Friday, May 10, 2013

PLANETARY TREMORS: Iran Hit By Powerful 6.2 Magnitude Earthquake - Followed By Several Moderate To Strong Aftershocks; The Highest A 5.5 Magnitude!

May 10, 2013 - IRAN - A 6.2 magnitude earthquake shook Iran early Saturday morning, followed by a 5.5 aftershock. The earthquake’s epicenter, which began at 6:59am local time, came in the southern part of the country near the Persian Gulf, but very far from Tehran.

USGS earthquake map and location.

USGS earthquake location and aftershocks.

The earthquake was felt most on the shore of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic trade point for the international oil market.

USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.

USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.

So far there have been no reports of damage or casualties caused by the quake.Last month the Islamic Republic was hit by a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which sent tremors throughout the Persian Gulf states and India. Dozens of people were killed and over a hundred injured across the region. - RT.

Tectonic Summary - Seismotectonics of the Middle East and Vicinity.
No fewer than four major tectonic plates (Arabia, Eurasia, India, and Africa) and one smaller tectonic block (Anatolia) are responsible for seismicity and tectonics in the Middle East and surrounding region. Geologic development of the region is a consequence of a number of first-order plate tectonic processes that include subduction, large-scale transform faulting, compressional mountain building and crustal extension.

Mountain building in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan is the result of compressional tectonics associated with collision of the India plate moving northwards at a rate of 40 mm/yr with respect to the Eurasia plate. Continental thickening of the northern and western edge of the India subcontinent has produced the highest mountains in the world, including the Himalayan, Karakoram, Pamir and Hindu Kush ranges. Earthquake activity and faulting found in this region, as well as adjacent parts of Afghanistan and India, are due to collisional plate tectonics.

Beneath the Pamir-Hindu Kush Mountains of northern Afghanistan, earthquakes occur to depths as great as 200 km as a result of remnant lithospheric subduction. Shallower crustal earthquakes in the Pamir-Hindu Mountains occur primarily along the Main Pamir Thrust and other active Quaternary faults, which accommodate much of the region's crustal shortening. The western and eastern margins of the Main Pamir Thrust display a combination of thrust and strike-slip mechanisms.

USGS earthquake population exposure.

Along the western margin of the Tibetan Plateau, in the vicinity of southeastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, the India plate translates obliquely relative to the Eurasia plate, resulting in a complex fold-and-thrust belt known as the Sulaiman Range. Faulting in this region includes strike-slip, reverse-slip and oblique-slip motion and often results in shallow, destructive earthquakes. The relatively fast moving left-lateral, strike-slip Chaman Fault system in southeastern Afghanistan accommodates translational motion between the India and Eurasia plates. In 1505, a segment of the Chaman Fault system near Kabul, Afghanistan ruptured causing widespread destruction of Kabul and surrounding villages. In the same region, the more recent 30 May 1935, M7.6 Quetta, Pakistan earthquake, occurred within the Sulaiman Range, killing between 30,000 and 60,000 people.

Off the south coast of Pakistan and southeast coast of Iran, the Makran trench is the present-day surface expression of active subduction of the Arabia plate beneath the continental Eurasia plate, which converge at a rate of approximately 20 mm/yr. Although the Makran subduction zone has a relatively slow convergence rate, it has produced large devastating earthquakes and tsunamis. For example, the November 27, 1945 M8.0 mega-thrust earthquake produced a tsunami within the Gulf of Oman and Arabia Sea, killing over 4,000 people. Northwest of this active subduction zone, collision of the Arabia and Eurasia plates forms the approximately 1,500-km-long fold and thrust belt of the Zagros Mountains, which crosses the whole of western Iran and extends into northeastern Iraq. Collision of the Arabia and Eurasia plates also causes crustal shortening in the Alborz Mountains and Kopet Dag in northern Iran. Eastern Iran experiences destructive earthquakes that originate on both strike-slip and reverse faults. For example, the 16 September 1978 M7.8 earthquake, along the southwest edge of the Dasht-e-Lut Basin killed at least 15,000 people.

Along the eastern margin of the Mediterranean region there is complex interaction between the Africa, Arabia and Eurasia plates. The Red Sea Rift is a spreading center between the Africa and Arabia plates, with a spreading rate of approximately 10mm/yr near its northern end, and 16mm/yr near its southern end (Chu, D. and Gordon, R. G., 1998). Seismicity rate and size of earthquakes has been relatively small along the spreading center, but the rifting process has produced a series of volcanic systems across western Saudi Arabia.

USGS earthquake shakemap intensity.

Further north, the Red Sea Rift terminates at the southern boundary of the Dead Sea Transform Fault. The Dead Sea Transform is a strike-slip fault that accommodates differential motion between the Africa and Arabia plates. Though both the Africa plate, to the west, and the Arabia plate, to the east, are moving in a NNE direction, the Arabia plate is moving slightly faster, resulting in the left-lateral, strike-slip motion along this segment of the plate boundary. Historically, earthquake activity along the Dead Sea Transform has been a significant hazard in the densely populated Levant region (eastern Mediterranean). For example, the November 1759 Near East earthquake is thought to have killed somewhere between 2,000-20,000 people. The northern termination of the Dead Sea Transform occurs within a complex tectonic region of southeast Turkey, where interaction of the Africa and Arabia plates and the Anatolia block occurs. This involves translational motion of the Anatolia Block westwards, with a speed of approximately 25mm/yr with respect to Eurasia, in order to accommodate closure of the Mediterranean basin.

The right-lateral, strike-slip North Anatolia Fault, in northern Turkey, accommodates much of the westwards motion between the Anatolia Block and Eurasia Plate. Between 1939 and 1999, a series of devastating M7.0+ strike-slip earthquakes propagated westwards along the North Anatolia Fault system. The westernmost of these earthquakes was the 17th August 1999, M7.6 Izmit earthquake, near the Sea of Marmara, killed approximately 17,000 people.

At the southern edge of the Anatolia Block lies the east-west trending Cyprian Arc with associated levels of moderate seismicity. The Cyprian Arc represents the convergent boundary between the Anatolia Block to the north and the Africa Plate to the south. The boundary is thought to join the East Anatolia Fault zone in eastern Turkey; however no certain geometry or sense of relative motion along the entire boundary is widely accepted. - USGS.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: Heavy Snowfall Kills 27,000 Goats In The Ladakh Region In The Kashmir Valley!

May 10, 2013 - KASHMIR - This summer, Pashmina shawl weavers like Ashiq Ahmed have a tough choice to make. They can either buy raw wool at inflated rates or abandon the 600-year-old weaving craft.

In 2006, the ban on Shahtoosh (woven with the hair of the Tibetan antelope) left 50,000 weavers and an equal number of traders in the lurch in the Kashmir Valley. Now, the rise in the price of Pashmina wool after the death of 27,000 goats is threatening the industry's very existence.

