TIME Environment

Mysterious Ash Covers Parts of Washington and Oregon

It could be from a Russian volcano

A strange ashy substance is falling from the sky in parts of Washington state and Oregon, but no one knows where it came from.

“While the substance is likely ash is from Volcano Shiveluch, they are a number of volcanoes that are currently active. The source of the material has not been scientifically confirmed,” energy officials said.

Volcano Shiveluch is on the Kamchatka peninsula in extreme northeast Russia and spewed a 20,000 foot ash plume in January. But officials say the substance could be coming from an entirely different part of the globe.

Other theories include dust picked up by wind or leftover ash from last year’s wildfires in Oregon in Idaho. But the substance will have to be scientifically tested to definitively determine what it is.

TIME weather

California Gets Heavy Rains But Not Enough to End Drought

Statewide Drought Takes Toll On California's Lake Oroville Water Level
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images The Enterprise Bridge passes over a section of Lake Oroville that is nearly dry in Oroville, Calif., Aug. 2014.

San Francisco can expect 6 inches of rain this weekend

While the East Coast has been saturated with snow in recent weeks, California has continued to struggle with serious drought—for the first time in 165 years, San Francisco saw absolutely no precipitation in January. But now the Bay area is getting inundated with heavy rains that have been predicted to last from Thursday through Monday.

Though Northern California will get more rain than it has seen in a long time this weekend, NBC reports it won’t be enough to combat the drought that has left reservoir levels extremely low. To solve the state’s problems, Californians will need conditions that require a lot more umbrella use.

[NBC]

TIME weather

Northeast’s Freezing Temperatures Could Cause Dangerous Roads

020215 snow mdd
Mark DiOrio—AP Bob Baker, an employee with the Stanley Center for the Arts, uses a snow blower to clear the sidewalk along Genesee Street in Utica, N.Y., on Feb. 2, 2015

The East Coast and Midwest face frigid temperatures and dangerous road conditions following second major blizzard in a week

(BOSTON) — Forecasters from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine, have warned that “flash freezing” could make roads dangerously slippery a day after snow fell on much of the East Coast.

National Weather Service forecaster Bill Simpson in Massachusetts said Monday night the biggest concern was for areas where rain and slush ponded on roads before temperatures plunged. “They are going to have a pretty difficult time when that slush freezes,” he said.

Arctic temperatures following the storm were expected to bring minus 20 degree wind chills in parts of Pennsylvania, New York and New England, and minus 35 degrees in pockets near the Canadian border.

Here’s the latest on the storm:

SNOWFALL AND WARNINGS

A winter storm warning remained in effect until 5 a.m. for northeastern Maine, where up to 18 inches was expected by Tuesday morning.

Earlier, the snowstorm, which dumped more than 19 inches of snow on Chicago and more than a foot on southeastern Wisconsin, deepened off the southern New England coast. It brought accumulations approaching 18 inches in the Boston area and around a foot of slushy wintry mix to Hartford, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, southern New Hampshire and Vermont — places still reeling from the up to 3 feet they got last week.

New York City’s snow totals ranged from around 3.6 inches in Central Park to 7 inches in the Bronx while Long Island got 3 inches to 10 inches.

The Philadelphia area received about an inch of snow before the precipitation changed to rain. Forecasters said portions of the Lehigh Valley got up 8 inches, and there was up to a foot in northern Pennsylvania. Much of New Jersey got several inches of snow while parts of northern Ohio received at least a foot.

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A PARTY POSTPONED

As Boston recovers from its second major winter storm in a week, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the victory parade for the New England Patriots would be postponed until Wednesday morning.

“We look forward to celebrating with Patriots fans during better weather on Wednesday,” Walsh said in a statement.

School was canceled in Boston and some suburbs for Tuesday and Gov. Charlie Baker ordered a delayed start for nonessential state agency workers to allow more time for clearing roads.

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A DEADLY TOLL

Fifty-seven-year-old Cynthia Levine was struck and killed by a snowplow just before 10 a.m. Monday in the parking lot of a condominium complex in Weymouth, south of Boston, the Norfolk district attorney’s office said.

In New York, state police said they were investigating a two-vehicle crash on Interstate 95 when a third vehicle lost control on the highway and hit the two vehicles from the first crash. The cause was not immediately known, but the crash occurred as snow and freezing rain hindered travel throughout the region.

Doctors in Ohio said Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins was heavily sedated and in critical condition Monday, a day after he went into cardiac arrest and his SUV crashed into a pole on his way home not long after a news conference.

