player. The day before, two mortar shells blew up near one of Assad's three palaces in the city, causing only material damage. - Business Week.

WATCH: Deadly bomb blast damages Russian embassy in Damascus.

Russia Warns Syria Rivals Risk 'Mutual Destruction'.
Russia urged Wednesday the regime and rebels in Syria to swiftly halt their almost two-year conflict, warning that seeking a military settlement risked leading to mutual destruction.  "It's time to end this two-year conflict," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and other top Arab diplomats.  "Neither side can allow itself to bet on a military settlement as this is a path to nowhere, a path to the mutual destruction."  - Daily Star.

Syria Claims To Down Israeli Drone Over Lebanon.
Syrian air defenses reportedly shot down an Israeli drone near the Syrian-Lebanese border, a Syrian news site reported Wednesday evening.  Eyewitnesses were quoted by Damas Post saying they saw burning wreckage fall from the sky over the village of Yanta in eastern Lebanon, causing no damage.  The event was not reported on Syria’s official news agency SANA. There was no immediate Israeli comment. 

An Israeli drone (Photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90).
A resident of Deir al-Ashayer posted on a local Facebook group shortly thereafter that he saw a surface to air missile fired from Syria, and that the aircraft crashed on the Lebanese side of the border.  Earlier in the day the Lebanese government news agency reported Israeli warplanes conducting multiple overflights and “mock raids” over southern Lebanon.  The Deir Al-Ashayer area is about 15 miles west of Damascus and not far from the site of a reported Israeli strike on a Syrian arms convoy near a research site last month. - Times of Israel.

WATCH: Hezbollah vs FSA - 'Bloodbath Looms In Lebanon As Syria War Spills Over'.

Israeli Scientists Create ‘Stealthy Fiber Optic Communications’.
Two Israeli university professors and a PhD candidate have created a concept for “stealthy fiber optic communications.”   Developed by Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s Prof. Dan Sadot and Prof. Ze’ev Zalevsky of Bar Ilan University together with PhD student Tomer Yeminy, the new encryption method enables stealthy transmission of any optical communications signal.   Currently in the patenting process, the new encryption method spreads the transmission below the noise level in both time and frequency domains.  Because it uses sampling accompanied by temporal and spectral phase encryption, an eavesdropper trying to detect the transmitted signal catches only noise, since the signal is hidden below the noise level.   “It is analogous to many soft sounds of a lovely symphony scattered through a recording of background noise,” said the researchers. “The authorized user who knows the spreading key is the only one able to detect and enjoy the symphony without the noisy background.  “It should be noted that analysis shows that it will take [an exponential number of] years for an eavesdropper to break the encryption key – which means that eavesdropping is very hard,” they added.  “This method could also be useful in improving the immunity of the fiber optic communications system to jamming,” the researchers pointed out. - Israel National News.

Clashes Erupt As Israel Destroys Electricity Pylons.
The Israeli military has removed and destroyed 30 electricity pylons key to the supply of power to a large part of the village of Qusrah, 24km south of the city of Nablus, under the pretext that those pylons were ‘disturbing’ residents of the Israeli colonial outpost of Yesh Qodesh.  Furious villagers clashed with Israeli forces on Wednesday evening and yesterday after they stormed the village and removed the pylons. The Israeli forces used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse the Palestinian demonstrators. As a result eight villagers were admitted to hospital with light to moderate injuries.  Approximately 400,000 Israelis live in colonies in the occupied West Bank. The colonies, deemed illegal under international law, have been built on occupied land, forcing Palestinian villages to be moved elsewhere. 

Speaking to Gulf News Gassan Doghlous, a Palestinian National Authority (PNA) official, said that the pylons had never posed a threat to the Israeli outpost. “It is true that those [pylons] face the outpost but they are far away from the outpost, which itself was illegally built on privately-owned Palestinian territory,” he said.  He added that a large part of the village had been left in the dark and that the village’s council had lodged a complaint with the Palestinian-Israeli security liaison office, which is yet to respond.  “We know that the security coordination office will not do anything about the brutal actions of the Israeli military and colonists, but it was a necessary official procedure,” he said.  “There has been no legal justification for destroying the pylons, [an action] which initiated the clashes and left hundreds of villagers in total darkness,” he said.  Doghlous said that the village of Qusrah is located in Area B, an area making up one-fifth of the West Bank, in which the PNA has administrative control while Israel has security control.  “The Israeli military [did not] coordinate its military action in Qusrah and never informed the Palestinian side about Israeli intentions to destroy the [pylons],” he said, adding that such acts were not acceptable and strictly violate the agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