FILE PHOTO: Since January, 13 percent of the Changra goats has been wiped out, threatening the lucrative
Pashmina industry in the Kashmir Valley

"The price of 1 kg of Pashmina wool has gone up from Rs 9,000 to Rs 12,500. It will continue to rise. Thousands of shawl weavers, who earn just Rs 5,000 a month, will think twice before buying raw material at such prices," says Ahmed.

The crisis started in January when heavy snowfall in the Changthang hills of the Ladakh region in Jammu & Kashmir killed nearly 27,000 goats (13 percent of the total population), threatening supplies of silky Pashmina wool used to make fine and expensive shawls and scarves.

Changthang is located 175 km to the east of Leh on the border with China. The average altitude of the area is 14,600 ft above sea level. This area is also known as Rupsho Valley where the main occupation of the nomads is rearing yaks and Changra goats. The unforgiving winter makes the goats grow extremely warm and soft veneer, which is six times finer than human hair and is used to make Pashmina wool.

Usually, Changthang receives only 5 cm of snow in winters when temperatures dip to as low as -35°C. This year, it witnessed 121 cm of snowfall, which many say is a direct result of climate change.

Rigzen Spalbaar, who heads the autonomous Ladakh Hill Development Council, says the snow buried all vegetation and for want of fodder, the goats starved to death.

"This is quite unusual in this area," says Spalbaar. Almost 13 percent of the goats have perished. I have seen hundreds of dead goats lying around the hills recently. But the animals could have been saved if the government had air-dropped fodder and supplements. It took me seven days on foot to reach a periphery of the area where I saw dead goats dotting the landscape." He adds that the only way to make contact with the Changthang nomads is through satellite phones.

With the snow beginning to melt in May, the number of goats still alive (estimated to be around 1,75,000) are also at risk as the vegetation continues to be buried under snow.

The district administration had supplied 9,465 quintals of cattle feed, 25,000 quintals of barley and 2,000 quintals of dry fodder last November, but it wasn't enough. It was only after the tragedy struck that another 805 quintals of dry fodder was sent to the affected areas in Ladakh.

Every year, nearly 80 percent of India's Pashmina wool (almost 70 tonnes) is procured from this area. This wool is sent to the neighbouring Kashmir Valley where it is processed and carefully woven on handlooms into shawls and scarves, which sell for up to Rs 40,000 apiece.

"Almost 65 percent of the weavers are women and widows who have no other source of income. They are facing the brunt of the wool shortage," says Wasim Ahmad, who runs three looms in Srinagar. "Right now, we are using last year's produce. The real extent of the crisis will unfold in June-July when shearing of goats begins in Ladakh."

Every June-July, Pashmina wool is collected from the goats by separating it from the thick coarse hair. Then the raw wool is stretched and cleaned to remove dirt and soaked for 2-3 days in a mixture of rice and water to make it softer. The soft wool is later spun on yendirs (spinning wheels). Hand-spinning is an extremely painstaking task and fine handspun yarn is priced at Rs 30,000 per kg.

"Real Pashmina yarn is too fragile to be used in powerlooms. Therefore, the weaving of the 100 percent Cashmere shawls are done on handlooms," says Ahmad.

Anthropologist Monisha Ahmed of the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation says the problem started when major portions of the traditional grazing land came under Chinese control after the 1962 war. "The nomads lost access to key pastures. Further, tourism was promoted so much that it created a lot of pressure in the areas that were earlier used as pasture land," says Ahmed, who has been studying Ladakh's ethnic textiles for the past 20 years.

She says Changpas used to earn more from sheep wool than Pashmina, but over the years they have shifted focus to the latter. "The nomads stopped rearing sheep, which were earlier used to keep the goats warm in the winters. One of the reasons why the goats died was the absence of the sheep. There was nothing to keep them warm," says Ahmed, adding that the Shahtoosh ban has also played a big part in the increasing demand for fine Pashmina wool.

Concerned over the mass deaths of Pashmina goats, the Union textiles ministry decided on 12 March to provide a financial assistance package worth Rs 41.21 crore. The main components include assistance for foundation stock in new areas for Pashmina rearing activities; health coverage and feed supplement; strengthening existing fodder bank and a breeding farm. The package will also include the establishment of a pasture farm on migratory routes; breeder orientation training camp and a research & development centre.

While the state government scrambles to save the remaining goats, weavers and loom owners are worried about their future. The shortage of Pashmina wool has dealt a severe blow to the likes of Shameena Akhter, 45, who has spun the wool for almost two decades. The income generated was enough to raise four daughters and a son in Ompura village of Budgam district.

"I have abandoned spinning Pashmina wool," she says. "There is no wool actually. Whatever is available in the market is being sold at exorbitant rates. The average worker like me can't afford to buy the raw wool."

Since April, she has shifted to spinning ordinary sheep wool, which hardly generates 1,000 a month. "Spinning Pashmina wool was lucrative. I used to earn more than 10,000 every month. In fact, my husband, a daily wage labourer, took a loan to build a house thinking both of us will be able to clear the debt. But now it seems we won't be able to do so," she says.

Loom owners like Mushtaq Ahmad of South Kashmir's Tral area have started buying wool from a dealer who imports raw materials from Tibet and Mongolia.

"But the imported wool can't match the fineness of the Ladakh Pashmina wool," he says. "The wool from Ladakh has a diameter of 9-11 micron, while the one from Tibet is of 12-16 micron. Less the diameter, more the fineness."

Monisha Ahmed agrees. She says the wool found in Ladakh is finer than its counterparts from Mongolia or Tibet. "However, unless a proper research is done on Changpas and ways to protect their goats is identified, animals will continue to starve and freeze to death in the Ladakh region," she warns. - Tehelka.

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Solar Watch - M3.9 Solar Flare And Spectacular Prominence Eruption On The Sun; Ice Halo Seen Around The Sun; And Stunning "Ring Of Fire" Solar Eclipse!

May 10, 2013 - THE SUN - A sunspot located just behind the sun's northeastern limb erupted during the early hours of May 10th, producing an M3-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the explosion's extreme ultraviolet flash: movie. The farside active region will turn toward Earth in the days ahead.

The return of old Sunspot 1726 is looking good in terms of higher solar activity. Another M-Class flare, this time peaking at M1.3 was just detected at 12:56 UTC. This region will continue to rotate into view over the next 24 hours.

Old Sunspot 1726 is proving to be a bit of a firecracker. The returning active region hiding just off the east limb produced a C9.0 solar flare at 23:00 UTC, followed by a stronger M3.9 event at 00:53 UTC. The sunspot rotation will carry the active region back into Earth view within the next 24 hours.

