State Of Emergency Declared As 3rd Day Of Severe Weather Outbreak Spawns Tornadoes In Eastern US

A string of violent storms that spawned possible tornadoes on Friday capped off a wild week of severe weather across the southern and eastern U.S.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to the tornadoes that left behind a trail of destruction on Thursday. This is the second time in less than a week that a state of emergency has been declared in Mississippi due to tornadoes.

As of Friday afternoon, at least five fatalities had been reported due to the storm. The latest fatality is from a traffic incident involving hydroplaning in Fort Gordon, Georgia, on Friday evening.

Earlier Friday morning, the storm caused the death of an 8-year-old girl in Leon County, Florida. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office report that a tree fell into a house in Woodville, located south of Tallahassee, killing the girl and injuring a 12-year-old boy.

Three deaths occurred on Thursday – one in Alabama and two in Mississippi.

A 42-year-old woman was killed Thursday night in St. Clair County, Alabama. Monica Clements died when a when a tree fell on her home, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office told local news station WRBC. According to officials, Clements’ 10-year-old son was also home at the time of the incident. He sustained minor injuries.

In Mississippi, Amite County Coroner Campbell Sharp told local news station WLBT that 24-year-old Kenderick Magee was killed while driving in the severe weather. Magee’s car crashed on Bean Road in the Gillsburg Community. He died as a result of his injuries.

A tree fell onto a vehicle Thursday afternoon in Neshoba County, Mississippi, leaving one person dead, according to the Neshoba Democrat.

There have been widespread power outages as the storms blast eastward. Over 200,000 electric customers were without power on Friday evening from Mississippi to Florida and northward through Virginia, according to North Carolina topped the list with over 70,000 outages. These numbers started to decline on Friday night.

Travel delays mounted as fallen trees and flooding made some roads impassable. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport had over 1,000 delays on Friday, and airline delays and cancellations will continue to have ripple effects for travelers across the nation.

Flash flood, severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings clashed in regions of Mississippi and Louisiana Thursday afternoon as a line of vigorous thunderstorms swept through the region. One tornado just missed striking Jackson, Mississippi, but instead passed through the nearby town of Clinton. Cars lay strewn across a Walmart parking lot, knocked over onto their sides while rain continued to fall.

In Utica, Mississippi, authorities reported a Hinds County school bus trapped by two trees on the road. Officials confirm that the driver and children are okay. According to officials, homes have been destroyed in Morton, Mississippi, after severe storms and a potential tornado moved through the area.

Storms ravaged Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle before moving into western Georgia on Thursday night. Having seen the destruction that played out in the Mississippi Valley over the past few days, many school districts in central Georgia canceled class for Friday as part of storm preparation tactics.

The multi-day outbreak began on Wednesday afternoon when powerful thunderstorms developed from the Texas Panhandle to central Iowa. One tornado was confirmed near Higgins, Texas, Wednesday evening. Two EF0 tornadoes also struck Missouri, one near Greenfield and another near Meinert.

A rare phenomenon occurred on Wednesday as twin tornadoes – two tornadoes appearing near each other at the same time – touched down 4 miles west-northwest of Shattuck, Oklahoma.

Weather Officials Upgrade Hurricane Michael To Category 5 Storm As It Struck Florida

Scientists at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center announced on Friday that Hurricane Michael was a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale when it made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida on Oct. 10, 2018. It was previously listed as a Category 4 hurricane.

The adjustment to the hurricane’s category came after a post-storm analysis of the devastating storm that hit the Florida Panhandle last year. Scientists now estimate that the wind intensity at landfall was 160 mph, not the previously estimated 155 mph. The additional 5 mph was enough to push it into the next category.

“It will look like a bomb or a tsunami hit the area,” AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel Myers said before the hurricane hit.

The now-Category 5 hurricane had blasted through the Florida Panhandle, carving a path of destruction through the East Coast before tracking back into the Atlantic. Before the storm hit, Myers estimated there would be about $30 billion in damage from the storm. The last Category 5 hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which was also initially designated as a Category 4 and was later upgraded to a Category 5.

“When looking at a hurricane at real time, you don’t have time to look at every piece of information,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said. “When doing a post analysis, you can look at damage. The engineers go in and can see how much damage was done and how much wind it takes.”

Prior to becoming a Category 5, Michael was already known as one of the most destructive and powerful storms in recorded history.

