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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    baltic seaq bathing suits old people

    THERE IS something dangerous lurking in the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea. Nearly 70 years after the victorious Allies dumped thousands of tonnes of Nazi chemical weapons and chemical agents into the Baltic Sea, experts have warned of an environmental disaster as the weapons corrode and their deadly contents spill into sea.

    Under an agreement reached at the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Britain and the Soviet Union dumped around 65,000 tonnes of Germany’s chemical weapons stockpile into the murky depths of the Baltic Sea in 1947-48. Since then the threat posed by the shells and drums full of hazardous waste has been subject to speculation and research. Some scientist called it a “ticking time-bomb”.

    It now appears the ticking has got louder. Recent research by Poland’s Military University of Technology has found traces of mustard gas on the sea bed just a few hundred metres off the Polish coast, in the Gulf of Gdansk. This indicates corrosion of the metal, and that poisonous chemicals are now leaking into the water and could be absorbed by fish, entering the food chain. Scientists are concerned, but not just because containers are leaking. There should be no chemical weapons in the Gulf of Gdansk as this was not a dumping zone. Stanislaw Popiel, from the team of the military university, which carried out the research, said that it was hard to say where the contamination came from.

    One possible explanation is that the Soviets had a fairly care-free attitude to where they dumped the weapons. Although the vast majority of the munitions were thrown into the Bornholm and Gotland deeps, Jacek Beldowski, from the Polish Institute of Oceanography, said the Soviets often threw everything overboard “as soon as they were out of sight of land”. This means there could be tonnes of chemical weapons lying in unknown locations, close to land and in fishing zones. Mr Beldowski has also found an increase in fish with illnesses and genetic defects in the areas of the known dumping zones; evidence that some of the containers are indeed leaking.

    While this is worrying, some scientists argue that most of the containers will in all likelihood remain sealed for decades to come, and that the environmental conditions at the bottom of the Baltic Sea should contain any hazards. The cold temperatures turn mustard gas into a thick solid state, making it difficult for any contamination to spread. But the fact that contamination is spreading and affecting the environment, and that nobody really knows where all the chemical weapons are, is a serious cause for concern. In Mr Popiel’s worst-case scenario the Baltic area could be hit by an “environmental disaster greater than Chernobyl” within a few years.

    These dangers have spurred the Baltic states into examining the possibility of removing some of the weapons from the sea bed. Poland’s Environmental Protection Agency has suggested enlisting the help of NATO because it has the funds and the technology needed to lift the toxic waste. But even if the alliance agreed to help, any salvage operation would be fraught with danger. Experts warn that attempts to raise the fragile rusting shells and drums could actually break them up and trigger a massive release of deadly chemicals. 

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    climate talks

    WARSAW, Poland (AP) — U.N. climate talks were deadlocked Saturday as the U.S. and China clashed over what role the Chinese and other fast-growing economies should play in a new pact to fight global warming.

    Disputes over climate aid for poor countries also overshadowed the Warsaw conference as it stretched a full day beyond its scheduled end time.

    The two-week talks were supposed to lay the foundation for a 2015 climate deal in Paris that countries have agreed should apply to them all. But after all-night talks, delegates struggled to agree on draft decisions outlining the way forward.

    "These talks are on the brink of collapse," said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an observer of the talks.

    In discussions over future commitments to rein in carbon emissions, China and India insisted on wording that would keep a firewall between rich and poor countries that the U.S. and other developed countries want to get rid of.

    "The whole exercise is not aimed at creating a new climate regime," Chinese negotiator Su Wei told a plenary session.

    U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern wondered whether that meant that China was no longer ready to put forth commitments for the new deal.

    "I hope I'm wrong about what I heard, but it would certainly be disappointing to move backward in time not forward toward Paris," Stern said.

    The plenary was suspended to give delegates a chance to work on new texts.

    The U.N. climate talks were launched in 1992 after scientists warned that humans were warming the planet by pumping CO2 and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels.

    Countries made progress Friday on advancing a program to reduce deforestation in developing countries, an important source of emissions because trees absorb carbon dioxide.