WATCH: M3.9 Solar Flare - May 10, 2013.

PROMINENCE: On Thursday afternoon, SDO captured a large prominence eruption off the southwest limb. A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is visible in the latest STEREO Ahead COR2 imagery. Because of the eruption location, the plasma cloud will be directed away from Earth.

Prominence Eruption - May 9, 2013.

For the past few days, astronomers around the world have been monitoring a bushy filament of magnetism dancing along the sun's western limb. Sergio Castillo of Inglewood CA photographed the structure on May 9th just before it collapsed:

"OMG! This giant prominence was one of the most spectacular I have ever witnessed," says Castillo. "Yesterday, however, it collapsed on its own magnetic field and nothing remains of it." The filament has disappeared from the sun, but all 250,000 km of it may still be found in the space weather photo gallery. Start looking.

SUNSPOTS: Sunspot AR1736 has a beta-gamma magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares.

Credit: SDO/HMI

CORONAL HOLES: Solar wind flowing from this coronal hole should reach Earth on May 14-15.

Credit: SDO/AIA.

ICE HALO AROUND THE SUN: On May 6th, Daryl Pederson went to Point Woronzof in Anchorage, Alaska, to see the USS Anchorage depart. "But," says Pederson, "the sun refused to be outshone." Instead of photographing the amphibious warship, he recorded this complex ice halo in the sky overhead:

The luminous arcs and rings around the sun are caused by sunlight shining through ice crystals in thin, high clouds. Usually only one or two of these ice halos appears at once, but Pederson caught at least 6 different varieties, identified and labeled above by atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "It is sometimes hard to believe that tiny ice crystals floating in the air or clouds can make such precise and beautiful sky geometry," comments Cowley. "Two reasons:- One, the small crystals unlike their larger and more familiar snowflake cousins are near optically perfect. Two, they are set firmly in near perfect alignments by aerodynamic drag forces as they drift slowly down relative to local air currents. Only the circular 22o halo comes from tumbling crystals and they generate geometric perfection, too!" More optical perfection may be found in the space weather photo gallery.

"RING OF FIRE" SOLAR ECLIPSE: As the sun rose over Australia on Friday morning, May 10th, the solar disk turned into a ring of fire. The day began with an annular solar eclipse:

Nicole Hollenbeck took the picture from inside the narrow path of annularity about 70km south of Newman, Australia. At the time, more than 95% of the sun's diameter was covered by the Moon. In an annular eclipse the Moon is not quite big enough to cover the entire solar disk. A blinding ring of solar fire juts out around the Moon, overwhelming the sun's delicate corona. It may not be the same as totality, but annularity has a charm and beauty all its own. Browse the gallery for more images from the eclipse zone.

WATCH: "Ring Of Fire" Solar Eclipse Over Australia.

SOURCES: Space Weather | Solar Ham.

MASS BEES DIE-OFF: Beemageddon Threatens United States Food Supply - One-Third Of U.S. Honeybee Colonies Died Last Winter?!

May 10, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the United States died or disappeared last winter, an unsustainable decline that threatens the nation's food supply.

Multiple factors - pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition - are believed to cause the losses, which were officially announced today by a consortium of academic researchers, beekeepers and Department of Agriculture scientists.

Reuters/Stephane Mahe

"We're getting closer and closer to the point where we don't have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands," said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.

Beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013, roughly double what's considered acceptable attrition through natural causes. The losses are in keeping with rates documented since 2006, when beekeeper concerns prompted the first nationwide survey of honeybee health. Hopes raised by drop in rates of loss to 22 percent in 2011-2012 were wiped out by the new numbers.

The honeybee shortage nearly came to a head in March in California, when there were barely enough bees to pollinate the almond crop.

Had the weather not been ideal, the almonds would have gone unpollinated - a taste, as it were, of a future in which honeybee problems are not solved.

"If we want to grow fruits and nuts and berries, this is important," said vanEngelstorp. "One in every three bites [of food consumed in the U.S.] is directly or indirectly pollinated by bees."

© Jennifer C/Flickr

Scientists have raced to explain the losses, which fall into different categories. Some result from what's called colony collapse disorder, a malady first reported in 2006 in which honeybees abandon their hives and vanish. Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, subsequently became a public shorthand for describing bee calamities.

Most losses reported in the latest survey, however, don't actually fit the CCD profile. And though CCD is largely undocumented in western Europe, honeybee losses there have also been dramatic. In fact, CCD seems to be declining, even as total losses mount. The honeybees are simply dying.

"Even if CCD went away, we'd still have tremendous losses," said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster at Pennsylvania State University. "CCD losses are like the straw that breaks the camel's back. The system has many other issues."

Studying these issues isn't easy. In real-world agricultural settings, it's hard to run the rigorous, every-last-variable-controlled experiments on which definitive conclusions are founded. These experiments can be run in labs and small-scale test fields, but whether those accurately reflect real-world complexity is debated.

Amidst the uncertainties, scientific attention has settled on a group of culprits, the most high-profile of which is a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These were developed in the 1990s, rushed to market with minimal studies of potential harms, and subsequently became the world's most-used pesticides.

In the last several years, it's become evident that neonicotinoids are extremely toxic to honeybees and, even in small, sub-lethal doses, make bees more vulnerable to disease. The European Union recently limited neonicotinoid use, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing their use.

Honeybee colony losses over the last seven years© Engelstorp et al.

Pesticide companies have fought the restrictions, arguing that neonicotinoids are unfairly blamed. Most non-industry scientists say the question isn't whether neonicotinoids are a problem, but where they fit into a constellation of problems.

"Different studies indicate that this class of pesticide is rather harmful to the bees," said honeybee pathologist Cédric Alaux of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, who said the E.U.'s restrictions are sensible. "However, we should not be too naive and think that it will solve the bee problem."

Just as important as neonicotinoids, and perhaps more so, are Varroa destructor mites. First detected in the United States in 1987, the mites weaken bees by sucking their hemolyph, the insect analogue of blood, and also transmit viruses and other parasites. A recent USDA report called Varroa "the single most detrimental pest of honey bees."

The report also noted that neonicotinoid exposure alters immune system function in Varroa-infected bees and makes bees more vulnerable to infection by Nosema ceranae, another parasite implicated in honeybee losses. It's possible that neonicotinoids used on crops don't usually kill bees outright, but weaken them enough for other stresses to become lethal.

Agricultural entomologist Christian Krupke of Purdue University likened the effects to "living in an area with extreme levels of smog, causing your body and immune system to become overtaxed so that a common cold progresses to pneumonia."

Krupke noted that although neonicotinoids are the most common poisonous chemicals in honeybee environments, they're far from the only chemicals. Cox-Foster and vanEngelstorp stressed that point, referencing research that found 121 different pesticides in honeybee hives. On average, each hive contained traces of 6 pesticides, and sometimes several dozen.

