Monday, January 9, 2012

EXTREME WEATHER: Heavy Snow Creates Chaos in Austria - Up to 23 Inches of Snow Blankets Region of Vorarlberg, Avalanche Risk is Very High!

Heavy snowfall in western Austria forces the closure of road tunnel link to Switzerland.

Heavy snow blocked roads and rail services to Austria's western province of Vorarlberg for hours on Monday. Officials said that up to 60cm (23in) snow had fallen overnight into Monday and the risk of avalanches was high, assessed at four on a scale of five. Although road links were re-established, Austrian rail service OeBB said the Arlberg train route was closed. Several ski resorts including Lech and Zuers have been cut off. Emergency workers were busy on Monday trying to clear routes to isolated areas. Although Bregenzer Wald was reported to be cut off, roads into Montafon were said to have been cleared.

Since Thursday, the Vorarlberg region has seen two to three metres (6-10ft) of snow. The authorities have been blasting some areas of heavy snow to prevent avalanches from becoming too large. Snow has also blocked off roads in the Salzburg region, and rail services in the Innsbruck area have been affected. Rescue teams resumed a search on Monday for a 15-year-old skier missing from a resort south-west of Innsbruck since Saturday, Austrian media said. Thousands of tourists and residents were snowed in at resorts on the Arlberg mountain on Friday and a major east-west railway line in Tirol province was closed over the weekend. - BBC.
WATCH: Heavy snow creates chaos in Austria.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 6.6 Earthquake Rattles the Solomon Islands - Undersea Tremor Rocks Santa Cruz Island!

Santa Cruz Island in the South Pacific was rocked by a magnitude 6.6 earthquake, but there have been no reports of injuries and authorities say there is no threat of a tsunami.

The quake's epicenter was recorded by the US Geological Survey at a depth of  38km about 353km east of Kira Kira in the Solomon Islands at 3:07pm local time. The United States Geological Survey reported that the temblor struck Monday afternoon. Santa Cruz and surrounding islands are remote and sparsely populated. No tsunami alert was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in the immediate wake of the quake. The Centre said in a statement there was no threat of a regional tsunami. The Santa Cruz Islands form part of the Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands and lie approximately 400km to the southeast of the Solomons. Lata is the main town on the chain's largest island, which is Nendo.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was "no destructive widespread tsunami threat" based on historical data. "However, earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within a hundred kilometres of the earthquake epicentre," it added. "Authorities in the region of the epicentre should be aware of this possibility and take appropriate action." Clive Collins, a seismologist at Geoscience Australia, said the undersea tremor would have been felt strongly on the nearest islands, which are quite remote, but would not cause serious damage.

"It's not all that deep but it's not right at the surface and 6.6, I think the nearest island is about 70 or 80 kilometres away so they'll get a bit of a shake if there's a town or village or something on them, but I don't expect any real damage," Collins said. "It's probably quite deep ocean there so I don't think there's any chance of a tsunami threat from that, normally that size earthquake wouldn't produce a tsunami." The Solomon Islands is on a tectonic plate margin in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire and frequently sees earthquakes. In 2007 a tsunami following an 8.1-magnitude earthquake killed at least 52 people in the Solomon Islands and left thousands homeless. - Hindustan Times.

NOTE: The station closest to the epicenter measured this earthquake at a 7.5 magnitude, a further 16 stations measured this earthquake between 7.1 and 7.5 magnitude

MYSTERY: EXTRATERRESTRIAL & UFO MEMES - The Assad Regime in Syria Reports Sightings of an Extraterrestrial Humanoid?!

Here is extremely strange story out of civil-war torn Syria. The state-controlled website, Syria News, is reporting that officials in the Assad regime are claiming sightings of a flying extraterrestrial humanoid.

Idlib police monitor a ‘space object’ that has entered the atmosphere of Deir Simbel and headed towards Kafr Nabil. 120cm tall wearing black clothes and a helmet. A space object, that resembles a human, has entered the atmosphere of the Deir Simbel village, located about 35 kilometres from Idlib and halfway between Jericho and Ma’arrat Naman, where it was flying at a speed approximately 40 kmph.

Syria News obtained a copy of a dispatch from Idlib Police Headquarters to the Department of Operations (Criminal Inspection). It cited witnessed who reported seeing a ‘space object’ spinning and hovering in the village sky, coming from the atmosphere of Sarjeh and then heading towards Ahsem and from there to Kafr Nabil. They said that is was rising and falling above the olive and fig trees.