    Climate financing proved harder to agree on. Rich countries have promised to help developing nations make their economies greener and to adapt to rising sea levels, desertification and other climate impacts.

    They have provided billions of dollars in climate financing in recent years, but have resisted calls to put down firm commitments on how they're going to fulfill a pledge to scale up annual contributions to $100 billion by 2020.

    "There is absolutely nothing to write home about at the moment," Fiji delegate Sai Navoti said, speaking on behalf of developing countries.

    Pointing to the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, island nations also demanded a new "loss and damage mechanism" to help them deal with weather disasters made worse by climate change. Rich countries were seeking a compromise that would not make them liable for damage caused by extreme weather events.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.

    ___

    Karl Ritter can be reached at https://twitter.com/Karl_Ritter

    SEE ALSO: Shocking Before And After Pictures Of How Climate Change Is Destroying The Earth

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    Indonesia volcano

    More than 15,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate on the island of Sumatra where authorities have raised the emergency alert for volcanic activity to the highest level, Reuters reports

    Mount Sinabung erupted eight times in a just few hours on Sunday, the AFP reports. The volcano — which has been erupting on and off over the last two months — spewed hot ash and rocks several miles into the sky. 

    The National Disaster Agency is calling for people that live within 3 miles of the volcano to leave the area, as it expects there will more eruptions that are also more intense.

    No casualties have been reported from the latest eruptions, according to the AFP.

    The mountains rumblings have been growing stronger since September, when it started spewing ash and lava for the first time since 2010. Before then, the volcano had been silent for at least a few hundred years.

    SEE ALSO: Giant Volcano Spews Ash And Lava Over Indonesian Villages

    SEE ALSO: ON THE GROUND: Devastating Pictures From The Philippines Super Typhoon

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    Floods

    2013 was a wild year for weather and other natural phenomena.

    Wildfires and tornadoes wreaked havoc across the United States, while erupting volcanoes and floods destroyed other parts of the world.

    Here we commemorate the power of mother nature through memorable and devastating images of our environment taken this year.

    Trucks are encased in ice after a warehouse fire in Chicago on Jan. 23, 2013. The large fire occurred as an Arctic blast gripped the U.S. Midwest and Northeast. At least three deaths were linked to the frigid weather, and fierce winds made some locations feel as cold as 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

    Read more: Firefighters Leave Chicago Warehouse Covered In Ice »



    A huge winter blizzard, called "Nemo" by the media, pummeled the northeastern United States in February. A foot of snow blanketed New York City and 36 inches covered Boston. The storm also left hundreds of thousands of people across the east coast without power and led to the death of at least four people.

    Read more: Manhattan Is Covered In Nearly A Foot Of Snow »



    China's smog problem gained international media attention when in January air pollution in Beijing and much of northern China soared past healthy levels, reaching up to 40 times higher than the standard set by the World Health Organization.

    Read more: China's Smog Problem Is Completely Out Of Control »



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    US Lights outq

    The push for green energy in the United States may be hindered by the limitations of our outdated power grids, which are unsuited for unpredictable energy sources like sunlight and wind, according to Los Angles Times' Evan Halper.

    The current grid system is designed to "keep the supply of power steady and predictable," Halper writes. But energy from renewable sources isn't steady and can't be controlled — a windy day could overload the system, while sudden cloud cover above a solar field would make it hard to keep the lights on.

    From the Los Angeles Times:

    "The grid was not built for renewables," said Trieu Mai, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

    The frailty imperils lofty goals for greenhouse gas reductions. Concerned state and federal officials are spending billions of dollars in ratepayer and taxpayer money in an effort to hasten the technological breakthroughs needed for the grid to keep up with the demands of clean energy.

    Unlike traditional sources of electricity, like oil or coal, green energy is praised because there's no fear of it running out, and it's carbon-neutral, so it doesn't contribute to climate change.