Research on pesticide interactions is in its infancy, but combinations may be extremely harmful to bees, amplifying what the chemicals would do alone. "I worry that the neonicotinoid attention is distracting from the other pesticides that have clear effects, and might even have stronger effects. Things like fungicides are completely unregulated for bees," said vanEngelstorp. "I think we need to keep the pesticide investigation broader."

Another, less-appreciated aspect of honeybee life also gained attention in the winter survey and new USDA report: what they eat. Though commercial bees are trucked on pollination circuits around the United States, most beekeepers have home bases in the upper Midwest, an area that's undergone significant changes in recent years.

Rising food prices led farmers to plant crops in fields previously considered marginal or set aside as grasslands. Honeybees forage in those grasslands, and can't get the nutrition they need from flowering crops alone.

Add the record-setting drought of summer 2012, and bees were hard-pressed for nourishment. Malnourishment could in turn make bees more vulnerable to pests and infections, or exacerbate the effects of pesticides.

"The drought, the possible combination of factors that went with it, was clearly a big problem for a lot of beekeepers," vanEngelstorp said. "In some cases, it was a combination of Varroa and these malnourished, pesticide-exposed bees."

Commercial bees pollinate dozens of crops, and though colonies can be replaced, continuing losses could soon render beekeeping economically unviable. Researchers are trying to breed more resilient bees, but the combination of chemicals, nutrition and disease will likely prove insurmountable by genetic improvements alone, said Cox-Foster.

She said native pollinator habitat needs to be left intact or re-established; a field that goes unplanted, or a roadside left unmowed, can be thought of as insurance against commercial honeybee loss. Dennis vanEngelstorp recommended that, as a rule of thumb, 10 percent of land mass should be managed as pollinator havens.

Pesticides can also be used more carefully. Rather than being applied broadly, across entire fields and locales, they can be precisely targeted to outbreaks. Other unnecessary uses can be averted.

"Many entomologists and pest management professionals have been saying for years that there is no pest management justification for using these insecticides on virtually every crop grown in North America," said Krupke. "Yet, the opposite trend is occurring."

The honeybee catastrophe could also signal problems in other pollinator species, such as bumblebees and butterflies, that are not often studied.

"Thinking of honeybees as our canary in the coal mine, a monitor for environmental conditions, is very appropriate,"Cox-Foster said. "With honeybee colonies, you have the ability to open them up and see what's going on. There are many other species needed for pollination, but with most of those, we don't have the ability to see what's happening."

Update 5/9: Francesco Nazzi, an entomologist at Italy's University of Udine who studies the interactions of pests, parasites and honeybee immune systems, said he feels neonicotinoid pesticides "are not the major cause of widespread colony losses but one of many different causes, whose incidence may vary according to the local situation."

Nazzi pointed to surveys of honeybee losses in Canada, China, Israel, Turkey and western Europe, which have varied widely by locale and circumstance, with no clear explanation. In the European Union, where neonicotinoid use will be decreased but not eliminated for the next two years, Nazzi does not expect to see any clear, black-and-white effect.

Evidence about potential neonicotinoid harm, though, is "convincing enough to suggest caution," he said. "One may say that a broader ban may not be sufficient on its own to 'save' the bees, but it could help." Nazzi said the crucial question is whether neonicotinoid is even needed. "At least in Italy, in most cases, their use is actually unnecessary," he said. - WIRED.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Citrus Disease With No Cure Is Ravaging Florida's Groves - Considered As The Most Serious Threat In The History Of The State!

May 10, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Florida's citrus industry is grappling with the most serious threat in its history: a bacterial disease with no cure that has infected all 32 of the state's citrus-growing counties.

Although the disease, citrus greening, was first spotted in Florida in 2005, this year's losses from it are by far the most extensive. While the bacteria, which causes fruit to turn bitter and drop from the trees when still unripe, affects all citrus fruits, it has been most devastating to oranges, the largest crop. So many have been affected that the United States Department of Agriculture has downgraded its crop estimates five months in a row, an extraordinary move, analysts said.

Emma Reynolds, principal at the Reynolds Farm, displays a healthy Valencia orange, left, next to a
diseased one at the family groves in Lake Placid, Fla.
Image:  Mark Elias, Bloomberg, Getty Images

With the harvest not yet over, orange production has already decreased 10 percent from the initial estimate, a major swing, they said.

''The long and short of it is that the industry that made Florida, that is synonymous with Florida, that is a staple on every American breakfast table, is totally threatened,'' said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who helped obtain $11 million in federal money for research to fight the disease. ''If we don't find a cure, it will eliminate the citrus industry.''

The relentless migration of the disease from southern to northern Florida—and beyond—has deepened concerns this year among orange juice processors, investors, growers and lawmakers. Florida is the second-largest producer of orange juice in the world, behind Brazil, and the state's $9 billion citrus industry is a major economic force, contributing 76,000 jobs.

The industry, lashed over the years by canker disease, hard freezes and multiple hurricanes, is no stranger to hardship. But citrus greening is by far the most worrisome.

The disease, which can lie dormant for two to five years, is spread by an insect no larger than the head of a pin, the Asian citrus psyllid. It snacks on citrus trees, depositing bacteria that gradually starves trees of nutrients. Psyllids fly from tree to tree, leaving a trail of infection.

Concerted efforts by growers and millions of dollars spent on research to fight the disease have so far failed, growers and scientists said. The situation was worsened this season by an unusual weather pattern, including a dry winter, growers said.

 ''We have got a real big problem,'' said Vic Story, a lifelong citrus grower and the head of The Story Companies, which owns 2,000 acres of groves in Central Florida and manages an additional 3,000 acres, all of which are affected at varying levels. ''It's definitely the biggest threat in my lifetime, and I'm 68. This is a tree killer.''

Before this year, the losses and increased costs of fighting the disease had already taken a toll on Florida's citrus industry, which has been in decline for 15 years. In a 2012 report, University of Florida agricultural analysts concluded that between 2006 and 2012, citrus greening cost Florida's economy $4.5 billion and 8,000 jobs.

Some orange packers and small and midsize growers have sold their groves, razed them for development, or simply abandoned them. Others have postponed replanting lost trees, which take five years to mature, until they know whether a cure will be found. Many more, including the largest growers, are doing what they can to survive; they say they are optimistic they can hold on long enough for researchers to find a treatment.

''This year was a real kick in the gut,'' said Adam Putnam, Florida's agriculture commissioner and a former United States representative, whose family owns citrus groves. ''It is now everywhere, and it's just as bad as the doomsayers said it would be.''