According to the dispatch, the eyewitnesses completed their description of the ‘space object’ by saying that it was about 125cm long and 40cm wide, it was wearing black clothes and had a red spot on its chest and a helmet on its head. There was a bulge on its chest and back which suggested the presence of a device to help it fly. They pointed out that it was “moving itself in spirals, bending its feet and raising its arms and they did not hear the sound of any torpedo or mechanical engine”. - Syria News [Translated].

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: America's Northern Plains Hit Hard By Deer-Killing Disease - Thousands Killed in Recent Months, the Most Deadly Outbreak in Two Decades!

White-tailed deer populations in parts of eastern Montana and elsewhere in the Northern Plains could take years to recover from a devastating disease that killed thousands of the animals in recent months, wildlife officials and hunting outfitters said.

In northeast Montana, officials said 90 percent or more of whitetail have been killed along a 100-mile stretch of the Milk River from Malta to east of Glasgow. Whitetail deaths also have been reported along the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in western North Dakota and eastern Montana and scattered sites in Wyoming, South Dakota and eastern Kansas. The deaths are being attributed to an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD. Transmitted by biting midges, EHD causes internal bleeding that can kill infected animals within just a few days. "I've been here 21 years and it was worse than any of us here have seen," said Pat Gunderson, the Glasgow-based regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "Right now it's going to take a few years to get things back to even a moderate population."

In North Dakota, state wildlife chief Randy Kreil described the outbreak as the most extensive and deadly in two decades. Mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk and pronghorn also are susceptible to EHD, but it is particularly damaging to whitetail herds, animal health experts said. Livestock can be infected but typically show few symptoms. Researchers say the virus that causes EHD does not infect people and there is no risk of eating or handling infected deer. More precise estimates of the number of whitetail killed are expected after agencies conduct winter population counts and survey fall hunter success. Periodic outbreaks of EHD occur in whitetail herds across the country. Wildlife officials say the outbreak in the Northern Plains stands out for the high number of deaths and wide area affected.

Animal health experts suspect it was triggered by an exceptionally wet spring that led to lots of muddy breeding habitat for the biting midges that carry the disease. A warm fall meant the midges lingered and continued transmitting EHD to deer. The outbreak followed a harsh winter that already had knocked down deer numbers across the region. In response to those winter deaths, Gunderson said the number of hunting tags offered in northeast Montana was reduced from 5,000 to 4,000. After the EHD outbreak began in late summer, sales of another 2,000 tags were suspended. In western North Dakota, 1,500 licenses were suspended and the state offered refunds for deer tags already sold. More than 630 people took advantage of the refunds, said Randy Meissner, license manager for North Dakota Game and Fish.

Hunting outfitter Eric Albus in Hinsdale, Mont., said his business ran one archery hunting trip along the Milk River this fall, compared to 40 or 50 hunts in prior years. "It was horrendous," Albus said, "especially when you couple it with the fact that we lost 40 to 45 percent of our whitetail in the winter." To satisfy his customers, Albus said he leased alternate properties to hunt on that were up to 350 miles away from Hinsdale. In southern states where deer have a history of exposure to EHD, death rates from the disease are relatively low, said David Stallknecht with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, which has been tracking EHD for more than 30 years. Whitetail in northern states are more likely to die because they lack the antibodies from previous exposures needed to help fight off the disease, said Stallknecht, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia.

He said a better picture of the outbreak will come later this year, after state wildlife agencies from across the country submit annual animal mortality data to the Southeastern Cooperative. Notwithstanding the disease's economic impacts to the region's hunting industry, Gunderson said the loss of so many deer along the Milk and Missouri rivers could have an upside. Along some stretches of the river, a combination of animal grazing and ice jams scraping the riverbank each winter have prevented cottonwood trees from regenerating for decades. After the region's record spring floods allowed seedlings to take root high up on the banks, where they are more protected, Gunderson said a new crop of trees could thrive with so many whitetail gone. "We won't have the tremendous deer population browsing on them, so hopefully we'll get the cottonwoods along these river bottoms that will take us through the next 100 years," he said. - Yahoo.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Mass Stranding of Whales in New Zealand - 7 Long-Finned Pilots Die, 18 Rescued at Farewell Spit!

