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Weather Service winter forecast: A bit warmer, but chaotic

WASHINGTON — Expect big swings in weather this winter, government forecasters say.

The National Weather Service says the large global forces that help drive broad patterns of winter weather are weak, which often makes for more dramatic changes in local weather every few weeks.

It also makes it harder to forecast.

“This is not one of our most confident forecasts,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the service’s Climate Prediction Center.

The government predicts there is a slight chance it will be warmer than normal in most of the United States and no place will be colder than normal for December through February.

Thursday’s forecast envisions a wetter than normal winter for a swath of northern states from Montana to New York, dipping south to the northern half of Virginia. It also said there would be drier than normal spots in central and northern California and eastern Texas, Louisiana, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi.

Halpert said this year is hard to predict because there’s no El Nino or La Nina in the central Pacific.

Those are often key drivers of winter weather. That leaves things up to other global climate factors, ones that can flip every few weeks. Those often lead to dramatic weather swings, Halpert said.

Forecasters do have high confidence in one forecast: It is expected to be wetter and hotter in Alaska and Hawaii.

Last year’s winter forecast of warmer than normal turned out to be wrong, Halpert acknowledged.

However, since the mid 1990s the government’s annual winter outlooks are 30 to 35% more accurate on temperature than random guesses, he said.

Private weather companies predict quite a different winter.

AccuWeather sees a late start to winter in the Northeast but says it’ll get stormy once it starts, with above normal snowfall from New York City to Boston. It forecasts Arctic cold in the mid-winter for the Upper Midwest, a wet Southeast and mild temperatures in Florida. It also sees variable weather from Texas to Montana, rain and mountain snow in much of the west and mild temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.

The Weather Company sees colder temperatures from Montana to Maine, south almost to Maryland, and a warm Southwest.

It predicts about the same precipitation patterns as the weather service.

Judah Cohen, a winter weather expert at Atmospheric Environmental Research who incorporates the extent of Siberian snow cover into his forecasts, sees a cold start to winter and late fall in the East but said those snaps will be short lived.

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at https://twitter.com/borenbears

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


U.S. hails Turkish cease-fire

ANKARA, Turkey — The U.S. and Turkey agreed Thursday to a cease-fire in the Turks’ deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, requiring the Kurds to vacate the area in an arrangement that largely solidifies Turkey’s position and aims in the weeklong conflict. The deal includes a conditional halt to American economic sanctions.

After negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hailed the five-day cease-fire as the way to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey’s invasion. He remained silent on whether it amounted to a second abandonment of America’s former Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP  

Vice President Mike Pence poses for a photo after speaking Friday to troops at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after President Donald Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. military from the area. Trump was widely criticized for turning on the Kurds, who had taken heavy casualties as partners with the U.S. in fighting IS extremists since 2016.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the United States had accepted the idea of a “safe zone” long pushed by Turkey, and he insisted Turkish armed forces will control the zone. He also made clear that Turkey will not stop at a previously limited zone; he said Turkish control of the Syrian side of the border must extend all the way to the Iraqi border.

The commander of Kurdish-led forces in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, told Kurdish TV, “We will do whatever we can for the success of the cease-fire agreement.” But one Kurdish official, Razan Hiddo, declared that Kurdish people would refuse to live under Turkish occupation.

Trump had no reservations, hailing “a great day for civilization.”

“Everybody agreed to things that three days ago they would have never agreed to,” he told reporters. “That includes the Kurds. The Kurds are now much more inclined to do what has to be done. Turkey is much more inclined to do what has to be done.”

Trump seemed to endorse the Turkish aim of ridding the Syrian side of the border of the Kurdish fighters whom Turkey deems to be terrorists but who fought against IS on behalf of the U.S. “They had to have it cleaned out,” he said.

Leading U.S. lawmakers were less pleased than Trump.

Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2012, said he welcomed the cease-fire but wanted to know what America’s role in the region would be and why Turkey was facing no consequences for its invasion.

“Further, the cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally,” he said on the Senate floor.

It was not clear whether the deal means the U.S. military will play a role in enabling or enforcing the cease-fire. Pence said the U.S. would “facilitate” the Kurds’ pullout, but he did not say if that would include the use of American troops.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

As Pence was speaking in Ankara, U.S. troops were continuing to board aircraft leaving northern Syria. Officials said a couple of hundred had already departed, with hundreds more consolidated at a few bases waiting to move out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant who has criticized the president’s pullout, said he thinks U.S. troops will be needed as part of an effort to implement and enforce a halt to the fighting. “There’s just no way around it,” he said. “We need to maintain control of the skies” and work with the Kurds.

While the cease-fire seemed likely to temporarily slow legislation in Congress aimed at punishing Turkey and condemning Trump’s U.S. troop withdrawal, lawmakers gave no sign of completely dropping the measures.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP  

Vice President Mike Pence arrives Friday to speak to troops at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

Shortly before the announcement of the pause in hostilities, Graham and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced legislation that would bar U.S. military aid to Turkey, seek to curb foreign arms sales to Ankara and impose sanctions on top Turkish officials unless Turkey withdraws its forces. Those sanctions would include a report on Erdogan’s family assets.