Michael had a minimum central pressure of 27.13 inches of mercury when it made landfall, making it the third-most intense U.S. landfalling hurricane behind Katrina and Andrew.

“The minimum central pressure is probably the most accurate way to measure the intensity of a hurricane,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

Measuring the wind speed of a hurricane can often prove more difficult, as anemometers can be destroyed or blown away at wind speeds above 100 mph on land.

Some meteorologists stated back in October that they would not be surprised if it was later upgraded to a Category 5.

“Based on central pressure and looking at some of the damage photos and videos coming in, I would not be shocked if Michael is upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane after official review,” Sosnowski said a few days after Hurricane Michael hit.

But even with the damage at around $30 billion, the Category 5 storm didn’t come close to the financial losses of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm at landfall, which had an economic impact of $190 billion.

Kottlowski points out that even though Michael’s damage was catastrophic, the financial cost shows that the Category 5 hurricane missed highly populated areas.

“Opportunities will be there for these monstrous storms to develop,” Kottlowski said. “If we can do anything, it’s to get people to realize that you have to prepare.”

Data Mining Digs Up Hidden Clues To Major California Earthquake Triggers

A powerful computational study of southern California seismic records has revealed detailed information about a plethora of previously undetected small earthquakes, giving a more precise picture about stress in the earth’s crust. A new publicly available catalog of these findings will help seismologists better understand the stresses triggering the larger earthquakes that occasionally rock the region.

“It’s very difficult to unpack what triggers larger earthquakes because they are infrequent, but with this new information about a huge number of small earthquakes, we can see how stress evolves in fault systems,” said Daniel Trugman, a post-doctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and coauthor of a paper published in the journal Science today. “This new information about triggering mechanisms and hidden foreshocks gives us a much better platform for explaining how big quakes get started,” Trugman said.

Crunching the Numbers

Trugman and coauthors from the California Institute of Technology and Scripps Institution of Oceanography performed a massive data mining operation of the Southern California Seismic Network for real quakes buried in the noise. The team was able to detect, understand, and locate quakes more precisely, and they created the most comprehensive earthquake catalog to date. The work identified 1.81 million quakes — 10 times more earthquakes occurring 10 times more frequently than quakes previously identified using traditional seismology methods.

The team developed a comprehensive, detailed earthquake library for the entire southern California region, called the Quake Template Matching (QTM) catalog. They are using it to create a more complete map of California earthquake faults and behavior. This catalog may help researchers detect and locate quakes more precisely.

The team analyzed nearly two decades of data collected by the Southern California Seismic Network. The network, considered one of the world’s best seismic systems, amasses a catalog of quakes from 550 seismic monitoring stations in the region. The SCSN catalog is based entirely on the traditional approach: manual observation and visual analysis. But Trugman says this traditional approach misses many weak signals that are indicators of small earthquakes.

Matching Templates Is Key

The team improved on this catalog with data mining. Using parallel computing, they crunched nearly 100 terabytes of data across 200 graphics processing units. Zooming in at high resolution for a 10-year period, they performed template matching using seismograms (waveforms or signals) of previously identified quakes. To create templates, they cut out pieces of waveforms from previously recorded earthquakes and matched those waveforms to patterns of signals recorded simultaneously from multiple seismic stations. Template matching has been done before, but never at this scale.

“Now we can automate it and search exhaustively through the full waveform archive to find signals of very small earthquakes previously hidden in the noise,” Trugman explained.

Applying the templates found events quake precursors, foreshocks and small quakes that had been missed with manual methods. Those events often provide key physical and geographic details to help predict big quakes. The team also identified initiation sequences that reveal how quakes are triggered.

New details also revealed three-dimensional geometry and fault structures, which will support development of more realistic models.

Recently, Trugman and Los Alamos colleagues have applied machine learning to study earthquakes created in laboratory quake machines. That works has uncovered important details about earthquake behavior that may be used to predict quakes.

“In the laboratory, we see small events as precursors to big slip events, but we don’t see this consistently in the real world. This big data template-matching analysis bridges the gap,” he said. “And now we’ve discovered quakes previously discounted as noise and learned more about their behavior. If we can identify these sequences as foreshocks in real time, we can predict the big one.”