    But without the ability to store energy from wind turbines or solar fields — an extremely costly endeavor — renewable sources will continue to cause issues for the current system:

    Already, power grid operators in some states have had to dump energy produced by wind turbines on blustery days because regional power systems had no room for it. Officials at the California Independent System Operator, which manages the grid in California, say renewable energy producers are making the juggling act increasingly complex.

    "We are getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power," said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a system operator board member.

    This isn't a reason not to invest in green energy, since our aging and over-stretched power grid is already in need of an expensive upgrade.

    "Experts fear failures that caused blackouts in New York, Boston and San Diego may become more common as the voracious demand for power continues to grow,"The Washington Post wrote last August. "They say it will take a multibillion-dollar investment to avoid them."

    Some states, like California, have plans to redesign large networks of electrical lines so they are more compatible with solar- and wind-powered plants, according to the Times, but this won't happen overnight.

    In the meantime, renewable energy has become backburner initiative for suppliers that are simply focused on preventing a grid collapse.

    SEE ALSO: 10 Innovative Energy Sources To Help Break Our Fossil Fuel Addiction

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    Wildlife officials are trying to rescue a pod of pilot whales stranded in the waters near Florida's Everglades National Park on Wednesday, reports NBC6.com. 

    The whales were originally spotted on Tuesday. Around 10 of them were beached and the rest were stuck in nearby shallow waters, according to the report. 

    Six of the beached whales were pushed back into the water, but four died, a park spokeswoman said. 

    It's not clear what's causing the whales to beach themselves, according to CBSMiami. 

    Rangers returned on Wednesday to help the rest of the whales. There are around 20 to 30 in the pod. 

    An aerial video of the stranded whales is below:

    SEE ALSO: 18 Powerful Images Of Mother Nature In Action

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    croatia

    DigitalGlobe has compiled the 20 coolest satellite images from 2013, taken by the company's five Earth-imaging satellites.

    The company is asking fans to vote for their favorite birds-eye views of Earth on its Facebook page

    The top five images with the most "likes" will make it to the final round later this month. The website will announce the winning image in early January 2014.  

    Right now, a medieval fortified palace in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, is in the lead with 572 likes. 

    Check out all of the images here, then head over to the Facebook album to vote for your favorite. 

    The Cambambe Dam on the Cuanza River in southern Africa's Angola. (April 28, 2013)



    A false color image of wildfires in the Australian state of Tasmania. Healthy vegetation is colored red. (Jan. 6, 2013)



    The Citadel of Aleppo, a medieval fortified palace in Syria. If you rotate the picture 180 degrees, the "hole" becomes a "hill," an interesting optical illusion. (May 26, 2013)



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    A ravioli can is no match for hot flowing lava. The hollow metal cylinder is swallowed by a stream of molten rock in seconds in the video above.

    The footage was taken by photographer Brian Lowry on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes. It's located on the Big Island of Hawaii.

    Kilauea has been erupting continuously from a cinder-and-spatter cone named Pu`u `Ō `ō since 1983, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS).

    The temperature of lava can range from 1100°F to to around 2100°F. The USGS writes: "One of the chief threats of lava flows to property owners is that the flows may burn buildings and homes even if the flow doesn't reach the structure."

    To see more of Lowry's adventures among lava flows, which he has been documenting since the early 90s' through pictures and video, head over to his blog lavapix.com.

    SEE ALSO: Two Photographers Risked Their Lives To Get A Never-Before-Seen Shot Of Lava

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    nishinoshima_ali_2013342_lrg

    In late November, an underwater volcanic eruption created a new island around 600 miles south of Tokyo in Japanese waters.

    One of NASA's satellites recently took a snapshot of the tiny island from space — which is still growing after being born on Nov. 20, 2013.  

    According to NASA, the Japan Meteorological Agency said the new island, named Niijima, is now around 13.8 acres, or equivalent to about 10 football fields. The island was initially reported at 660 feet in diameter and officials feared that waves would wash the little mud and rock pile away. But Niijima has held on.  

    In the photo above, taken on Dec. 8, 2013, water around Niijima looks yellow-ish in color due to volcanic minerals and gases and ocean sediments that were kicked up during the eruption. A few white puffs above the island are probably steam, also associated with the eruption, according to NASA.  