Illinois State Police say ice was responsible for crashes on Interstate 294 in the Chicago suburb of Hickory Hills that involved at least 45 vehicles, one of them a state police squad car. Eight people were taken to area hospitals

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DISORDER IN THE COURT

The storm delayed two of the nation’s biggest court cases — the murder trial of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez and jury selection in the federal death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Testimony was to resume Tuesday in the Hernandez trial. But federal court officials in Boston, who follow the city’s school closure schedule, said the Tsarnaev proceedings would be delayed a second day.

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COMMUTING PROBLEMS

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority riders were warned to expect delays Tuesday because of the cold. On Monday, Boston’s MBTA was running despite the heavy snowfall, with delays including one train that lost power south of Boston, temporarily stranding about 50 passengers.

Rush-hour commuters in New York City were stranded on a packed subway train that lost power for 2½ hours Monday before it could be towed to a station. Five other trains were stuck behind it.

In Henniker, New Hampshire, crews on Monday were cleaning up snow using plows loaned by the state and surrounding towns. A fire had destroyed the town’s plow fleet three days earlier.

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SOME REALLY DIG IT

Tony Troc looks on the bright side of shoveling snow: Hey, it’s a pretty good workout.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” the supermarket warehouse worker said after clearing another 8 inches of snow from his driveway in Whitman, 20 miles south of Boston.

“If I didn’t like it, I’d be in Florida.”

Todd Penney of Tolland, Connecticut, said digging out is fun.

“I actually get some perverse pleasure in snowblowing, just like I get some perverse pleasure in mowing my lawn on the tractor,” he said. “When you have the tools that make the job easier, it’s kind of like this alone time, this me time. It’s kind of Zen.”

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SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER?

The handlers of Pennsylvania’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, said the furry rodent has forecast six more weeks of winter.

Members of the top hat-wearing Inner Circle announced the “prediction” Monday morning.

Legend has it that if Phil sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another six weeks. If not, spring comes early.

Read next: Hillary Clinton Enters Vaccinations Debate to Rebuke Likely 2016 Rivals

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TIME weather

Record Midwest Snow Raises Flash Freeze Threat

Chicago winter storm
Kamil Krzaczynski—EPA Visitors check on the Cloud Gate known as The Bean during a heavy snow storm at the Millennium Park in Chicago on Feb. 1, 2015.

Snow socked the Northeast again on Monday, crippling major airports and hindering the recovery from the blizzard last week. Forecasters warned that brutal cold would follow, raising the threat of a flash freeze and an icy mess on Tuesday.

In New England, the snow on Monday fell as fast as 3 inches an hour. By early afternoon, Lunenberg, Massachusetts, had more than 13 inches — and that was on top of what still had to be cleared from the blizzard.

New York got a mix of snow and freezing rain, complicating the commute…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

Read next: New Winter Storm Heading Toward the East Coast

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TIME weather

The Original Groundhog Day Involved Eating the Groundhog

Groundhog Day In Illinois
Tim Boyle—Getty Images Cloudy, one of the groundhogs at Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, IL., on Groundhog Day 2002.

Feb. 2, 1887: Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, holds its first Groundhog Day celebration

The first Groundhog Day celebration wasn’t such a picnic for Punxsutawney Phil’s progenitors. When Punxsutawneyans gathered on a hilltop known as Gobbler’s Knob on this day, Feb. 2, in 1887, they did so not just to celebrate the weather-forecasting wizardry of the groundhog — the rodent was also on the menu.

Predicting the length of winter based upon whether or not an animal saw its shadow was nothing new to the German immigrants who settled Pennsylvania, although in the old country they relied more often on badgers and bears. Europeans had long marked winter’s midpoint on Feb. 2 by celebrating Candlemas Day, a festival of lights that also included a formula for predicting the arrival of spring. As explained in an English folk song:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Come, winter, have another flight;

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Go winter, and come not again.

While the same principle applied to Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney inserted the notoriously grumpy, burrow-dwelling rodent into the formula as a kind of meteorological middleman. It also became a regional delicacy, with a flavor described by locals as “a cross between pork and chicken,” according to Pennsylvania historian Christopher R. Davis.

In the 1880s, per Davis, groundhog was the cuisine of choice at the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge. Devotees later formed the Groundhog Club, which hosted both the annual Groundhog Day ceremony and a summertime groundhog hunt followed by a picnic featuring a variety of groundhog dishes and a “groundhog punch” that sounds equally appetizing — a combination of vodka, milk, eggs, orange juice “and other ingredients,” Davis writes.