Seven long-finned pilot whales died after being beached in New Zealand, but rescuers were confident Saturday they had saved the other 18 marine mammals that stranded.

Seven of the 25-strong pod died after they stranded late Friday on Farewell Spit at the northwest corner of South Island, conservation officials said. The surviving whales were floated off the beach at high tide. They were well offshore by late Saturday afternoon and heading toward deeper waters after earlier swimming north toward more shallow waters on the ebbing tide, said John Mason, area manager for the Department of Conservation. "They were quite lethargic at the start and ... we thought they could well strand on the outgoing tide," he said. Boats were used to try to point the whales to deeper waters, and people got into the water to encourage the animals to head toward the deep sea, Mason said.

"Then, just in the nick of time, they started moving eastward out of danger, and they're now well off Farewell Spit tracking southward into deeper water," he told National Radio. Mason said the pod's movements will be tracked during the night because there was still a risk the whales could come back into the shallow waters of the long, sloping headland spit area. But he said he was "confident" the 18 pilot whales wouldn't restrand. Project Jonah whale rescue group chief executive Kimberly Muncaster said volunteers would be checking beaches to "help locate further strandings before it is too late to save the animals." Adult male pilot whales measure up to 20 feet (6.1 metres) and weigh up to 3 tons, while adult females measure up to 16 feet (4.9 metres) and weigh up to 1.5 tons, according to the American Cetacean Society. New Zealand has several whale strandings along its coastline each summer, with mass strandings of as many as 450 whales occurring. Since 1840, more than 5,000 strandings of whales and dolphins have been recorded on New Zealand's coast. In November, 47 pilot whales died and 18 were euthanized after they stranded on tidal flats at the tip of Farewell Spit. Whale experts have been unable to explain why the mammals swim into dangerously shallow waters. - CTV.

SWINE FLU VIRUS: Human Infections in the United States Widens - Evidence of Infections in Five Different States!

The geographic spread of human infections with a new swine influenza virus has widened, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revealed Friday as it announced a new case, this time in West Virginia.

The agency actually announced two human cases with swine-origin flu viruses on Friday. One was an infection with the H3N2 virus that has been popping up over the past few months, and a second was with a new virus, a swine-origin H1N2. That case was spotted in Minnesota. Both cases were in children under five years old, and neither child had known contact with swine, Lyn Finelli of the CDC's influenza division said in an interview. The widening geographic spread of the H3N2 cases has the CDC thinking these swine origin viruses may be transmitting at low levels among people, suggested Finelli, who is chief of surveillance and outbreak response in the influenza division. "It does make us take it pretty seriously," she said of the evidence of infections in five different states -- Maine, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa and now West Virginia.

The virus is an influenza A virus of the H3N2 subtype. It's a distant cousin of the human H3N2 viruses that circulate every year. But it is sufficiently different, genetically, from the human virus that experts say the H3N2 component of the seasonal flu shot is unlikely to offer any protection against it. That said, it is believed most people over the age of 20 or so would have been exposed to similar viruses in the past and would probably have some protection against this virus were it to continue to spread in people. All but one of the 11 cases spotted so far have been children under 10; the exception was a 58-year-old. Most of the cases have experienced only mild infection though three were hospitalized. The three all had other health problems which may have contributed to the severity of their symptoms.

The swine H3N2 virus has picked up a gene from the H1N1 virus that caused the 2009 pandemic. That gene -- the M gene -- has been shown in animal studies to make flu viruses more transmissible. The virus was first spotted in July and initial cases occurred in people who had contact with pigs or contact with people who had contact with pigs. The most recent cases -- the West Virginia case and a cluster of three children in Iowa a few weeks back -- seem almost certainly to have been the result of viruses passing from person to person, not from pigs to people. "We're not exactly sure how many generations these viruses are away from pigs. But it looks at least like those transmissions are person to person," Finelli said. "(But) we haven't seen any cases in densely populated areas like in big cities in the U.S. And that makes us think there's not that many degrees of separation between pigs and people since these are all rural areas."

The Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday that it has not seen human cases with either of these swine viruses. And Finelli said the CDC has not heard of any other country spotting these viruses either. The Minnesota case, with the unrelated virus, is still under investigation, Finelli said. The child had no contact with pigs, but may have been in contact with a sick child a day or two before becoming ill. The rising number of infections with the H3N2 viruses poses a quandary for public health officials. Because of the mercurial nature of influenza, the situation must be watched closely. But authorities know the public largely wrote off the 2009 pandemic as a false alarm and don't want to ring alarm bells if there is no need. "The important question for humans is whether this particular clade (group of viruses) has potential to become successful, and the answer to that is we don't know," said Dr. Allison McGeer, a flu expert at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

McGeer said it's likely that more cases of human infection with swine origin viruses are being spotted because surveillance for new flu strains has been enhanced since bird flu -- the H5N1 avian flu virus -- hit the global radar in 2004. Finelli said improved surveillance may be playing a role. But she noted the flu situation in pigs is very dynamic these days, with the variety of flu viruses infecting pigs having proliferated greatly over the past decade. "We only used to see one or two reports a year. Now we see many more than that," she said of human infections with swine influenza viruses. "It's many, many more than we would expect, even given the previous few years with good surveillance in place." She said the CDC feels rapid investigation of all cases and their contacts is needed to get a better picture of what is going on. The agency is trying to figure out what are the risk factors for infection, the probability of transmission probability and the severity of the virus. "If we see an acceleration of cases, all of these things will help us figure out the appropriate public health responses," she said. - CTV.

EXTREME WEATHER: Monster 112mph Gale Winds Wreck Havoc With Windfarms in the United Kingdom - 15ft-Long Turbine Blades Flew Off 3 Structures!

First there were the wind farms in the United Kingdom that had to be shut down if it got a bit blowy. Then there was the turbine that burst into flames in a gale a month ago. And now three turbines have been wrecked in the latest bout of rough weather – sweeping away any remaining illusions that strong winds simply mean more electricity being generated.

One of them stands – rather forlornly now – off a country road called Windmill Lane. The damage raises yet more questions about the ability of such machines to cope with serious weather, let alone produce very much electricity. Adding to such concerns will be the revelation yesterday that wind farms in Scotland were paid nearly £300,000 in the first five days of this year to close down because it was too windy. The three damaged turbines all stand within a mile of one another in the countryside around Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. The one in Windmill Lane in the village of Upper Cumberworth lost one of its three blades, and another in the same village lost two.

A third, in nearby Hepworth, lost all three, with debris blown across a road into a neighbouring property. The damage occurred on Thursday night when, according to the Met Office wind speeds near Huddersfield peaked at 77mph during fierce storms which felled trees, tore off roof tiles and damaged power cables. Local residents say the falling blades could have injured or killed someone as they were flung to the ground. Frances Barnes, who has ten acres of grazing land for horses nearby, said: ‘It is worrying. People objected to the plans when they first went in – not because it is a windmill but because it is so close to a busy road. The blades on the 12 metre mast are over two metres long and one flew across a road. ‘It is frightening to think what may have happened had one of the blades flown into the road and hit a car, or indeed if the wind turbine had come down.’ The 10kw turbines were made by Evoco, which says they have been through a ‘four-year period of in-house testing’.
The company, which claimed on its website they could ‘withstand harsh winters and wind speeds in excess of 90mph’ has begun an investigation. The turbines are not part of a wind farm but sold individually to landowners to generate their own electricity and sell any excess back to the National Grid. The company said it had installed 100 turbines in the area and all have been ‘braked’ so that they stop spinning until modifications are made. A spokesman said: ‘We have recently experienced a series of turbine faults in a localised area of rural West Yorkshire area during record-breaking high winds. ‘Evoco turbines have recently weathered three lots of hurricane force winds, in which the overwhelming majority of our turbines have operated without any problems. ‘No one was hurt in the incidents, which are being investigated thoroughly. Health and safety issues are of primary importance to us, and we work to rigorous standards to maintain our excellent record.’ Christine Smith, a local Conservative councillor said: ‘This shows they can be very dangerous, these blades could have fallen on someone’s car or home. They are lucky someone was not walking nearby.