    Niijima, the smaller of the two islands in the picture, sits next to another volcanic island, called Nishino-shima, that formed in the early-'70s.

    The Japanese Coast Guard took these aerial shots of Nishino-shima and Niijima in December.

    nishinoshima_aerial_20131201

    niijima_aerial_21031213 (1)

    SEE ALSO: The Most Amazing Satellite Images Of The Year

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    Tiger shark mouth

    Cat Schultz, an intern with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program took this picture, showing the inside of a tiger shark's mouth, as part of an ongoing tagging project off the coast of Florida.

    The tracking study is designed to better understand the migration routes of sharks, so scientists can protect them as their numbers are in decline.

    After the shark was captured, researchers kept its mouth open with a hook while holding it down near the back of a boat on a platform that was partially under the water, Tia Ghose of LiveScience said.

    This was just enough time for Schultz to peer her camera lens inside the predator's mouth and take the shot.

    SEE ALSO: This Is What The Inside Of A Great White Shark Looks Like

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    Camouflage is a wonderful thing. It helps animals hide from predators and catch prey. This built-in protection is key to surviving in the wild. Here are 15 animals who are masters of disguise.  

    A Mediterranean octopus camouflages on the seabed. 

    Octopus

    A common brown looper moth rests on a lichen-covered sandstone.

    ButterflyA leafy seadragon, also known as Glauert's seadragon, blends into a marine plant. 

    seadragon camoA Goldenrod crab spider on a dandelion. 

    spider camoA leopard conceals itself in the tall grass. 

    leopard camo

    A tree lizard looks like the branch it's sitting on. 

    lizard camoA young copperhead snake is difficult to spot in the leaves. 

    Copperhead camo

    A gray tree frog hides on a stone. 

    Frog camo

    A spider disappears into tree bark. 

    Spider camoA venomous green tree pit viper camouflaged on a plant. 

    snake camo

    A western fence lizard blends into tree bark. 

    Western Fence Lizard

    A Devil scorpionfish sitting on the reef. 

    scorpionfishA mountain hare with white fur blends into the snow. 

    rabbit in snow

    A lizard in the background of green leaves in Sri Lanka. 

    Lizard

    A well-hidden green frogfish opens its mouth to the camera. 

    Camo Fish

    SEE ALSO: The Most Amazing Satellite Images Of The Year

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    BeerWhat led early humans to begin cultivating grain some 10,000 years ago?

    It was beer — not bread — a growing body of research shows.  

    Archaeologists have long hinted that Neolithic, or Stone Age, people first began growing and storing grain, like wheat and barley, to turn it into alcohol instead of flour for making bread. The hypothesis was recently revisited by writer Gloria Dawson in the science magazine Nautilus

    A botanist named Jonathan D. Sauer first posed the theory in the early 1950s. Sauer believed early farmers needed more incentive than just food to go through all the effort of planting and harvesting crops despite "the pitiful small return of grain." It was the discovery that "a mash of fermented grain yielded a palatable and nutritious beverage," he suggested, that "acted as a greater stimulant toward the experimental selection and breeding of the cereals than the discovery of flour and bread-making."

    Solomon Katz and Mary Voigt from the University of Pennsylvania added to the argument in the 1980s in a publication titled "Bread and Beer: The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet." People didn't just enjoy the "altered state of awareness" that came from drinking beer, they argued, it was also nutritionally superior to every food in their diet other than animal proteins.

    According to Dawson, one researcher even claims that beer was "safer to drink than water, because the fermentation process killed pathogenic microorganisms." 

    Today, archaeologists continue to probe the role of beer in the domestication of grain. The most recent investigation was carried out by Brian Hayden, an archaeologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada. 

    The earliest evidence of beer-making, Hayden has suggested, can be traced back to the Natufian culture, which pre-dates the Neolithic period that is generally associated with the beginning of farming. The Natufian were hunters and gatherers that inhabited an area in the Eastern Mediterranean called the Levant (which now makes up Syria, Jordan, and Israel) perhaps as early as 13,000 years ago. Archaeological remains found in this region, including grindstones and brewing vessels, are tools that could have potentially been used to make beer.