As tastes changed and Punxsutawney Phil’s status rose, the Groundhog Club stopped hunting his brethren and began catering to him instead. Groundhog is no longer on the menu at the annual Groundhog Picnic, and “groundhog punch” has morphed into an “elixir of life” that reportedly keeps Phil young and explains why the same groundhog has been predicting spring in Pennsylvania for over a century.

Members of today’s Groundhog Club claim that Phil — whom they call “Seer of Seers” — is an infallible prognosticator, with a 100% accuracy rate.

Mathematically, that’s not exactly true. As of last year, Phil’s accuracy rate was in fact 39% — less than half that of New York City’s go-to groundhog, Staten Island Chuck, whose predictions have been correct 82% of the time. Although not quite the celebrity Phil has become, Chuck is arguably America’s most reliable shadow-seer.

“You can’t argue with a good product,” the Staten Island groundhog’s handler once told TIME. “You want accurate readings, you go to Chuck.”

Read more about Chuck, here on Time.com: Q&A with Groundhog Handler Doug Schwartz

Read next: 6 Things to Know About Groundhog Day

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TIME animals

6 Things to Know About Groundhog Day

Ron Ploucha
Gene J. Puskar—AP Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha, center, holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 129th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Feb. 2, 2015.

Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter are coming

Weather forecasters once again ceded the stage Monday morning to a furrier expert: a groundhog named Phil.

That’s because Feb. 2 is the 129th official Groundhog Day. This time Punxsutawney Phil left his cozy burrow in Pennsylvania’s Gobbler’s Knob near Pittsburgh, saw his shadow, and broke the news that we’re doomed to another six weeks of winter rather than treated to an early spring. Every Bill Murray fan knows the basics—if Phil sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter are in store—but here are 6 facts you might know about Groundhog Day.

1. Legend has it that Punxsutawney Phil communicates his yearly forecast in the language “grondhogese” to the head of what’s known as the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, who just so happens to be fluent in the ancient, animal tongue. The Inner Circle members actually decide ahead of time.

2. Phil has a sassy side. During prohibition, the groundhog threatened 60 more weeks of winter unless Punxsutawney finally let him have a drink.

3. Groundhog Day is a formal affair. Beginning in the 1960’s, Inner Circle President Sam Light decreed that officiants needed to dress in top hats and tuxedos to show appropriate deference to the beloved marmot.

4. The tradition has ancient roots. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says Groundhogs Day’s origins are linked to “ancient European weather lore,” in which a badger or sacred bear made the prediction.

5. Even though groundhogs tend to live between six and eight years, Punxsutawney Phil is depicted as immortal. A version of him has made predictions since the first trek to Gobbler’s Hill in 1887—by drinking the “elixir of life” every summer, as groundhog lore tells it.

6. While Stormfax says Phil has only been right 39% of the time, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club says he has 100% accuracy.

Read next: The Original Groundhog Day Involved Eating the Groundhog

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Environment

Climate Change Is Making the Land in Iceland Rise

Blue Lagoon Iceland
Getty Images Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land

Land in Iceland is rising at a pace of as much as 1.4 inches per year in certain areas as a result of climate change, according to a new study. The melting of the country’s glaciers reduces pressure on the land below and allows the surface to rise, researchers say.

“Our research makes the connection between recent accelerated uplift and the accelerated melting of the Icelandic ice caps,” study co-author Kathleen Compton, a University of Arizona researcher, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, relied on data from 62 global positioning system receivers placed throughout Iceland that allowed researchers to track the land’s movement.

MORE: The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

While scientists have noticed the rise in land levels in certain areas across the globe, this study is the first to demonstrate the link between climate change and rising land, the researchers say.

“Iceland is the first place we can say accelerated uplift means accelerated ice mass loss,” said study co-author Richard Bennett, a professor at the University of Arizona.

TIME weather

New Winter Storm Heading Toward the East Coast

Major Winter Storm Pounds Chicago Area
Scott Olson — Getty Images A man walks down a snow-covered street on Feb. 1, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

That’s right woodchuck chuckers, it's Groundhog Day!

Forecasters say more snow is likely to blanket the northeast throughout Monday, less than a week after the area was deluged by a massive blizzard.

Late Sunday, the National Weather Service predicted the winter storm would continue to trudge through the Ohio Valley “before redeveloping and rapidly deepening off the southern New England coast on Monday.”

Weather forecasts warned of probable traffic delays across New York and New England on Monday, after large swaths of the Midwest were inundated with more than a foot of snow over the weekend.