Mercury Has A Solid Inner Core: New Evidence

Scientists have long known that Earth and Mercury have metallic cores. Like Earth, Mercury’s outer core is composed of liquid metal, but there have only been hints that Mercury’s innermost core is solid. Now, in a new study, scientists report evidence that Mercury’s inner core is indeed solid and that it is very nearly the same size as Earth’s solid inner core.

Some scientists compare Mercury to a cannonball because its metal core fills nearly 85 percent of the volume of the planet. This large core — huge compared to the other rocky planets in our solar system — has long been one of the most intriguing mysteries about Mercury. Scientists had also wondered whether Mercury might have a solid inner core.

The findings of Mercury’s solid inner core, published in AGU’s journal Geophysical Research Letters, help scientists better understand Mercury but also offer clues about how the solar system formed and how rocky planets change over time.

“Mercury’s interior is still active, due to the molten core that powers the planet’s weak magnetic field, relative to Earth’s,” said Antonio Genova, an assistant professor at Sapienza University of Rome who led the research while at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Mercury’s interior has cooled more rapidly than our planet’s. Mercury may help us predict how Earth’s magnetic field will change as the core cools.”

To figure out what Mercury’s core is made of, Genova and his colleagues had to get, figuratively, closer. The team used several observations from NASA’s MESSENGER mission to probe Mercury’s interior. The researchers looked, most importantly, at the planet’s spin and gravity.

The MESSENGER spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury in March 2011 and spent four years observing this nearest planet to our Sun until it was deliberately brought down to the planet’s surface in April 2015.

Scientists used radio observations from MESSENGER to determine Mercury’s gravitational anomalies (areas of local increases or decreases in mass) and the location of its rotational pole, which allowed them to understand the orientation of the planet.

Each planet spins on an axis, also known as the pole. Mercury spins much more slowly than Earth, with its day lasting about 58 Earth days. Scientists often use tiny variations in the way an object spins to reveal clues about its internal structure. In 2007, radar observations made from Earth revealed small shifts in Mercury’s spin, called librations, that proved some of the planet’s core must be liquid-molten metal. But observations of the spin rate alone were not sufficient to give a clear measurement of what the inner core was like. Could there be a solid core lurking underneath, scientists wondered?

Gravity can help answer that question. “Gravity is a powerful tool to look at the deep interior of a planet because it depends on the planet’s density structure,” said Sander Goossens, a researcher at NASA Goddard and co-author of the new study.

As MESSENGER orbited Mercury over the course of its mission and got closer and closer to the surface, scientists recorded how the spacecraft accelerated under the influence of the planet’s gravity. The density structure of a planet can create subtle changes in a spacecraft’s orbit. In the later parts of the mission, MESSENGER flew about 120 miles above the surface, and less than 65 miles during its last year. The final low-altitude orbits provided the best data yet and allowed for Genova and his team to make the most accurate measurements about the internal structure of Mercury yet taken.

Genova and his team put data from MESSENGER into a sophisticated computer program that allowed them to adjust parameters and figure out what the interior composition of Mercury must be like to match the way it spins and the way the spacecraft accelerated around it. The results showed that for the best match, Mercury must have a large, solid inner core. They estimated that the solid, iron core is about 1,260 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide and makes up about half of Mercury’s entire core (about 2,440 miles, or nearly 4,000 kilometers, wide). In contrast, Earth’s solid core is about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) across, taking up a little more than a third of this planet’s entire core.

“We had to pull together information from many fields: geodesy, geochemistry, orbital mechanics and gravity to find out what Mercury’s internal structure must be,” said Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard and co-author of the new study.

The fact that scientists needed to get close to Mercury to find out more about its interior highlights the power of sending spacecraft to other worlds, according to the researchers. Such accurate measurements of Mercury’s spin and gravity were simply not possible to make from Earth. New discoveries about Mercury are practically guaranteed to be waiting in MESSENGER’s archives, with each discovery about our local planetary neighborhood giving us a better understanding of what lies beyond.

“Every new bit of information about our solar system helps us understand the larger universe,” Genova said.

How To Defend The Earth From Asteroids

A mere 17-20 meters across, the Chelyabinsk meteor caused extensive ground damage and numerous injuries when it exploded on impact with Earth’s atmosphere in February 2013.

To prevent another such impact, Amy Mainzer and colleagues use a simple yet ingenious way to spot these tiny near-Earth objects (NEOs) as they hurtle toward the planet. She is the principal investigator of NASA’s asteroid hunting mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and will outline the work of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office this week at the American Physical Society April Meeting in Denver — including her team’s NEO recognition method and how it will aid the efforts to prevent future Earth impacts.