‘Wind turbines are flawed, they don’t work when it’s too windy, and don’t work when it’s not windy enough. There are much better alternatives to use less energy such as under-floor heating and insulation. ‘These companies are putting in applications left, right and centre, and telling people they can make a lot of money out of them, but I think we need to look at some of these concerns before allowing any more to be built.’ Last month a 300ft turbine in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, erupted in flames during gales of 165mph. It was said to have been switched off, but had a ‘brake system failure’. In Scotland the £300,000 payments over the first five days of this year were shared by four turbine operators. The controversial ‘constraint payments’ were made because they produced more energy than the National Grid could handle and had to shut down. Up to 32,000 wind turbines could be built in England and Wales over the next 40 years to meet government targets. Last year 17 wind farm operators were paid £7million to shut down on 40 occasions between January and September. - Daily Mail.
Meanwhile, seven passengers were injured in a mid-air incident aboard a Qantas A380 flying between London and Singapore en route to Sydney due to severe thunderstorms.
QF32, which left London at 11.15am on Friday morning, struck severe turbulence in Indian airspace about three hours prior to landing in Singapore. Seven passengers have been treated for ‘‘minor cuts and injuries’’ in Singapore, a Qantas spokeswoman said. Four went to hospital ‘‘for assessment’’ but have since been discharged. Three were treated at Changi airport’s medical centre. The turbulence was the result of severe thunderstorms in the area, the Qantas spokeswoman said.

‘‘The seatbelt sign went on immediately, but some passengers were still making their way back to their seats [when the aircraft encountered turbulence]. Striking bad weather is not unusual,’’ she said. The flight landed in Singapore at approximately 7.50am yesterday morning, Sydney time. Engineers have since examined the aircraft, the Charles Kingsford Smith, and found it fit to return to the air. The flight, which was originally expected in Sydney at 8.35pm yesterday, is expected to depart Singapore this afternoon and is scheduled to land in Sydney at approximately 9pm. - SMH.

EXTREME WEATHER: Huge Snow Dump in Alaska - Cordova Submerged Under 18 Feet of Excessive and Massive Snow Levels, Triggering Collapsed Buildings and Roofs!

The small Alaska fishing town of Cordova is used to dealing with excessive snow - but not like this. Residents have turned to the state to help them dig out of massive snow levels that have collapsed roofs, triggered avalanches and even covered doors, trapping some people in their homes.

"There's nowhere to go with the snow because it's piled up so high," said Wendy Rainney, who owns the Orca Adventure Lodge. A storage building for the lodge - which offers fishing trips, hiking, kayaking and glacier tours - partially collapsed under the weight of the snow, she said. "This is more quantity than can be handled." The Alaska National Guard reported more than 18 feet of snow has fallen on Cordova in the past weeks, although the National Weather Service did not immediately have a measurement. Officials said at least three buildings have collapsed or partially collapsed and six homes are deemed severely stressed by heavy wet snow.

The city has set up a shelter at a local recreation center, but said people leaving homes in avalanche-risky areas have been staying with other residents. Cordova spokesman Allen Marquette said the town also was ready to set up a pet shelter if necessary. Responders said Sunday that rain fell overnight, making for a slippery, treacherous mess in the Prince William Sound community of 2,000 year-round residents. The region has been pummeled by snow, but Cordova is of particular concern because there is no road access to the town, only boat and plane passage, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard.

There have been no reported injuries, but bad weather has prevented the Guard from flying to the town, 150 miles southeast of Anchorage. More than 70 Guard members traveled to Cordova on a state ferry Sunday, arriving at 4:30 p.m. About 50 of them will help clear roofs, roads, boats - whatever is the greatest need. The rest will provide other assistance. Also helping out in Cordova are three state emergency workers who were already in town to help the city with emergency response planning. Katkus said Guard members will be on hand for up to two weeks. "This is an ongoing operation," he told reporters Sunday.

An avalanche brought snow and debris down on a section of the Copper River Highway, the 12-mile link from the town to the local airport. State transportation officials said a secondary road was opened to two-lane traffic while crews cleared the highway Sunday. The state also is working on bringing in more heavy equipment to Cordova, which issued a disaster proclamation Friday after three weeks of relentless snow overwhelmed local crews working around the clock and filled snow dump sites. "We had no alternative but to declare an emergency," Cordova Mayor Jim Kallander said. "It became a life-safety issue." Another storm that started Saturday also brought rain, which soaked into the snow, weighing it down.