In contrast with Pence’s description of a limited safe zone, the agreement would effectively create a zone of control patrolled by the Turkish military that Ankara wants to stretch for the entire border from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, though the agreement did not define the extent of the zone. Turkish forces currently control about a quarter of that length, captured in the past nine days.

The rest is held by the Kurdish-led forces or by the Syrian government military, backed by Russia, which the Kurds invited to move in to shield them from the Turks. None of those parties has much reason to let Turkish forces into the areas.

Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

In fact, Turkey’s foreign minister rejected the term “cease-fire,” saying that would be possible only with a legitimate second party. He suggested a “pause” in fighting instead.

Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who took part in the negotiations, lauded the deal. A senior administration official said the American team sensed a breakthrough, after listening to Erdogan repeatedly reject a ceasefire, when the Turkish president finally asked how long it would take to get the Kurdish fighters out of the so-called safe zone. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations, said the U.S. was in touch with the Kurds throughout the negotiations, including about the speed of the withdrawal and the need for a halt in Kurdish long-range artillery fire into Turkey.

But the agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation in the first place. After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent cease-fire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops. In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions the administration had imposed and threatened to increase, meaning there will be no penalty for the operation.

Brett McGurk, the former civilian head of the administration’s U.S.-led counter-IS campaign, wrote on Twitter that Thursday’s deal was a gift to the Turks.

“The US just ratified Turkey’s plan to effectively extend its border 30km into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground,” he wrote, adding that the arrangement was “non-implementable.”

Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted, “This is a respite while we surrender to Turkish domination of Northeast Syria.”

Erdogan had stated on Wednesday that he would be undeterred by U.S. sanctions. He said the fighting would end only if Kurdish fighters abandoned their weapons and retreated from positions near the Turkish border.

Before the talks, the Kurds indicated they would object to any agreement along the lines of what was announced by Pence. But Pence maintained that the U.S. had obtained “repeated assurances from them that they’ll be moving out.”

Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops has been widely condemned, including by Republican officials not directly associated with his administration. Republicans and Democrats in the House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together Wednesday for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Trump has denied that his action provided a “green light” for Turkey to move against the longtime U.S. battlefield partners or that he was opening the way for a revival of the Islamic State group, new Russian influence in the region and increased worldwide doubts about U.S. faithfulness to its allies.

The White House released a letter on Wednesday in which Trump warned Erdogan that the sanctions could destroy his economy and that the world “will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

While Erdogan, too, heard global condemnation for his invasion, he also faced renewed nationalistic fervor at home, and any pathway to de-escalation likely needed to avoid embarrassing him domestically.

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AP National Security Writer Robert Burns reported from Washington. AP writers Deb Riechmann, Alan Fram, Darlene Superville, Lolita C. Baldor, Jill Colvin, Kevin Freking and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Washington.


Big Idea Hastings returns Nov. 5

Hastings Tribune

Of everything Maggie Vaughan does each year as director of talent solutions for Hastings Economic Development Corp., planning Big Idea Hastings is her favorite activity.

“It’s my favorite event to plan each year because of the people, their creativity,” she said.

Big Idea Hastings — HEDC’s pitch contest — returns 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 5 at The Lark, 809 W. Second St. This is the fourth year, third consecutive year for the event.

The deadline to submit ideas to inspiredbyhastings.com/bigidea is Oct. 23 at midnight. The time was changed to appeal to procrastinators.

“It’s been at 5 p.m. in the past but I feel like sometimes we always get a lot right up until 5 p.m.,” Vaughan said.

Finalists will be notified by Oct. 25 if they will be pitching on Nov. 5.

Depending on the number of submissions received, there will be eight to 12 participants on Nov. 5.

Each participant has two minutes to make a pitch, followed by a question and answer interaction with the panel of five judges. The judges determine the five finalists.

A popular vote determines first, second and third place within the finalists.

The first place finalist receives $1,000 from HEDC, second place receives $500 from Hastings College and third place receives $250 from the Central Community College Small Business Institute.

All five of the finalists will receive a local business resource package.

“We work hand-in-hand with them after the event is over to figure out what their needs are and what some challenges may be as they move forward,” Vaughan said.

Pitches don’t necessarily need to be brand new ideas, Vaughan said.

A successful pitch may just be for something located elsewhere that could work in Hastings.

Vaughan said the event is inspiring every year because it provides a glimpse into what the future of Hastings may look like.

She said Big Idea Hastings encourages creativity and innovation within the community.

“It makes it obvious Hastings is willing to help whoever with whatever idea they may have,” she said.

There’s a lot of positive energy when it comes to entrepreneurship in Hastings, Vaughan said, and that fits with Big Idea Hastings.

“It’s an awesome event for the community to rally around because it’s creative and innovative, but it’s also making locals aware of the cool ideas our people have,” she said.