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The Star Online: World Updates

U.S. Midwest, Northeast brace for Arctic blast, record lows

Posted: 04 Jan 2014 07:10 PM PST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Many parts of the U.S. Midwest braced for a blast of Arctic air this weekend that could bring some of the coldest temperatures in two decades before advancing to the Northeast, where residents are still digging out from a deadly snowstorm.

Starting Sunday, the deep freeze will be felt in the northern U.S. plains, including North and South Dakota, and through the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley, according to the National Weather Service.

It will be some of the coldest weather to grip the region in two decades, with blizzard conditions expected in the Central Plains and Great Lakes regions, forecasters said.

"The last really big Arctic outbreak was 1994," said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. "Outbreaks like this don't occur every day."

In northeastern Canada, about 110,000 customers were without power due to a transformer fire on Saturday linked to heavy snow, government officials and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro said.

The push of Arctic air could bring record low temperatures from Montana to Michigan, before moving the Northeast, where it will arrive by early Tuesday, forecasters said.

Temperatures in Chicago could drop to about minus 20 (minus 29 Celsius). Pittsburgh could see temperatures about 11 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 24 Celsius) by early Tuesday.

Temperatures were forecast to fall to 30 below in parts of the north central United States early Sunday morning, and in Grand Forks, North Dakota, wind chills were expected to exceed 50 below. A high of 19 below is forecast for Sunday.

"You grin and bear it and bundle up," said Rachel Osowski, a clerk at Hugo's Supermarket in Grand Forks. "You have to survive and function, you can't let the weather stop you."

In such conditions, frostbite can set in on exposed skin within five minutes, forecasters warned.


Preparing for the dangerous weather, officials in several states asked residents to use extra precautions when outdoors.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has ordered all public schools in the state closed on Monday to protect children from dangerously cold weather.

Chicago schools will be open Monday despite the cold but officials advised parents to "use their own discretion in deciding whether to send their child to school."

In Pittsburgh, the transition team for Mayor-elect Bill Peduto said his inauguration ceremony on Monday would be moved from the steps of the local government building to an indoor venue because of the weather.

Officials in Kentucky, which could see up to 8 inches (20 cm) of snow and freezing temperatures, were warning people to avoid road travel and stay indoors.

"If you don't need to be out, stay in, stay home," said Buddy Rogers, spokesman for Kentucky Emergency Management.

Schools will remain closed in Nashville, Tennessee, until Wednesday, a day after winter break was supposed to end, local officials said.

The storm comes on the heels of a massive weather system that slammed the U.S. Midwest and Northeast just after New Year's Day, causing several deaths, grounding thousands of flights and forcing schools and government offices to close.


At the Best Western motel in Bemidji, Minnesota, some drivers stopped for the night because of the cold, connecting their cars to special heaters to keep the engines from freezing, said motel manager Monica Horn.

A total of 1,266 flights were cancelled across the United States and 6,036 flights delayed on Saturday, with Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey among the most affected, according to tracking firm

Molly Cox, in New York City for New Year's Eve, said she missed her Friday night flight home to Denver because LaGuardia Airport was "a disaster."

"With all the cancellations, all of the airlines seem to be having this kind of chaos," she said.

Boston was especially hard-hit by the first major storm of 2014, logging about 18 inches (45 cm) of snow on Friday, while some towns north of New England's largest city were dealing with close to 2 feet (60 cm) of accumulated snow.

But life has begun to return to normal in Boston. The city lifted its snow emergency at 5 p.m. on Friday.

New York City got about 7 inches (18 cm) of snow on Friday and was slammed with overnight air temperatures hovering under the freezing mark. Washington received more than 2 inches (5 cm) of snow in the storm, Philadelphia roughly 5 inches (13 cm) and Hartford, Connecticut 7 inches (18 cm). (U.S. snowfall:


In Green Bay, Wisconsin, the temperature plummeted to minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 28 C) on Friday, breaking a record for the date set in 1979, according to the National Weather Service.

With the new frigid air moving in, a National Football League wild card playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Green Bay's Lambeau Field was expected to rank among the coldest matches on record, local officials said.

Some 40,000 tickets to the game have been sold, according to the Packers.

High-tech equipment, vigilant medical care and perhaps even chicken soup will be on tap to combat the Arctic conditions, Dr. Matthew J. Matava, head team doctor for the St. Louis Rams and president of the National Football League Physicians Society, told Reuters.