But there was good news this week, too. Coca-Cola announced it would spend $2 billion to plant 25,000 acres of new orange groves. The company, which owns Minute Maid and the Simply juice brands, will buy fruit from two growers in Florida—one local and the other a Brazilian company that has invested in the state.

''To see such a dominant player in the beverage market double down on the future of orange juice in Florida is a real morale boost to the industry and a sign they have confidence we will find a cure for greening,'' Mr. Putnam said.

Across the Wheeler Farms groves here in Avon Park and beyond, the evidence of greening is obvious on some trees. Leaves turn yellow, then fall off, leaving behind sparse foliage. That is often the beginning of the end.

The psyllids are thought to have arrived through the Port of Miami a decade ago, scientists said. And while the bacteria does not harm humans, it devastates trees, leaving behind bitter, misshapen oranges.

Greening has crippled citrus production around the world, including in Asia and Africa, researchers at the University of Florida said. A decade ago, psyllids were discovered in Brazil, which, with its abundant rural land, has tried to outrun the disease by removing countless trees and planting new acres.

Aware of the potential consequences, Florida's thousands of growers have aggressively moved to curtail its spread. They have spent $60 million over six years, money raised mostly from a self-imposed tax, to create a research foundation seeking to eradicate greening. The federal Department of Agriculture also has dedicated millions of dollars to the effort.

More money is coming. The Florida Legislature this month approved $8 million toward greening research, a record sum. And Mr. Nelson is pushing a bill in Congress to set up a research trust fund using money from a tariff on imported orange juice.

Florida is no longer alone in its battle against greening. The disease has spread to Texas, California and Arizona, where officials are anxiously watching developments in Florida. They are also joining the fight to speed up research.

''It's worrisome that we are still three to five years away, even if we find a silver bullet,'' said Mark Wheeler, a grower and chief financial officer of Wheeler Farms, which owns 2,500 acres. ''We are to the point now that to stay alive in this type of environment you have to be on top of it 24/7.''

As is, he said, some growers can lose 30 to 40 percent of what they pick in a given year.

Researchers are working on several tracks, among them hindering the insect's reproductive cycle or its ability to transmit the disease, and developing resistant trees. But they are also advising growers on short-term options.

''Now there is a real sense of urgency,'' said Michael W. Sparks, the chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade organization for growers. ''We are not doing research to publish a paper but research we can get on the back of a tractor.''

In Florida, growers have had to transform how they raise orange and grapefruit trees, a shift that has more than doubled their costs over the past decade.

Baby citrus trees must now be raised in greenhouses before they can be transplanted. And most growers douse their groves with a more powerful cocktail of nutrients and spray insecticide more frequently, which has helped slow the disease's progress. At first, they tried removing acres of full-grown, fruit-bearing trees in the hopes of eradicating the disease. That failed because psyllids simply flew over from neighboring groves that were either abandoned or not following the same costly regimen of fertilizer and insecticide.

James Graham, a professor of soil microbiology at the University of Florida who works with the grower-funded Citrus Research and Education Center, said next year's harvest would be crucial. It will show whether this year's statewide early fruit drop was an aberration—a bad combination of quirky weather and greening—or proof that the disease is truly entrenched.

Mr. Story, for one, is not giving up. He is scooping up groves that are for sale and plans on planting 300 new acres.

''We think we can do it; we know we can do it,'' he said. ''We just need somebody to figure out how we can kill this bacteria in these trees.'' - CNBC.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Plague Of Biblical Proportions - Swarm Of Billions Of Locusts Blankets Madagascar, Threatening The Lives Of 13 Million People!

May 10, 2013 - MADAGASCAR - A locust plague of epic size is devastating the island nation of Madagascar, threatening the lives of 13 million people already on the brink of famine.

(Image: Bilal Tarabey/AFP/Getty)

Billions of locusts are destroying crops and grazing lands across half the country. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expects the plague to get worse, with two-thirds of the country likely to be affected by September.

The FAO says $22 million is needed by the end of this month to control the plague. And with each female locust laying up to 180 eggs, another $19 million will be needed to stop the plague recurring.

"We know from experience that this plague will require three years of anti-locust campaigns," says Annie Monard, who coordinates the FAO's locust response.

"In Africa this is sometimes a cruel twist," says Jerome Buhl from the University of Sydney, Australia, who studies the swarming of locusts. "A good year for crops, with promises of unusually good harvests after bad years, also often means a potential locust outbreak which could devastate the entire harvest and make it end as a terrible year."

Locust plagues regularly occur across much of Africa, but this is an extreme example. Calculating the exact size of plagues is difficult, because it depends on accurate field surveys and population models that vary from place to place. But Buhl confirms that unverified reports of hundreds of billions of locusts are plausible, given the size of the affected area.

Controlling the swarms with insecticide is costly – large areas need to be blanketed with poison because it is impossible to predict where the insects will go next. Buhl hopes to better understand their routes by studying the Madagascar outbreak with a drone aircraft. - NewScientist.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: In Early May, Unrest At Several Volcanoes - Mount Cleveland, Mayon And Popocatépetl!

May 10, 2013 - EARTH - Eruptions occurred at several volcanoes during the first week of May, 2013. Volcanoes with heightened activity include Mount Cleveland in Alaska, the Mayon Volcano in the Philippines and Popocatépetl in Mexico.

Mayon Volcano in the Philippines.

A NASA satellite captured this natural-color image of Mayon in December, 2009, another
time of increased activity for this volcano. 

Mayon Volcano. The Mayon Volcano is a 2,642-meter (8,077 feet) high stratovolcano located in the Philippines. On the morning of May 7, 2013, a steam-driven explosion sent a plume of ash 500 meters (1,640 feet) into the air. Tragically, 21 climbers were on the volcano when it exploded, and 5 people were killed by the falling rocks. Nine others were injured and are in the process of being evacuated. The volcano was not under an alert when it exploded, and no magmatic eruptions are currently expected. However, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology is requesting that the public avoid a 6-kilometer (3.7 mile) danger zone surrounding the summit due to the ongoing threat of stream-driven eruptions and rockfalls.

Popocatepetl, a volcano that looms on the Mexico City horizon, has been spitting small amounts of ash, steam, and volcanic gases for most of the 21st century. This satellite image shows the volcano’s summit in false-color (near-infrared, red, and green light). Bare rock is brown, vegetation is red, and clouds are white. A very faint volcanic plume is visible in the center of the summit crater. Image acquired February 5, 2013 via NASA’s Terra satellite. Caption by NASA.

Popocatépetl. Popocatépetl is a towering 5,426-meter (17,802 feet) high stratovolcano located in Mexico. On May 7, 2013, the volcano erupted sending a plume of ash 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) into the air. The ash blanketed several nearby towns, and officials are requesting that the public avoid a 12-kilometer (7.5 miles) radius around the volcano. According to the Eruptions Science Blog, the volcano has produced a few intermittent steam and ash plumes over the past year.

