January 11, 2013

Drought strikes corn and wheat products across the US.     Photo: Out.of.Focus/Flickr

USDA Declares Wheat Belt Disaster Area

Persistent drought pummels crops

The federal government has declared natural disaster areas in four main wheat-producing states as persistent drought continues to batter the plains region. The four states—Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas—produce about 30 percent of the country's wheat crop, 70 percent of which is winter wheat.

About 60 percent of the U.S. has been stuck in a state of drought since last summer. With crop outlooks down, grain prices have soared, and dealers are warning of further price shocks with wheat.

"This is the worst that I have ever seen it and I have worked at the co-op for 43 years," said Rosie Meier, a grain dealer in Great Bend, Kansas. The last time central Kansas saw a good dowsing was in April last year. "If things don't turn around we would probably only get 20 percent of the crop," Meier said.

Last year was the hottest on record for the continental U.S., causing severe drought in the Midwest, which produces much of the nation's corn and soy beans.

Via The Guardian

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Boeing Dreamliner on the ground in Tokyo     Photo: Kentaro Ietmoto@Tokyo

FAA to Review Boeing Dreamliner Design

Safety malfunctions spark concern

The Federal Aviation Administration will conduct a full review of Boeing's troubled 787 Dreamliner following the discovery of two new safety issues with the aircraft. On Friday, a spiderweb-like crack developed in the windshield of an All Nippon Airways plane while it was preparing to land. The same day, another Dreamliner operated by the airline was discovered to be leaking oil from its engine.

Despite the problems, FAA officials quoted in The Guardian say there's no indication that the planes are inherently dangerous.

The FAA chief Michael Huerta promised "whatever technical resources necessary" for the review of an aircraft which is already worth 10 of billions of dollars in U.S. export orders. "Our focus is developing a complete picture. Nothing we have seen so far suggests it is not safe."

He added: "It's an extremely important airplane—we care about maintaining public confidence that it is safe.... [It's] an incredibly fuel efficient airplane—it represents the future where aviation needs to advance."

Some 11 malfunctions for the aircraft have been reported so far, from the engines to the internal wiring, though none have yet been responsible for any injuries. The carbon-composite Dreamliners, which are the most fuel-efficient airliners made by Boeing, have logged about 50,000 flight hours so far.

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Heavenly Ski Resort     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Missing Snowboarder Spent Night at Hotel

Search amounted to $40k

In what is being called a "very expensive mistake," a Heavenly Mountain snowboarder whom search and rescue had sought through the night was found at the Horizon Casino Resort hotel with an "acquaintance."

The brother of 24-year-old Corey Hoffman reported him missing at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday due to a miscommunication and the "consumption of alcohol." After meeting at a bar, his brother thought Hoffman had returned to the mountain and continued skiing. Hoffman did not know that he had been reported missing.

Douglas and El Dorado Counties' Search and Rescue teams assisted the Heavenly Ski Patrol, contending with high winds and avalanche danger.

The search for Hoffman involved 75 personnel from several jurisdictions, volunteer organizations, two helicopters and cost an estimated $40,000, the sheriff’s office said.

Nevada Office of Emergency Management would foot much of the rescue bill along with Douglas County and Washoe County giving assistance, [Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Paul Howell] said.

The Howell brothers and their father have all apologized.

Via Reno Gazette-Journal

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    Photo: adKinn/Flickr

'NY Times' Disbands Environment Desk

Staff members to keep jobs

In 2009, The New York Times created its environment desk. Edited by Sandy Keenan, the desk had a staff of nine (two editors, seven reporters) and also oversaw the Green Blog. Less than four years later, it’s being disbanded. 

The executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists, Beth Parke called the announcement a "worrying" sign.

Dean Baquet, managing editor for news operations, offered reassurance that the move did not indicate a lessened commitment to climate and environmental reporting.

It wasn't a decision we made lightly. To both me and Jill [Abramson, executive editor], coverage of the environment is what separates The New York Times from other papers. We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter.

Baquet maintains that all staff members will keep their jobs; they’ll just be relocated to other sections of the paper over the next few weeks. The future of the Green Blog, however, is yet to be determined. "My goal is to make sure we're producing the same level of work," Baquet said. It "is too important of a topic to let it slip."

Via The Guardian

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    Photo: J L Gao

3 Russian Climbers Killed in Avalanche

One survivor rescued

Several Russian climbers were found dead in an avalanche on one of the highest peaks in the Caucasus Mountains on Friday. The group of four set out on January 2 to begin their ascent of Georgia's Mount Kazbek, climbing over 16,000 feet. A child who was part of the group survived, and is being treated for frostbite. Bad weather initially hindered recovery of the bodies, which have since been brought to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Via Bloomberg

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