As per the Oslo Accords, Israel is obliged to notify the PNA before holding security exercises in areas jointly controlled by the two.  The villagers also reported the damage caused by the Israeli forces to the PNA and the Nablus Governorate, which promised urgent and immediate action to restore power to affected homes.  The village, with a total population of 4,500 Palestinians, had been a key target for Israeli colonists, whose colonies and outposts spread in the area and on lands owned primarily by Qusrah residents.  Abdul Azim Al Wadi, who heads the Qusrah Village Council, said that Israeli colonists, escorted by Israeli forces, had become accustomed to raiding the village and destroying public and private property.  “In the past couple of years, the Israeli military and colonists have committed all kinds of violations against the villagers of Qusrah. [There have been] daily clashes with colonists who have bad intentions towards the villagers,” he told Gulf News.  Al Wadi highlighted the PNA’s failure to minimise colonists’ attacks on the village.  “The PNA should play an active role in providing the villagers with protection. We know for sure that the colonists aim at removing the villagers from the area, and those goals should be confronted officially and publicly,” he said.  “The residents of Qusrah should be provided with a helping hand and never be left as prey for the Israeli colonists whose greed is unlimited,” he said. - Gulf News.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at Azadi Square (Freedom Square) for the celebration of the 34th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran on February 10, 2013. Ahmadinejad told the crowd that Iranian nation is as strong as it could be and no one can impose their will on the Iranian nation. He also added "Today, enemies are making every effort to stop the progress of the Iranian nation by increasing pressure, but they have not been successful." UPI/Maryam Rahmanian. License Photo.
6 World Powers "Offer Iran Serious Plan" Nuclear Weapons.
Six world powers plan to make a "serious offer" to Iran during talks on resolving disputes about its nuclear energy program, a Western diplomat said.  The offer, to be made in Kazakhstan Tuesday, is expected to have what the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany -- known as the P5-plus-1 -- consider "significant new elements," the diplomat told reporters in London on condition of anonymity.  "We will take an offer with us which we believe to be a substantial and serious offer," the diplomat said, offering no details.  CNN cited Western officials as saying the delegates plan to offer eased sanctions currently preventing trade with Iran in gold and other precious metals, if Iran shuts down its underground Fordo uranium-enrichment plant south of Tehran, near the holy city of Qom.  The delegates would also say Iran must get rid of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, the officials said.  Twenty-percent enrichment puts Iran a few technical steps away from weapons-grade uranium.  Iran has been stockpiling enriched uranium for years in defiance of Security Council resolutions demanding a halt to the activity.  Iran already rejected the new P5-plus-1 proposal, CNN said.  But officials told the network they believed Iran's crumbling economy, due to Western sanctions, may cause the regime to consider making a deal.  The network described the new offer as a slightly revised version of a package P5-plus-1 delegates presented to Iran during talks in Moscow, Baghdad and Istanbul, Turkey, last year.  During those talks Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany proposed offering fuel for a medical reactor and eased sanctions so Tehran could buy spare parts for its civil aircraft, if the regime suspended its uranium enrichment and shipped its stockpiles out of the country.  "We couldn't come back with the same proposal," one official told the network.  "But the idea is to test the waters and see where the Iranians are and if they are serious," the official said. "We hope to get some insight into their thinking and see what they prioritize in their asks and offers."  Iran insists it is legally entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and denies it wants to become a nuclear weapons state.  By contrast, the International Atomic Energy Agency says it can no longer verify Iran's nuclear program is strictly peaceful.  Washington and European allies have imposed increasingly onerous sanctions on the country in response to the enrichment program.  Israel has warned it may carry out military strikes to stop Iran from gaining nuclear-weapons capacity. Washington says it won't rule out using force but prefers diplomacy.  - UPI

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: 150-Foot Section Of The Road Pavement Buckles On U.S. Highway Route 89 - Sunk By Four Feet, Authorities Said It Was Caused By A "Geologic Event" And Not Weather Related?!

February 21, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A 150-foot section of U.S. 89 south of Page that buckled and sunk four feet Wednesday might have been caused by a "geologic event," according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

(Source: Arizona Department of Transportation) A 150-foot section of U.S. 89 about 25 miles south of
Page collapsed early Wednesday morning.
The road collapsed at mile post 526 just 2.5 miles north of the intersection with U.S. 89A, about 25 miles south of page, according to an ADOT spokesman. He said the incident was not related to the weather.

(Source: Arizona Department of Transportation). 
© (Photo courtesy: Vernon Lane).

The road was closed in both directions and there was no estimation when the highway would reopen, said an ADOT spokesman.

ADOT officials said northbound U.S. 89 was closed at the U.S. 89A junction, which takes motorists west toward Jacob Lake. In Page, U.S. 89 was closed at the junction with State Route 98.

(Source: Arizona Department of Transportation). 
© (Photo courtesy: Vernon Lane).

Northbound motorists were being routed to U.S. 160 east to State Route 98, and north on SR 98 back to U.S. 89 in Page. The detour is about 45 miles longer than the direct route, the spokesman said.

The Coconino College campus in Page was also closed because of the road closure.

(Source: Arizona Department of Transportation). 
© (Photo courtesy: Vernon Lane).

DPS reported a number of collisions within the collapse, but none appeared to be serious. No injuries were reported.

No other information was immediately available. - KPHO.