Picturesque, snow-capped volcanoes of the Islands of the Four Mountains in Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain. Mount Cleveland is near the image center. It shows red vegetation (false colour), a white snow-covered peak, a light plume of gas and ash, and dark lanes where ash and debris fell or flowed. Image via NASA’s Terra satellite.

Mount Cleveland.
Mount Cleveland is a 1,730-meter (5,676 feet) high stratovolcano located in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, USA. Stratovolcanoes are steep-sided volcanoes that are built of many alternating layers of hardened lava and ash. On May 4, 2013, the Alaska Volcano Observatory detected three short explosions at Mount Cleveland that were accompanied by a small cloud of ash that reached an altitude of approximately 4,600 meters (15,000 feet). The ash cloud was not high enough to pose a serious threat to aircraft, although some planes were diverted as a precaution according to a report from Reuters. Additional explosions at Mount Cleveland were detected on May 5 and 6. The volcano is currently under a watch alert level, which applies mainly to aircraft flying over this sparsely populated region. The Alaska Volcano Observatory issues watches when volcanoes exhibit heightened activity. Mount Cleveland has been under continued watch status for some time now due in part to four minor ash explosions during 2012.

Other volcanoes that have experience heightened activity in early May include Tungurahua in Ecuador, Papandayan in Indonesia and Heard Island in the southern Indian Ocean.

Bottom line: Several volcanoes have erupted during the first week of May, 2013. These volcanoes include Mount Cleveland in Alaska, the Mayon Volcano in the Philippines and Popocatépetl in Mexico. - Earth Sky.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Twisted Sisters - Rare Twin Tornadoes Seen Near Hays, Kansas!

May 10, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Extreme weather hit central Kansas Wednesday evening, with tornadoes spotted near Hays and Russell. Touchdowns were reported near the town of Catharine in Ellis County, according to NBC affiliate KSN.

The "rope" tornadoes did not cause any damage, according to The Hays Daily News. The storm did bring pingpong ball-sized hail, as seen in viewer photos posted by CBS affiliate KWCH. Conditions improved on Thursday, with cooler and drier weather across most of the state.

Severe weather continued further east on Thursday, with thunderstorms expected between Dallas and St. Louis
, reports Accuweather.

The central U.S. has seen fewer tornadoes in 2013, thanks to unusually low temperatures. According to AccuWeather, more storms are expected as temperatures rise in coming months, but "2013 is likely to remain well behind the curve for violent thunderstorms and tornadoes." - Huffington Post.

WATCH: Twin tornadoes over Kansas.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Coronavirus - Three Suspected Cases Of SARS-Related Virus In France!

May 10, 2013 - FRANCE - French health officials said Friday they are investigating three suspected cases of a deadly new respiratory virus related to SARS, in people who had close contact in the hospital with France's only confirmed case.

Beatrice Degrugillers, a spokeswoman for the regional health agency in France's Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, said a nurse at the hospital where the man was hospitalized in late April has herself been under watch at the hospital in Douai since Thursday night.

A doctor and a former hospital roommate who had each been in contact with the first patient also remain hospitalized. Test results are expected later Friday.

If confirmed, the additional cases would heighten concerns about the virus' ability to spread easily between people. Health authorities have previously said the new coronavirus has spread in limited circumstances between people in very close contact, such as relatives taking care of family members.

In 2003, the spread of SARS in hospitals in Asia ultimately sparked a global outbreak. Officials consider any spread of a new virus in hospitals to be the first sign it is gaining the ability to infect humans easily.

On Wednesday authorities announced the 65-year-old Frenchman was France's first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, which has killed 18 people since being identified last year in the Middle East.

The patient fell ill after returning from a nine-day vacation in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as part of a package tour, the Health Ministry said.

The man, whose identity was not released, returned from Dubai on April 17. He was hospitalized with respiratory problems in the northern French city of Valenciennes on April 23, and transferred to a more advanced facility in Douai on April 29.

Paris' Pasteur Institute analyzed the man's virus and confirmed that it is a novel coronavirus.

Since September 2012, the World Health Organization has been informed of 30 confirmed cases of the virus, and 18 of the patients have died. Cases have emerged in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Qatar, Britain and Germany, and health officials say the virus has likely already spread from person to person in some circumstances.

Since the virus emerged last year, European authorities have put in place monitoring measures. In France, 20 people have already been examined for suspected cases of the virus, but the other 19 turned up negative, Health Minister Marisol Touraine said.

The patient who traveled to Dubai is the only positive case. His family members have been tested and are not infected. - The Jakarta Post.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: New Highly Pathogenic Bird Flu - Almost 900,000 Birds Killed Due To New Avian Flu Outbreak In Mexico!

May 10, 2013 - MEXICO - Five new outbreaks of H7N3 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have affected almost 900,000 birds across three states.

The veterinary authority has sent Follow Up Report No. 7 dated 7 May to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The report describes five new outbreaks of HPAI of the H7N3 subtype starting between 1 March and 1 May 2013. More than 890,000 birds were involved; there were 75,011 cases, of which 40,010 birds died and 850,005 were destroyed.

Two outbreaks were in each of the previously affected states of Jalisco and Guanajuarto and one was in Puebla. One of the Jalisco outbreaks was in a village flock but the other four were on farms.

Two new outbreaks were identified in Jalisco: one in a commercial layer farm in Tepatitlán de Morelos and another in a backyard farm in the municipality of San Diego de Alejandría. In Guanajuato, two outbreaks were detected: one in a heavy breeder flock in Dolores Hidalgo and another in a fattening farm in the municipality of San José Iturbide.

Moreover, a new outbreak was identified in a commercial layer farm in the municipality of Palmar de Bravo, Puebla. It was confirmed by the National Reference Laboratory using virus isolation on 6 May 2013. On 7 May, the farm was depopulated and control measures including cleaning and disinfection of facilities and equipment as well as sampling around the outbreak within a 10-km radius were launched, in addition to epidemiological surveillance at State level.

All these outbreaks are described as "resolved".

The report adds that, in response to an outbreak, more than 5.5 million birds on commercial breeder and layer farms have been vaccinated. - The Poultry Site.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Euro-Zone Crisis - Greece's Youth Unemployment Hits 60% As Recession Continues To Cripple The Country!

May 10, 2013 - GREECE - Greek youth unemployment rose above 60 per cent for the first time in February, reflecting the pain caused by the country's crippling recession after years of austerity under its international bailout.

Greece's jobless rate has almost tripled since the country's debt crisis emerged in 2009 and was more than twice the euro zone's average unemployment reading of 12.1 percent in March.