"A lot of sidelines will have warm chicken broth available. It tastes good, it's going to be warm and help warm them internally. It contains electrolytes and the sodium chloride (salt) helps replenish electrolytes you lose in sweat," Matava said.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, David Jones in Newark, New Jersey, Daniel Lovering in Boston, Dave Warner in Philadelphia, Tim Ghianni in Nashville, Karen Pierog in Chicago and Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Nick Zieminski, Gunna Dickson and Dan Grebler)

U.S. breaker to help Russian, Chinese ships stuck in Antarctic ice

Posted: 04 Jan 2014 04:50 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is sending a heavy icebreaker to help free a Russian ship and a Chinese icebreaker gripped by Antarctic ice, the Coast Guard said on Saturday.

The Polar Star is responding to a request for assistance from Australian authorities as well as from the Russian and Chinese governments, the Coast Guard statement said.

"The U.S. Coast Guard stands ready to respond to Australia's request," Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander Vice Admiral Paul Zukunft said. "Our highest priority is safety of life at sea, which is why we are assisting in breaking a navigational path for both of these vessels."

Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy said the Polar Star was expected to arrive on the scene on January 12 and take two to three days to complete its mission.

"You're looking at the Antarctic, which is a challenge in itself. You have weather and you have ice," Conroy said in a phone interview. "But our crews are very well trained and we expect to be successful in this mission."

A Chinese icebreaker that helped rescue 52 passengers from a Russian ship stranded in Antarctic ice found itself stuck in heavy ice on Friday.

A helicopter from the Snow Dragon ferried the passengers from the stranded Russian ship to an Australian icebreaker late on Thursday. The Chinese vessel now had concerns about its own ability to move through heavy ice, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

The Russian-owned research ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, left New Zealand on November 28 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

It became trapped on December 24, 100 nautical miles east of French Antarctic station Dumont d'Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Tasmania.

During their time on the ice, passengers amused themselves with movies, classes in knot tying, languages, yoga and photography, and rang in the New Year with dinner, drinks and a song their adventure.

The Coast Guard's Polar Star is 399 feet (120 meters) long with a maximum speed of 18 knots. It can continuously break 6 feet (1.8 meters) of ice at three knots, and can break 21 feet (6.4 meters) of ice backing and ramming, the Coast Guard said.

The Polar Star has cut short its planned stop in Sydney to conduct the mission. It left its home port of Seattle in early December on "Operation Deep Freeze," to break a channel through the sea ice of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica to resupply and refuel the U.S. Antarctic Program's McMurdo Station on Ross Island.

Kerry sees progress on Israeli-Palestinian framework deal

Posted: 04 Jan 2014 02:40 PM PST

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians are making progress towards a "framework agreement" to guide their talks on a formal peace deal but still have some way to go, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday.

Speaking after extensive, separate talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, Kerry sounded somewhat hopeful about the chances of ending the conflict, despite misgivings voiced recently by both sides and a lack of tangible signs of movement.

On his 10th visit to the region in a year, Kerry is trying to establish what U.S. officials call a "framework" of general guidelines for an accord, with details to be filled in later.

"I am confident that the talks we have had in the last two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others," he said after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We are not there yet, but we are making progress," Kerry told reporters in Ramallah, seat of Abbas' government.

Since arriving in the region on Thursday, Kerry has spent about eight hours in talks with Abbas and, after a roughly four-hour and 40-minute session in Jerusalem on Saturday night, more than 12 hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed last July after a three-year halt, with Kerry leading the push despite widespread scepticism about a successful outcome.

Kerry said he would fly to Jordan and Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss with their rulers the peace talks, which the United States hopes will lead to an agreement within nine months.


Broad Arab support is viewed as crucial if the Palestinians are to make the compromises likely to prove necessary to strike a peace deal with Israel. Kerry also said he plans to meet a group of Arab foreign ministers next weekend.

On arrival in Jerusalem on Thursday, Kerry said the framework he was trying to build would aim to address all of the conflict's core issues, including borders, security, the future of Palestinian refugees and the fate of Jerusalem.

Both sides have expressed doubts about his efforts.

On Saturday Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a Netanyahu confidant, questioned Abbas's intentions.

"We have great doubt about Abu Mazen's (Abbas) willingness to reach an agreement," he told a town hall meeting. "We see the strong incitement and anti-Semitism of the Palestinian Authority led by (Abbas) as a main obstacle on the road to an agreement."

Palestinian protesters in Ramallah on Friday condemned the U.S. Secretary of State's efforts, chanting "Kerry, you coward, there's no place for you in Palestine!"

One woman angrily wagged her finger at Kerry's motorcade as it swept through the city on Saturday afternoon.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat urged Israel to stop building Jewish settlements on occupied land the Palestinians want for a state and to halt house demolitions, which rights groups view as a form of collective punishment.

But Erekat, standing beside Kerry in Ramallah, also made a case for peace directly to the Palestinians and he suggested that Kerry could return to the region later this month.

"No one benefits more from the success of Secretary Kerry's efforts than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more (from) failure than Palestinians," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Nidal Al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Gareth Jones and Rosalind Russell)


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