    Hayden has pushed the idea that cultural factors, not environmental ones, fostered the domestication of grain. Once people understood the effects of alcohol, it became a central part of feasts and other social gatherings that forged bonds between people and inspired creativity. Political discussions could also take place at these get-togethers, which was important in chiseling power structures.  

    "Some evidence suggests that these early brews (or wines) were also considered aids in deliberation,"The New York Times explained. "In long ago Germany and Persia, collective decisions of state were made after a few warm ones, then double-checked when sober. Elsewhere, they did it the other way around."

    "It's not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation,"Hayden told LiveScience back in 2010, "it's this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies." 

    SEE ALSO: 33 Ways To Be Happier

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    stevens__largest no more than 580x630

    A team from New Zealand's Antarctic Heritage Trust recently discovered 100-year-old photographic negatives left in British explorer Robert Falcon Scott's expedition hut on Cape Evans in Antarctica.

    The small wooden hut was built during Scott's 1912 expedition to the South Pole. Scott wanted to be the first person to reach the South Pole, only to find that a Norwegian group had beaten him there. Scott and several of his team members died on the return trip.

    The photos don't come from Scott's expedition — they were taken by members of Ernest Shackleton's Ross Sea party, an expedition that took place between 1914 and 1917. Some members of the party were forced to stay in Scott's hut in 1915 after becoming stranded when their ship, the Aurora, broke free from its mooring at Cape Evans and blew out to sea.

    "One of the most striking images is of Ross Sea Party member Alexander Stevens, Shackleton's Chief Scientist, standing on-board the Aurora," the Trust said in a statement.

    lost antarctic photosTwenty-two unprocessed negatives were found blocked together in a small box in the darkroom of Scott's expedition photographer Herbert Ponting, according to the Trust. It's not known who took the photos.

    It took a painstaking amount of work for a conservator to separate and clean the photos, and though many are damaged, it's possible to make out many of the landmarks around the McMurdo Sound.

    The Antarctic Heritage Trust is responsible for conserving five historic expedition bases in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.

    You can see a full gallery of images online here.

    SEE ALSO: Unreal Photos From Shackleton's 1915 Antarctic Expedition

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    winter storm

    The first major snowstorm of 2014 already looms.

    The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for New York City, Northeast New Jersey, and Southern Westchester County starting Thursday evening and lasting through Friday afternoon.

    Snow is expected to begin falling overnight Wednesday, but the big storm isn't expected to hit until Thursday night, bringing near blizzard conditions, the weather service said.

    For regions in the warning zone, the weather service has forecast 5 to 7 inches of snow falling Thursday evening into Friday morning, with total accumulations of 6 to 8 inches.

    Temperatures are also expected to drop and wind chills "ranging from 15 degrees below zero to around zero will make it feel extremely cold," according to the alert. 

    Here's another map of warnings in New York and the surrounding areas, last updated at 4:43 p.m. ETweather map

    SEE ALSO: Find out which weather app you should use to track the snowstorm

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    Dolphin

    A new documentary series by BBC One, called "Dolphins: Spy in the Pod," reportedly shows young dolphins getting "high" off a nerve toxin released by pufferfish and then passing it around.

    In a widely-circulated quote from The Sunday Times, zoologist Rob Pilley, who worked as a producer for the series, says that the dolphins "are purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating," which led to them to enter a "trance-like state."

    “After chewing the puffer gently and passing it around, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection,” he said.

    The assumption is that the dolphins are deliberately antagonizing the pufferfish and know just the right amount of toxin to ingest to get narcotic benefits.

    It is certainly funny to think of dolphins passing around a pufferfish like a joint, but Discover Science Sushi blogger Christie Wilcox doubts that dolphins are getting stoned.