While the overall unemployment rate rose to 27 per cent, according to statistics service data released on Thursday, joblessness among those aged between 15 and 24 jumped to 64.2 percent in February from 59.3 percent in January.

Youth unemployment was 54.1 per cent in March 2012.

'It is by far the highest youth unemployment rate in the euro zone, highlighting the difficulties young people face in entering the labour market despite government incentives to create jobs," said economist Nikos Magginas at National Bank.

Athens has lowered the minimum monthly wage for those under 25 years by 32 per cent to about 500 euros to entice hiring.

Rise: A man walks outside a Greek Manpower Employment Organisation office,in central Athens.
Greek youth unemployment rose above 60 percent for the first time in February.

Greece's economy is in its sixth year of recession, battered by tax hikes and spending cuts demanded by its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders.

The economy is expected to slump by 4.2 to 4.5 percent this year.

Earlier this week Greece was ordered by the International Monetary Fund to do more to crack down on its ‘notorious’ tax evasion problem.

After completing its latest health check, the IMF concluded that Greece had made progress slashing debts and improving competitiveness.

But it said ‘very little progress’ had been made in tackling tax evasion.

WATCH: Unemployment in Greece at 27 percent.

It added: ‘The rich are not paying their fair share which has forced an excessive reliance on expenditure cuts and higher taxes on those earning a salary or a pension.’

Endemic tax evasion in Greece was a major factor in the collapse of its economy. But it is also making it harder for Greece to shore up its finances.

In a clear sign that patience is running out, the IMF said ‘decisive correction actions’ were needed, including a ‘deeper political commitment to tax administration reform’.

The IMF also said Greece must take more radical action to trim down its bloated public sector.

It has already agreed to cut 150,000 public sector jobs by 2015.

Slump: A woman walks past a shut down store in Athens - the economy is expected to slump by
4.2 to 4.5 percent this year

The IMF said Greece had made ‘exceptional progress’ on reducing its budget deficit, one of the key conditions of its £202bn bail-out.

But it said the country’s public debt remains much too high. - Daily Mail.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: "This Is Worst Than AIDS" - Sex "Superbug" Discovered In Japan Called A Disaster In Waiting, Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea Could Be More Deadly Than AIDS!

May 10, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Doctors are warning that a drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea could be more deadly than AIDS, and are urging members of US Congress to spend $54 million for the development of a drug that would fight it.

AFP Photo.

"This might be a lot worse than AIDS in the short run because the bacteria is more aggressive and will affect more people quickly,"
Alan Christianson, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, told CNBC.

The new strain of gonorrhea, H041, was first discovered in 2009 after a sex worker fell victim to the superbug in Japan. Medical officials reported that the medication-resilient ‘sex superbug’ was discovered in Hawaii in May 2011, and has since spread to California and Norway, the International Business Times reports.

Nearly 30 million people die from AIDS-related causes each year, and the H041 superbug could have similar consequences, according to Alan Christianson, a doctor of naturopathic medicine.

"Getting gonorrhea from this strain might put someone into septic shock and death in a matter of days,"
Christianson said. "This is very dangerous."

The gonorrhea strain has not yet claimed any lives, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have asked Congress for $54 million to find an antibiotic to treat the strain.

In a Capitol Hill briefing last week, health officials said an education and public awareness campaign is crucial in minimizing the effective of HO41. William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition for STD Directors, said that if the ‘sex superbug’ spreads, it could quickly kill many people before a treatment is discovered. And that risk becomes increasingly more likely if Congress does not provide the funds to find a cure, he said.

"It's an emergency situation. As time moves on, it's getting more hazardous,"
he told members of Congress.

"We have to keep beating the drum on this,"
he added. "The potential for disaster is great."

In the United States, there are 20 million new STD infections each year, which results in about $16 billion in medical costs, the CDC reports. More than 800,000 of these cases gonorrhea infections, most of which occur in young people ages 15 to 24. Gonorrhea is sometimes difficult to detect, since it shows no symptoms in about half of all women. Those who fall ill to the deadly strain may not notice it until it’s too late.

“That’s what’s kind of scary about this,”
Smith said.

Although health officials have widely reported that cases of H041 were discovered in California, Hawaii and Norway, the CDC has disputed those claims and told CNBC on Monday that the infection has not been confirmed anywhere outside of Japan. The CDC did, however, make an announcement in 2011 that it was noticing greater gonorrhea bacterial resistance to certain types of antibiotics in Hawaii and California.

CDC officials said that the US and Norwegian cases were treated effectively with antibiotics not routinely recommended and that these cases were mistakenly identified as H041. But the agency continues to urge Congress for research funding, indicating that the risk of infection is high regardless of where the cases occurred.

Christianson is urging people to practice safe sex and get STD tests if they are in a new relationship, since a superbug infection could be around the corner.

"This is a disaster just waiting to happen,"
he told CNBC. "It's time to do something about it before it explodes. These superbugs, including the gonorrhea strain, are a health threat. We need to move now before it gets out of hand." - RT.

MASS FISH DIE-OFF: 45,000 Dead Fish Found In Vasse Estuary, Wonnerup, Australia?!

May 10, 2013 - AUSTRALIA - Around 3000 dead, rotting fish were retrieved from the Vasse estuary at Wonnerup last Sunday.

Despite the big effort by a few locals, one of those who took part in the cleanup, FAWNA member Phillip Moore said there were still a lot of dead fish in the estuary.

The big cleanup, which was organised by local Howard George, was carried out by only 11 volunteers, after the city stopped the official cleanup.

“We collected around 1800 dead fish from the banks, while another 1200 were retrieved in Howard’s tinnie,” Phillip said.

“This means that only about 30 per cent of the fish kill was collected overall,” he said of FAWNA’s calculated 45,000 fish deaths.

The relevant agencies involved with the estuary met for a debriefing with city officers yesterday, and their findings will be presented on Friday.

“The group discussed the potential causes of the fish deaths, including pathology results, and looked at the response of all agencies involved,” the city’s director of planning and development services Paul Needham said. - Busselton-Dunsborough.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Mass Outbreak Of Mice-Vector Hemorrhagic Fever In Argentina - Attacks In The Rural Areas, Caused By Viral Agent Junin And Transmitted By Camp Mice!

May 10, 2013 - ARGENTINA - The contagion potential of the disease covers a wide area of central Argentina: the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, La Pampa and Santa Fe, with other strains of the disease in Paraguay and Bolivia.

A 31-yeaar old farm hand died and a 12-year old adolescent has been hospitalized in the province of Santa Fe following an outbreak of Argentine hemorrhagic fever (FHA) caused by the viral agent Junin and transmitted by camp mice.
The mice which can transmit the viral disease appear in crop areas.

The death and hospitalization were confirmed by the Epidemiology Director from the city of Rosario.

