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Igloo

New storm sweeps in from West, challenges travel

A fierce winter storm blew in from the Pacific, bringing up to 2 feet of snow, icy wind and a nightmare for holiday travelers already stymied by winter's dance across the northern half of the country.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain caused treacherous driving conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sections of two major highways - Interstate 90 in Oregon and Interstate 84 in Washington - were closed late Saturday night, and authorities asked the public to not to drive unless it was an emergency.

"It is extremely dangerous to be on the roads at this time," said Multnomah County Deputy Paul McRedmond, sheriff's spokesman.

Centralia, about 25 miles south of Olympia, had already received 9 inches Saturday night. The Seattle area was predicted to get 4 to 8 inches. Portland and the rest of Oregon's Interstate 5 corridor could get as much as 10 inches.

Snowman

Nasa ducks dive under Greenland ice

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The rubber ducks have Dr Behar's email address on them
Ninety bathtub toys were hurled into a drainage hole on the Greenland ice in September - an experiment to see how melt waters find their way to the base of the ice sheet.

It was hoped the ducks would flow along subglacial channels and eventually pop out into the sea. They may still, but nothing has been seen of them so far.

"We haven't heard anything from them yet," said Nasa's Alberto Behar. "If somebody does find one, it will be a great breakthrough for us."

Dr Behar is a robotics expert with the agency at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He has been studying the tubular crevasses that appear on the surface of the Greenland ice known as moulins.

These "plug holes" can drain vast lakes of melt water that settle on the top of the ice during summer months. Scientists would like to know how and to what extent this water can help lubricate the base of the ice sheet, moving it faster towards the ocean.

Bizarro Earth

Nacreous Clouds

For the second time in a week, nacreous clouds have made an appearance over Scandinavia. On Dec. 17th they were sighted over Trondheim, Norway. Yesterday, the clouds came to Kittila, Finland.
Nacreous clouds
© Sauli Koski
Nacreous clouds

"These were our first nacreous clouds of the season," says photographer Sauli Koski. "I could watch them all day!"

Nacreous clouds are located in the stratosphere some 9 to 16 miles high. Their iridescent "mother of pearl" colors come from sunlight striking tiny ice crystals inside the clouds. Very low temperatures near -85o C are required to form the crystals, which is why nacreous clouds are seen mainly during winter over places like Alaska, Iceland and Scandinavia.

Comment: See also: "Mother of Pearl": Nacreous Clouds

Nacreous Cloud Alert

Rare clouds 'could indicate global warming'

CALIPSO Spies Polar Stratospheric Clouds

Beautiful polar stratospheric clouds forming around the Arctic Circle


Info

Solstice Webcast

Dec. 21st is the northern winter solstice. In just a few hours you can watch a live webcast of the solstice sunrise from the great tomb of Newgrange, in County Meath, Ireland. A beam of sunlight will travel down an 18 meter tunnel to illuminate the tomb's inner chamber as shown in this photo.
Great tomb of Newgrange
© Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Great tomb of Newgrange

Newgrange is 5000 years old, predating the better-known Stonehenge in the neighbouring island of Great Britain by more than a thousand years. This makes it the oldest megalithic monument in the world with a known astronomical function.

Better Earth

New York City Beaver Returns

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© Julie Larsen Maher/ Copyright Wildlife Conservation Society
"Jose" the beaver is New York City's only known wild beaver who makes his home on the lower Bronx River where it flows through the Bronx Zoo.
New York City's most famous beaver, José, has come home for the holidays! After a year-long hiatus, José - the first wild beaver to return to New York in at least two centuries - is back at the zoo and has even cut down his own Christmas tree, which he is now using to construct a new lodge on the Bronx River.

Beavers were once widespread throughout the region, but were wiped out due to fur trapping.

José, named for tireless Bronx River champion Congressman José E. Serrano, was initially spotted at the zoo in early 2007. After building a lodge on the zoo grounds, José eventually moved upriver to the New York Botanical Garden in the summer of 2007 and lived there for several months before vanishing to parts unknown. Then last week, he was spotted at the Bronx Zoo nibbling on a large tree he had just cut down along the Bronx River.

Info

Whispering Bats Are Shrieking 100 Times Louder Than Previously Thought

Annemarie Surlykke from the University of Southern Denmark is fascinated by echolocation. She really wants to know how it works. Surlykke equates the ultrasound cries that bats use for echolocation with the beam of light from a torch: you won't see much with the light from a small bulb but you could see several hundred metres with a powerful beam. Surlykke explains that it's the same with echolocating bats. Some have big powerful calls for perception over a long range, while others are said to whisper; which puzzled Surlykke.

How could 'whispering' bats echolocate with puny 70-decibel cries that barely carry at all? Teaming up with her long time collaborator Elizabeth Kalko from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and student Signe Brinkløv, Surlykke decided to measure the volume of a pair of whispering bat species' calls to find out how loud the whisperers are.

Cloud Lightning

US: Severe Weather Bus Crash Leaves Wheels Dangling Over Interstate

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Dec. 19: A charter bus sits perpendicular across a side street and with it's front end tangling over
Seattle - Two chartered buses slid down an icy, snow-covered cobblestone street and crashed through a guardrail Friday, stopping just before they would have plummeted onto the freeway 20 feet below.

The front end of the first bus dangled above Interstate 5 for hours before a tow-truck managed to pull it from the edge.

"I grabbed the person next to me and prayed to God we didn't fly," said passenger Stephanie Jackson of Spanaway.

Bizarro Earth

6.5-magnitude quake off Japanese coast

Tokyo -- A strong earthquake centered about 90 miles off Japan's east coast, measuring a 6.5 magnitude, was recorded by seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on Saturday.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the quake, which happened at 7:29 p.m. (5:29 a.m. ET).

Fish

Shark jumps out of aquarium into swimming pool

A shark managed to jump out of its aquarium on to a water slide at a hotel swimming pool used by guests.

The female reef shark, one of various exotic creatures in the popular Mayan Temple aquarium at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, tumbled down the slide - known as the Leap of Faith - after vaulting the one foot high and 18 in wide barrier around its pool.

Although the creature survived the journey its body could not cope with the chlorinated water in the swimming pool at the bottom of the slide. Rescuers managed to return the 12-year-old shark to its own pool but it died shortly afterwards.

Staff at the Atlantis resort said that guests were never at risk as the water park had yet to open for the morning. The shark posed no threat to humans and regularly swam with guests in its aquarium.

Igloo

US: Powerful winter storm cuts power, disrupts travel

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© AP Photo/Jessica Hill
A motorist waits for help after flipping his pickup truck in South Windsor, Conn., Friday, Dec. 19, 2008. The season's first heavy snowstorm blanketed Connecticut on Friday, icing roads and forcing the cancellation of dozens of flights.
A winter storm packing snow, freezing rain and biting wind cut power to tens of thousands of customers Friday, disrupted travel and gave schoolchildren from Iowa to New England an early start on their holiday break. "One thing about it, you're going to have a white Christmas this year," said Lee Longdyke, as he shoveled a sidewalk in Pontiac, Mich., for the third time Friday morning. More than 200 flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and more than 650 at three New York City-area airports. Many remaining flights had hourslong delays.

Runways at Milwaukee's airport were closed for much of the morning because snowplows could not keep up with "whiteout conditions," airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe said.

Snowfall affected a large region, but the worst of the ice storm - and resulting power outages - was in a band across northern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Power companies reported 60,000 customers in Illinois without service Friday, more than 35,000 in Ohio, and a whopping 180,000 in Indiana, where the area around Fort Wayne was particularly hard-hit.