Classes will begin later than usual Monday, but officials said students should go only if parents are comfortable with them venturing out. Some roads have been cleared, but officials say residents also are being creative, traveling on foot and by skis and snowshoes. The National Weather Service said the snow depth at the airport measured 59 inches before the rain fell, weighing the level down to 47 inches. Monday is supposed to be clear before another system moves in Tuesday, bringing more snow and rain, as well as winds as strong as 40 mph. "This break in the weather is very critical and very fortunate," meteorologist Don Moore said. - Yahoo.
UPDATE: State of Emergency Continues in Cordova, Alaska National Guardsmen Arrive to Help!
Dozens of National Guard troops armed with shovels deployed across a southeast Alaska fishing town on Monday after the coastal region was swamped with too much snow. Worst hit was Cordova, a town used to snow, but not like this season's blanketing. The Guard reported more than 18 feet of snow has fallen in the past few weeks. "There's nowhere to go with the snow because it's piled up so high," said Wendy Rainney, who owns the Orca Adventure Lodge. A storage building for the lodge — which offers fishing trips, hiking, kayaking and glacier tours — partially collapsed under the weight of the snow, she said. "This is more quantity than can be handled." At least three buildings have collapsed or partially collapsed and six homes are deemed severely stressed by heavy wet snow, officials said. Schools were closed Monday to keep children off the roads and sidewalks. The drifts are 12 to 14 feet high, but most roofs in town have been shoveled, said Chris Dunlap, a Cordova resident who was manning an empty Red Cross shelter early Monday.

"It's a lot of snow. I've lived here 33 years and this is the most snow I've ever seen," she said by phone. "The thing I'm impressed most with is we haven't had any injuries. Maybe a few back strains from all of the shoveling." More than 24 feet in neighboring town. In Valdez, the other major town in Alaska's Prince William Sound, snow is also an issue, with more than 24 feet so far this season — 12 feet above normal. After a dump over the weekend, Valdez resident Kevin Kimber said he had to crawl out of his upstairs window to get out. "I woke up to have about 10 feet of snow in front of my door, so I had to crawl out of the house and I was finally able to get to my truck," NBC affiliate KTUU TV quoted Kimber as saying. Another Valdez resident stayed home Friday because of the snow. "It’s just white," Trish Stowe said. "It’s hard to see the edges of the road or — well, there are no edges. You just run into snow banks." In Cordova, townspokesman Allen Marquette told the Alaska Dispatch that clearing roofs became top priority on Sunday.

"It's an ongoing issue," Marquette said. "Because of the rains, a lot of the (snow on) roofs did slough and fall off, so some doors were blocked." Marquette said he'd started trying to get snow off his roof Saturday, but estimated there was still about six feet Sunday. "I’m six-foot four, and I couldn't see over the top," he told the paper. "There'snot a snow shovel left in town." The city has set up a shelter at a local recreation center but said people leaving homes in avalanche-risky areas have been staying with other residents. The town issued a disaster proclamation last week after three weeks of relentless snow overwhelmed local crews working around the clock and filled snow dump sites. "We had no alternative but to declare an emergency," Cordova Mayor Jim Kallander said. "It became a life-safety issue." - MSNBC.
Cordova City officials say since record breaking snow has now turned into heavy rain, flooding and avalanches are now their major concern as a state of emergency continued in the Prince William Sound community Sunday. More than 70 Alaska National Guardsmen arrived in Cordova Sunday evening. It is the first time in a "long time" where the state emergency operation center has requested the National Guard to assist a community in a disaster, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus at a press briefing Sunday. "Wherever the incident commander sees the greatest need where our soldiers and our airmen can participate in helping out that community," said Katkus. A barge with snow removal and melting equipment is also en route to the community and should arrive by midnight Sunday, according to John Madden, director of Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The latest avalanche happened Sunday afternoon just after 12:00.  City officials say the slide came down at mile five, but did not cause damage or injuries.  According to the city's Facebook page the Copper River Highway 5.5 mile loop road has reopened. Whitshed Road also remained open, while the Power Creek Highway into Davis Island remained closed. All travel, city officials say, should be suspended unless it is an emergency.  As a result of the changing weather travel conditions reportedly remained treacherous and avalanche dangers are imminent.  Sunday morning flights to the area were cancelled.

The City of Cordova is operating an emergency command center at city hall.  For more information or concerns about roof loads, damage or flooding residents are asked to call 907-424-6212. Officials say teams continue working throughout Cordova to assess all situations. While heavy snow has blanked the area all winter, the situation moved toward an emergency Thursday when Cordova and Valdez were buried in heavy snowfall, which left residents digging out of their homes and major roads in the region closed by avalanches. State Department of Transportation spokesperson Meadow Bailey says the Richardson Highway was reopened to Valdez Saturday, but the Copper River Highway -- which was closed and reopened Friday -- continued to be closed Sunday afternoon, as heavy rain atop existing snowfall posed a major avalanche danger.