The Junin virus is found in some species of camp mice that contaminate with their saliva, urine and excrement, and tend to proliferate in crop time. When harvesters chop up the four to six centimetres long brownish rodents, their blood is also potentially contaminating.

Human infection to occur through: skin contact (with abrasions, for example); in mucous or inhalation of particles carrying the virus. It is found mainly in people who reside in, or visit, or work in rural areas, 80% of those infected are men between 15 and 60.

The FHA is a serious acute illness like a common starting flu sends progressing to death in 1-2 weeks or recovery if treated early with blood plasma of ex-patients.

The virus incubation period is between 10-12 days after the first symptoms appear which confuses the unprepared practitioner in the differential diagnosis (biochemical analysis of platelets): fever, headache, weakness, reluctance, joint and eye pain and loss of appetite.

Unlike common flu where the patient improves to fifth day, with FHA symptoms intensify less than a week later forcing the infected patient to bed, producing increasingly strong symptoms of altered vascular, renal, haematological and neurological. This stage does not last more than 20 days If not treated anti-virally, FHA mortality reaches 30%. - MercoPress.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Unusual Start To Tornado Season In The United States - Activity Hits 60-Year Low, The Fewest Since 1954?!

May 10, 2013 - UNITED STATES - The USA in the past 12 months has seen the fewest number of tornadoes since at least 1954, and the death tolls from the dangerous storms have dropped dramatically since 2011.

A tornado travels across the horizon on May 23, 2008, near Quinter, Kan.
(Photo: AP/Steven Hausler, The Hays Daily News)

Just two years after a ferocious series of tornado outbreaks killed hundreds of Americans, the USA so far this year is enjoying one of the calmest years on record for twisters. Through Thursday, tornadoes have killed only three Americans in 2013; by the end of May 2011, 543 Americans had died.

The seven people killed from May 2012 to April 2013 is the fewest in a 12-month period since five people died in September 1899-August 1900, according to Harold Brooks, research meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.

The year-to-date count of tornadoes is probably approaching the lower 10% of all years on record, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Norman.

The reason: An unusually cool weather pattern from the Rockies to the East Coast. "Generally, the lower the temperature and/or the drier the air, the lower the number of thunderstorms," said AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Severe thunderstorms produce tornadoes, along with large hail and high winds.

So far in May — usually the USA's most active month — only three tornadoes have formed. All have been rated EF-0 on the Fujita scale of tornado intensity. EF-0 is the weakest rating for tornadoes, with wind speeds of about 65-85 mph.

The EF-5 tornado that ravaged Joplin, Mo., two years ago, had estimated wind speeds as high as 250 mph and killed 158 people.

The record low in tornadoes comes less than two years after a record high from 2010 to 2011, Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said. "The extraordinary contrast underscores the crazy fluctuations we've seen in Northern Hemisphere jet stream patterns during the past three years," he said. "Call it 'weather whiplash' of the tornado variety."

Current weather patterns are expected to continue into the first part of summer, likely keeping 2013 well behind the curve for violent thunderstorms and tornadoes, AccuWeather reports. - USA Today.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Giant Sinkhole In Central Russia - 85 Meters Wide; 15 Meters Deep; Swallows Up Three Buildings!

May 10, 2013 - RUSSIA - A sinkhole measuring nearly 85 meters wide and 15 meters deep engulfed three houses in a town outside Russia's fifth-largest city Nizhny Novgorod as some residents of the small village were slumbering.

© RT

One of the houses in the town of Buturlino was completely demolshed. Residents managed to escape the building a few minutes before it literally collapsed like a house of cards on Wednesday night.

"I just barely left the house as everything around started to collapse," Aleksey Ionychev told Russia's Channel One.

"I looked and saw a poplar, 15 to 20 meters high, went under the ground and straight away I heard loud sounds of water running, like a waterfall, and then saw a 10 meters crater," the man said. "It's good that we are alive, but the house was new and everything we had, so to say, we lost. The house was not insured and of course no one cares about it."

Initial reports suggested people were injured in the incident. However, it was later confirmed that no one sustained traumatic harm. "Information about dead and injured that appeared in media is not true," the head of the local administration Nikolay Chichkov told Rossyiskaya Gazeta.

Thirty-three residents of nearby areas have been immediately evacuated. There were no people in one of the collapsed buildings, while the third damaged building was used for grain storage.

The Ionychev family reportedly moved to their relatives' house, along with other residents.

According to Chichkov, the sinkhole not only demolished the three buildings, but also caused ruptures in electricity and gas utility lines. By the afternoon, gas utilities and power had been restored. The sinkhole remains cordoned off by emergency services.

WATCH: Giant 85 Meter-Wide Sinkhole In Central Russia.

The reasons behind the accident have not been made public so far. "There is a version that the sinkhole was caused by subterranean waters, which rose due to snow melting," the regional head wrote on his blog.

Some experts also pointed to a railroad some 90 meters away from the place of the accident. However, trains are still passing the scene, though they have been forced to slow down to 60 kph.

The town of Buturlino, with a population of 6,500, is some 120 kilometers southeast of the city of Nizhniy Novgorod in central Russia. According to the 2010 census, Nizhniy Novgorod is home to over 1,250,000 people. - RT.

FIRE IN THE SKY: Major Solar System Disturbance - Fallen Meteorite Discovered In Connecticut For Second Time In A Month?!

May 10, 2013 - UNITED STATES - The Yale Peabody Museum said a second meteorite has been found in a Connecticut building, 19 days after one hit a home in Wolcott.

© Yale Peabody Museum.

This second meteorite was found in a Waterbury home Thursday, according to a press release.

This object was not seen or heard as it fell, but Dr. Stefan Nicolescu, mineralogy collections manager at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, said in the release that he believes "it is highly likely the Waterbury meteorite is related to the April 19 fall in Wolcott."

The Waterbury meteorite is about 4 inches long and weighs 1.6 pounds. It had the same type of dark crust, magnetism, and interior color as the Wolcott meteorite.

Nicolescu said the museum hopes to confirm whether or not the meteorites are related with further testing. - New Haven Register.

MASS BIRD DIE-OFF: 32 Swans Found Dead At New Lake, Dunganaghy, Ireland?!

May 10, 2013 - IRELAND - It could take up to two weeks to identify the cause of death of 32 swans found at New Lake, Dunganaghy.

Results from dead swans could take two weeks

The swans were sent to the Department of Agriculture's Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Sligo for analysis.

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine told Donegal Now that the samples had only arrived on Tuesday. He said it was still too early to say what had caused the multiple deaths.

"It will probably take about 10 to 14 days to really understand what happened to them," he said.

Meanwhile members of the public are advised not to touch any dead birds they come across. - Donegal Now.