“The morning commute Monday (if there is one) will be extremely treacherous across southern New England as snow turns heavy, with snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour making roads nearly impossible to keep clear,” reported the Weather Channel.

As of Sunday night, over 2,000 commercial flights had been canceled throughout the Midwest and East Coast, according to NBC News.

And if anyone’s betting on whether Punxsutawney Phil is likely to see his shadow on Monday morning, odds are the groundhog will remain burrowed in his hole for a few more weeks.

TIME weather

Storm Blankets Midwest in Snow, Creeps Toward Northeast

The snowstorm was expected to be the most far-reaching of the season to date

(CHICAGO) — A powerful storm moved from the Plains into the Midwest early Sunday and was expected to dump more than a foot of snow in some places before making its way into New England, where many cities are still digging out from a winter walloping from early last week.

There were blizzard-like conditions in Chicago and other Midwest locales as of mid-morning, which could be bad news for those planning to drive to and from Super Bowl parties later in the day. Forecasters were expecting hazardous driving conditions throughout the region.

Here’s the outlook:

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THE STORM

The snowstorm was expected to be the most far-reaching of the season to date, stretching from Nebraska to Maine, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters also said the storm was moving unusually slowly, meaning accumulations of between 10 to 14 inches of snow are possible for parts of northern Illinois, Indiana and northwest Ohio. Similar amounts of snow are expected for the Northeast later Sunday and throughout Monday.

“This is going to be a very high-impact storm for a large swath of the eastern half of the country,” weather service meteorologist Ricky Castro said.

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SUPER BOWL PARTY SPOILER?

The most intense period of snow in the Midwest was expected to hit Sunday evening, right around game time, meaning the roads could be treacherous for those heading to Super Bowl parties. Potential wind gusts of up to 40 mph were expected, so drivers could face terrible visibility and snarling snow drifts.

The good news for game-day revelers living near public transportation in the Chicago area is that the storm isn’t expected to be rough enough to shut down train traffic.

Slightly more than half of the Sunday flights leaving Chicago’s two major airports had been cancelled as of mid-Sunday morning, with 518 cancellations at O’Hare and 102 at Midway, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.

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NOT AGAIN!

Parts of New England are still recovering from a blizzard that threw down a record 34.5 inches of snow in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester, where dump trucks and front-end loaders had to be brought in to move snow.

The Monday and Tuesday storm dumped two feet of snow on Boston 19 inches on Providence, Rhode Island. Another foot or so could spell particular trouble for snow-clearing operations in Boston’s narrow streets.

The weather service said that many parts of New England could get between 8 and 14 inches of snow and that parts of western Massachusetts and Connecticut could get as much as 16 inches.

A winter storm warning was in effect for New York City starting at 7 p.m. Sunday and was expected to remain in effect until 6 p.m. Monday.

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SNOW PLOWS DESTROYED

The small town of Henniker, New Hampshire, will have to find a way to clear the snow without the majority of its plows. Nearly its entire fleet of snow-clearing equipment — five plows and a road grader — was destroyed in a fire on Friday night at a garage.

“This puts the town in a bad spot,” Henniker Fire Chief Steve Burritt told the Concord Monitor newspaper. “The town has a serious problem for snow removal. Not that there isn’t a solution, but it’s going to be a challenge.”

Investigators said the fire apparently originated in the engine of one of the dump trucks used as snow plows and spread. Officials estimate the damage could exceed $1 million.

The only heavy equipment spared — two pickup trucks and a front-end loader — was parked outside the garage. No injuries were reported.

 

TIME weather

This State Has Record Low Snowfall This Year

snow oregon mountains
Getty Images/Flickr RF

Snowpacks are as low as 16% of their normal levels

As the East Coast continues to bear the brunt of winter weather, the western state of Oregon is struggling with record low levels of snow.

Snowpack levels are as low as 16% of what they usually are in the state’s western regions, the Associated Press reports. The colder, eastern part is a little better off, with snowpack levels at 47-79% of normal levels.

Still, that’s bad news for Oregon, which relies on mountain snowpack levels to eventually melt and feed its streams. “We are really kind of staring climate change right in the eye right now,” said Kathie Dello, associated director of the Oregon Climate Change Institute at Oregon State University.

2014 was officially the hottest year on record, and the future also looks warm for Oregon, with the U.S. Drought Monitor predicting even more intense drought to come to some parts of the state. In San Francisco, just over 300 miles south of Oregon’s border, there has been no rain at all in January.

[AP]

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