Bailey says while avalanche crews are tired but almost caught up with clearing current snow from the roads, they're also calling for more resources in equipment and manpower from across the state. Cordova declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon following several weeks of heavy snowfall, after at least three structures -- two commercial buildings and a home -- had their roofs collapsed by snow. DOT is sending five additional people from across the state to help clear the town’s roads. Meanwhile, National Weather Service officials said Thursday Valdez had 289.01 inches of snow this season -- and winter has just begun. Valdez resident Kevin Kimber said he had to crawl out of his upstairs window to get out of the house. “I woke up to have about 10 feet of snow in front of my door, so I had to crawl out of the house and I was finally able to get to my truck,” Kimber said. Trish Stowe in Valdez said she stayed home Friday because of the snow. “It’s just white,” Stowe said. “It’s hard to see the edges of the road or -- well, there are no edges. You just run into snow banks.”  - MSNBC.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Rare Asian Duck Draws Bird Watchers to California - Stuns Wildlife Officials and Casual Observers?!

A rare duck normally only seen in Asia has somehow turned up in California, drawing excited bird watchers from all over the U.S. and Canada to a wildlife refuge in the state's Central Valley.

Wildlife officials say a male falcated duck, a bird common in China, was first spotted at the refuge on Dec. 8. Since then, thousands of birders have observed it paddling among mallards, pintails and geese, said Lora Haller, who works at the Colusa Wildlife Refuge's visitor center. More than 2,000 cars packed with visitors have streamed into the refuge over the last month — double the usual visitor numbers. "It's very exciting," she said. "It's extremely rare to see this kind of duck in California."

Most falcated ducks breed and live in China, and smaller populations live in Japan, North Korea and South Korea. The ducks can also sometimes be found in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, Haller said. The celebrity bird has a silvery plumage with iridescent green and bronze on its head. "Falcated" or "curved and tapering to a point" refers to the male duck's long wing feathers near the body that overhang onto the tail. There have only been a few previous sightings in California: One was spotted in Orange County in 1969 and one in Lassen County in the far northern part of the state in 2002 and 2003.

It's not known whether the rare duck somehow made it to California from Asia or has escaped from a private collection or zoo, Haller said. But the bird appears to be wild and isn't used to people, she said. Wildlife officials say the bird has been spotted nearly every day. It likes to swim in a pond near the refuge's viewing platform. The bird's presence, Haller said, is a rare occasion for birders, who keep "life lists" of the birds they hope to see or have seen in their lifetime. Bird watchers swarm the platform all day, awaiting the bird's arrival, she said. The refuge, one of several that make up the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is about 120 miles northeast of San Francisco. - Yahoo.

PLANETARY TREMORS: The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) Warns Mindanao of Aftershocks of Indonesia Quake!

State seismologists warned Mindanao residents of possible aftershocks from a magnitude-5.6 quake in Indonesia, which was felt in the Davao area Saturday afternoon. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the quake was recorded at 3:31 p.m. and was tectonic in origin.

Phivolcs said the epicenter was 100 km north of Moluccas, Indonesia or 597 km southeast of Mati, Davao Oriental. The quake was felt as far as Davao City, at Intensity I. While Phivolcs said no damage was expected, it said there may be aftershocks from the quake. The United States Geological Survey also measured the quake at magnitude 5.6, and estimated the epicenter at - 288 km east of Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia. - GMA Network.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Bluebottle Jellyfish Swarm Closes New Zealand Beach - Massive Portuguese Man-o'-War Mysteriously Clustered the Shores of Oreti Beach!

"I've seen big jellyfish in South Africa but these are massive," he said.

Oreti Beach, near Invercargill in New Zealand, is closed after hundreds of bluebottles have been discovered in the water and on the beach.