    "Tetrodotoxin simply doesn’t make sense as a drug," she writes. "Every illicit drug has one thing in common: they alter minds. It’s right there in the definition of narcotic. Tetrodotoxin, however, doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier; it doesn’t change perception or enhance sensation."

    In very small doses, tetrodotoxin can cause numbness and a tingly feeling (which might be considered a "high"), but just a smidgen too much can lead to paralysis or even death, she wrote.

    According to National Geographic, tetrodotoxin is 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. It's more deadly than even the most hard-core recreational drugs, like meth or cocaine. One pufferfish contains enough toxin to kill 30 adult humans.

    Dolphins aren't "crazy enough to take that risk," Wilcox wrote. This probably isn't a common event and it's more logical that the dolphins were caught "paying an uncomfortable price" for harassing a potentially lethal fish.

    To make her point, here's a video from 2012 of three dolphins bouncing around a pufferfish like a toy:

    Dolphin researcher Justin Gregg, on the hand, thinks there could be some truth to this one:

    The series primers on Thursday, and the much talked-about pufferfish scene appears in the second episode.

    SEE ALSO: Dolphins Are Dangerous Animals That Could Rape You And Kill Your Baby

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    StormTotalSnowFcst

    The first major snowstorm of 2014, named Winter Storm Hercules by The Weather Channel, could bring near blizzard conditions and bitter cold temperatures to much of the Northeast starting Thursday night and lasting into Friday.  

    The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for New York City, Northeast New Jersey, and Southern Westchester County and is calling for 4 to 8 inches of snow in these areas, much of it falling overnight. 

    Temperatures are also expected to plummet into the teens tonight and into Friday morning. Low temperatures will make for dry, powdery snow that can easily be blown around by strong winds. This could create whiteout conditions, making travel extremely dangerous. 

    Blizzard warnings have also been issued in Long Island, remaining in effect from 6 p.m. EST tonight to Friday afternoon. Nassau and Suffolk counties can expect 6 to 10 inches of snow, the weather service said. 

    "It's going to be a pretty significant storm, which will cause major travel disruption for a lot of people early in the new year," Dave Houtz, senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel, told NBC News. "Any untreated roads will be a real mess."

    SEE ALSO: Find out which weather app you should use to track the snowstorm

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    StormTotalSnowFcst 2

    A major snowstorm is within a couple hours of sacking New York City and other parts of the eastern United States, with significant accumulations likely to start after 7 p.m

    So you might want to start making your way home from work. The MTA said express subway service will be impacted in anticipation of heavy snow and ice. Several major highways, including the Long Island Expressway and the New York State Thruway south of Albany, will also shut down from midnight Thursday to 5 a.m. on Friday, the New York Times reports

    A winter storm warning is already in effect for for New York City, Northeast New Jersey, and Southern Westchester County and will continue into Friday afternoon. The National Weather Service is calling for 5 to 9 inches of snow in these areas, the majority of it falling overnight. 

    The governors of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have also declared states of emergency. 

    “This is nothing to be trifled with,” New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in conference call with reporters, according to the NY Daily News. “We have learned too well over the past years the power of Mother Nature.”

    Temperatures are also expected to plummet into the teens tonight and into Friday morning. Low temperatures will make for dry, powdery snow that can easily be blown around by strong winds. This could create whiteout conditions, making travel extremely dangerous. 

    Wind chills of zero to 10 degrees below zero are expected late tonight into Friday. 

    Blizzard conditions are also possible for Long Island and the Massachusetts coast, according to the National Weather Service. 

    Here's a map of weather warnings in New York region, last updated a 5:39 p.m. Red areas indicate a blizzard warning and pink means a winter storm warning. 

    Screen Shot 2014 01 02 at 5.39.05 PM
    The major storm will impact areas from the southern Appalachians to New England, with heaviest snow occurring in central New York to the Massachusetts coast, the weather service said.

    From CBS News:

    The National Weather Service said Boston could get close to 3 feet of snow by Saturday evening, while most of Rhode Island could receive more than 2 feet. Connecticut was bracing for 2 feet, and New York City was expecting as much as 14 inches.