“If we find an object only a few days from impact, it greatly limits our choices, so in our search efforts we’ve focused on finding NEOs when they are further away from Earth, providing the maximum amount of time and opening up a wider range of mitigation possibilities,” Mainzer said.

But it’s a difficult task — like spotting a lump of coal in the night’s sky, Mainzer explained. “NEOs are intrinsically faint because they are mostly really small and far away from us in space,” she said. “Add to this the fact that some of them are as dark as printer toner, and trying to spot them against the black of space is very hard.”

Instead of using visible light to spot incoming objects, Mainzer’s team at JPL/Caltech has leveraged a characteristic signature of NEOs — their heat. Asteroids and comets are warmed by the sun and so glow brightly at thermal wavelengths (infrared), making them easier to spot with the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) telescope.

“With the NEOWISE mission we can spot objects regardless of their surface color, and use it to measure their sizes and other surface properties,” Mainzer said.

Discovering NEO surface properties provides Mainzer and her colleagues an insight into how big the objects are and what they are made of, both critical details in mounting a defensive strategy against an Earth-threatening NEO.

For instance, one defensive strategy is to physically “nudge” an NEO away from an Earth impact trajectory. But to calculate the energy required for that nudge, details of NEO mass, and therefore size and composition, are necessary.

Astronomers also think that examining the composition of asteroids will help to understand how the solar system was formed.

“These objects are intrinsically interesting because some are thought to be as old as the original material that made up the solar system,” Mainzer said. “One of the things that we have been finding is that NEOs are pretty diverse in composition.”

Mainzer is now keen to leverage advances in camera technology to aid in the search for NEOs. “We are proposing to NASA a new telescope, the Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam), to do a much more comprehensive job of mapping asteroid locations and measuring their sizes,” Mainzer said.

NASA is not the only space agency trying to understand NEOs. For instance, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Hayabusa 2’s mission plans to collect samples from an asteroid. And in her presentation Mainzer will explain how NASA works with the global space community in an international effort to defend the planet from NEO impact.

Laurel, Delaware Tornado Rips Apart Homes, Barns

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down in Laurel, Delaware, overnight, leaving behind a path of destruction for miles. Officials say an EF-2 tornado, with maximum wind speeds of 120 mph, tore through the town.

The tornado traveled 6.2 miles and ended in Seaford, Delaware.

Drone video from the Laurel Fire Department shows the path of destruction left by the tornado in Sussex County. The storm’s 120 mph winds ripped apart homes and barns and many roads were blocked by downed power lines. Some buildings were also completely decimated.

McWilliams, of Laurel, was sleeping when fast-moving winds ripped the roof off above her bedroom.

“It was horrible. It was a loud whistle and then like a roar, and it was terrible. It was scary,” said McWilliams.

She tried finding anywhere in her home for cover as debris started flying everywhere.

“I got up and was hiding behind a recliner in the living room. What are you gonna do? You hear stuff moving, you’re gonna hit the floor,” said McWilliams.

Nearby, an Utz Food Distribution Center is missing walls and a delivery truck was knocked over. Utz usually opens around 6 a.m., so there was no one inside when the storm passed through.

“Thankfully no one was here and everybody is safe,” said Matt Smith, of Utz.

The storm also caused widespread damage across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, ripping a roof off an apartment building in Camden, New Jersey and uprooting trees.

The storm system that hit the area also decimated communities in the south over the weekend.

At least 10 tornadoes damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes in Mississippi and the severe weather is blamed for at least eight deaths.

Deadly Storm System Spawns Tornadoes, Slams South, Heads Northeast

A deadly storm system was bearing down on the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. The storm has already left a violent swath of eath and destruction across parts of the South this weekend, with at least eight people killed as of late Sunday.

The storm surge has been made up of a mix of strong winds, heavy rain, flooding and even tornadoes. At least 11 tornadoes have touched down in three different states as a result of a stronger-than-usual storm system. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a declaration of emergency Sunday. Dozens of homes in Hamilton, Mississippi, have been completely leveled.

Saturday was a particularly destructive day for the storm. More than 100,000 people were left without power once the storm hit Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Now the storm turns toward the Midwest and East Coast. Tornado warnings have been issued in Ohio and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon and a tornado watch has been issued in Virginia.