Oreti Beach was closed yesterday and people told to get out of the ocean as a swarm of bluebottle jellyfish hit the shore. Surf lifeguard patrol captain Robert Cole said he had noticed a couple of jellyfish on the beach in the past two weeks but after taking the raft out at about 2.15pm yesterday, he spotted hundreds of them in the water. He went back to shore and immediately closed the beach for swimming. The biggest jellyfish he spotted in the water had tentacles about 2.5 metres long, he said. "I've seen big jellyfish in South Africa but these are massive," he said. The jellyfish clustered on the beach and Mr Cole said if someone was to get stung by a cluster it would be similar to getting stung by six jellyfish at once. "If someone got stung today, I'd say they'd be straight to hospital," he said.

Swimmer Adam Wilkinson said he was about to hit the water when the beach was closed. Hugh Diack said he had not seen so many jellyfish since he spotted hundreds scattered along Curio Bay seven or eight years ago, caused by three weeks of easterly wind. "They [bluebottles] won't scare us off," he said. Mr Diack's son, Cameron, had been in the water about 10 minutes before Mr Cole closed the beach. Marine scientist Clinton Duffy said bluebottles inflicted a painful sting and people could have a bad reaction, but they were not life-threatening. Bluebottles normally stayed well offshore but after long periods of wind they could blow on to the beach, he said.

If stung by a bluebottle, you should get straight out of the water, pour vinegar or meths on the affected area and wash off the tentacles, he said. If you have a bad reaction seek medical help. Meanwhile, only four-wheel drive vehicles were allowed to drive onto the beach yesterday, with a surf lifesaver stopping vehicles at the entrance. Wind and no rain had made the entrance extremely soft and several people had been getting stuck, Mr Cole said. In New Zealand it is known as the bluebottle, elsewhere it is known as the Portuguese Man-o'-War. If a tentacle attaches itself to a human, it releases a poison through the use of nematocysts. No fatalities have been reported within New Zealand from the sting of a bluebottle. The float or body of the bluebottle measures between 3 to 15 centimetres. The tentacles can range in length from 15cm up to 10 metres. - The Southland Times.

EXTREME WEATHER: Warning For New Zealand - Coastal Weather Will Be More Severe Due to Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change Impacts!

A warning has been issued to New Zealand’s coastal centres, including Gisborne, that life in these places is going to be more troublesome because of a confirmed increase in extreme weather events, and other climate change impacts. The warning comes from Dr David Wratt, the director of the Niwa’s National Climate Change Centre, who was one of a number of New Zealand scientists involved in a special report released by the world climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Other New Zealanders on the report team were Professor Glenn McGregor of Auckland University and Associate Professor John Camobell of Waikato University. Dr Wratt, who is also chief scientist at the Niwa’s Climate Centre, says the IPCC report concludes that climate change is leading to an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather and climate events. He says the IPCC report used observations gathered since the 1950s, and concludes there has been a decrease in the number of cold days and nights globally and an overall increase in the number of warm days and nights.

The report says trends for this century indicate more warm, and fewer cold daily temperature extremes around the globe. Dr Wratt says there is 90-100 percent confidence that there will be an increase in the frequency of heavy precipitation events throughout the 21st century over many areas of the globe, and mean wind speeds in tropical cyclones will increase. “We have high confidence that extreme events will have greater impacts on sectors directly reliant on weather and climate,” says Dr Wratt. “New Zealand’s agriculture, horticulture and energy sectors clearly fall into that category.

“The high likelihood of increasingly severe extreme sea levels events is also significant, given that 12 of New Zealand’s 15 largest towns and cities are located on the coast.” Dr Wratt says the challenge for policymakers is to develop strategies to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of people and assets to climate change extremes. “That way, extreme weather and climate events won’t necessarily become disasters.” The IPCC report and Dr Wratt’s remarks are backed by a study by Princeton University, just published in the Journal of Climate.

The Princeton researchers have undertaken the first major study to concentrate on variations in daily weather conditions rather than monthly or yearly averages. The study found that day-to-day weather has grown increasingly erratic and extreme, with significant fluctations in sunshine and rainfall affecting more than a third of the planet. The team found that extremely sunny or cloudy days have become more common than in the 1980s and that swings from thunderstorms to dry conditions have also risen considerably.

Regions such as equatorial Africa and Asia have experienced the greatest increase in the frequency of extreme conditions, with erratic shifts in the weather throughout the year. Even more temperate regions have seeen an increase in day-to-day variability. William Rossow, professor of earth system science and environmental engineering at the City College of New York says the Princeton research shows that increasing leaps from one extreme condition to another affects the equilibrium of heast and rain worldwide. - Gisborne Herald.