    SEE ALSO: Find out which weather app you should use to track the snowstorm

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    BdDVSqACcAAexPt

    A heavy snowstorm and dangerously cold temperatures gripped the northeastern United States on Friday, dumping up to two feet of snow in some places

    Meteorologist Eric Holthaus described the ferocity of the storm system as a "weather bomb," accompanied by a pressure drop of 26 millibars. The lower the pressure, the stronger the winds.

    From the The Daily Beast

    The particularly intense nor'easter that spawned this blizzard has officially entered 'bomb' territory–a technical meteorological definition meaning a rapid deepening of a low pressure system by more than 24 millibars in 24 hours (also, designed to frighten little children into a lifetime of snowy terror). Our blizzard-y friend achieved this mark with room to spare, intensifying from 1012 millibars Thursday morning to 986 millibars at press time, a mere 20 hours later.

    So far, that's been enough to produce tropical storm conditions (sustained 39 mph winds or higher) just offshore New Jersey, New York, and New England for much of the overnight hours. 

    The winter storm that hit the Midwest and Northeast is moving into the Atlantic on Friday, but dangerously cold air is moving behind the system, the National Weather Service said. 

    Forecasts are calling for record-low temperatures on Tuesday morning due to a mass of cold air sweeping down from the North Pole, according to Holthaus.

    Climate Central's Andrew Freedman says that the blast of Arctic air, coming from Canada and Greenland, will drop temperatures to 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below normal in huge parts of the nation. Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston will be particularly affected: 

    Computer model forecasts project low temperatures on Monday night in Washington to drop to near zero, and below zero in Boston and possibly New York City as well. Dayton, Ohio, is likely to see lows from 10-20°F below zero, and parts of Iowa could see temperatures into the minus 30s°F.  

    According the National Weather Service, the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest will experience some of the coldest temperatures with forecasted lows in the -20s across North Dakota and Minnesota and possible wind chills of -55 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday night. 

    The local weather service branch in Minneapolis said that the "upcoming cold air outbreak may challenge several records."

    Meteorologist Ryan Maue tweeted a cool 6-day GIF of temperature anomalies across the country, starting Friday and into Wednesday.

    SEE ALSO: If the cold weather has you down, here are 33 ways to be happier

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    Much of the country is experiencing record-low temperatures following a big winter storm. It's so cold that a building that caught fire in Plattmouth, Neb. on Jan. 3, became encased in ice after the water sprayed on it by firefighters froze. An AP photographer captured an amazing picture of sunlight shining through the windows of the building. (via @MeredithFrost)

    winter weather Nebraska

    SEE ALSO: 100-Year-Old Photo Negatives Were Found In An Antarctic Explorer's Hut

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    As tundra-like temperatures and wind chills as cold as 70 below zero fan out across the country, everyone is blaming the "polar vortex."

    Polar vortexes, though, are nothing new. They occur seasonally at the North Pole, and their formation resembles that of hurricanes in more tropical regions: fast-moving winds build up around a calm center. Unlike a hurricane, these are frigid polar winds, circling the Arctic at more than 100 miles per hour.

    The spinning winds typically trap this cold air in the Arctic. But the problem comes when the polar vortex weakens or splits apart, essentially flinging these cold wind patterns out of the Arctic and into our backyards. NOAA scientists have suggested that warming temperatures in the Arctic may be responsible for the weakening of the polar vortex. When the vortex weakens, it's more likely to break apart and become a factor in our winter weather.

    A 2009 vortex breakdown drove temperatures in parts of the Midwest down to -22F. Here's a NASA illustration of the polar vortex (left) and it splitting in two (right):

    nasa2009vortex1200It won't just feel like Arctic temperatures in parts of the country this week — the weather system is actually Arctic air invading from the north.

    Of course, the idea that the polar vortex is responsible for the current cold snap is a strong theory, not a fact. As NOAA notes: "Many factors, including random chaos in the development of weather patterns, can produce such extreme winter events."

    SEE ALSO: A 'Polar Vortex' Is About To Blast Frigid Air Across The U.S.

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