From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for November 2011

WATCH: 360 days of sky, all in a giant time-lapse mosaic

November 18, 2011 - 01:41 PM
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It's quite an artistic statement to take 360 consecutive days and smack an audience upside the head with them as one mondo package. That's what San Francisco's Ken Murphy has done, using a camera mounted on the roof of the Exploratorium that recorded images of the sky every 10 seconds for a year.

The result is Murphy's "A History of the Sky." The eye-boggling video, which looks like a flickering bathroom-wall mosaic, shows the days passing from dawn to dusk, each in its own neat little compartment. (A few days were shaved off of the total of 365 for the sake of a clean rectangle.) The first day at the top left is July 29, 2009, and the last of the sequence at lower right is from late July, 2010. The days are synchronized so that the passing hours are the same, although the weather conditions vary from cloudy to windy to calm to foggy to rain-sodden. A few humans even make a brief appearance at lower left to celebrate the city's Fleet Week.

Keeping track of it all is like trying to mentally inhale in one gulp the wildly blipping screens of the New York Stock Exchange. But it's a pleasant exercise nonetheless. Watch "A History of the Sky" below. Here's Murphy's artist-statement-of-sorts if you'd like a read (more interesting time-lapse projects are posted on his blog):

Time-lapse movies are compelling because they give us a glimpse of events that are continually occurring around us, but at a rate normally far too slow to for us to observe directly. A History of the Sky enables the viewer to appreciate the rhythms of weather, the lengthening and shortening of days, and other atmospheric events on an immediate aesthetic level: the clouds, fog, wind, and rain form a rich visual texture, and sunrises and sunsets cascade across the screen....

This will also be an active piece. The camera will continue to collect images and integrate them with the montage daily. The visualization will therefore vary from day to day, and will always display the most recent 365 days.

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Record-breaking low temperatures in Alaska

November 18, 2011 - 12:11 PM
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(Credit: Mark Brennan)

A Public Information Statement out of Fairbanks, Alaska, showed that the high temperature on the Nov. 17 only reached -30°F. This breaks the previous record low high temperature of -19°F set back in 1904.

This was also the 2nd earliest occurrence on record of a -30°F high temperature, with the earliest being Nov. 9, 1989.

The low on the 17th was -41°F, which also broke the record of -39°F set back in 1969. The record low for the 18th was also broken, as it sat at -36°F and the record was -33°F set back in 1969. The record low high for today is -19° which may also be broken. Check here to monitor the temperature in Fairbanks throughout the day.

Just how cold is it there? Check this out:

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Manta rays facing extinction threat: Study

November 18, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Scuba divers know that there is rarely a bigger thrill than meeting a giant manta ray face to mouth lobes. These sprawling carpets of fish flesh can weigh more than a ton and measure 25 feet between the wingtips, yet they are exceedingly gentle, content to munch on plankton and perform somersaults for the amusement of humans. Ecotourists spend more than $100 million yearly to observe these Heavy Ds of the deep, whose habitat ranges all over the world wherever coral reefs are abundant.

That's why it's so disappointing to see that both species of manta, the huge M. birostris and the smaller M. alfredi, have been placed on the "Red List" of threatened species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Previously considered "Near Threatened," a new biological study by the IUCN has determined that the mantas have become "Vulnerable" and now face a "high risk of extinction in the wild." It seems that their slow reproductive cycles – it takes about a year for a mom manta to birth a pup – can't keep up with the pace of the modern fishing industry.

Manta Ray of Hope - Teaser 1080p from Blue Sphere Media on Vimeo.

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Wind takes portable toilet for a ride in Alaska (VIDEO)

November 17, 2011 - 03:27 PM
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In case you were wondering, the StormWatch 7 blog is not above posting about toilet humor. Here's hoping nobody was using that Porta-Potty, or Tidy John, or P-Pot, or whatever you want to call it when the winds came calling yesterday near Eagle River, Alaska, north of Anchorage. Gusts ranging between 75 and 100 m.p.h. were in the forecast for Prince William Sound on Wednesday. That toilet might've been the last place in the open to hide from wind chills sinking to minus 40 degrees.

Video courtesy of KTUU's Rick Schlyer. If you're having trouble viewing it below, or simply don't want to sit through the commercial, check out the original here.

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Bob Ryan's look at weather extremes: Is a potent winter ahead?

November 17, 2011 - 12:16 PM
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It started with thundersnow and ended with a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm in New England. And in between, a series of floods, thunderstorms, hurricanes and heatwaves characterized one of the most active extreme weather years in recent memory.

In all, we have seen $50 billion worth of weather disasters in the United States in 2011, and it's leaving experts and observers to wonder if this is the new normal.

Whatever you think the reason for it is, the surface of the earth is rapidly warming – almost two degrees in the last 100 years. Even skeptics have accepted this. It's certainly hard to ignore the seemingly endless chain of severe weather events across the nation this year.

After the January storm that crippled D.C.'s infrastructure, we had record snowstorms in Philadelphia, New England and Chicago.

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The climate-change show that's too hot for American TV?

November 17, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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If you enjoyed the award-snatching nature documentaries Planet Earth and Blue Planet, the equivalent of nine-course banquets for the retinas (especially in HD!), then chances are you've been watching Frozen Planet on the Discovery Channel. Produced by Discovery, the BBC and the Open University, the documentary provides the "ultimate polar expedition," says the BBC, and shows the Arctic and Antarctic "as you have never seen them before."

Or will never see, period, as it happens in this case. The BBC has packaged Frozen Planet so that international networks can purchase the first six episodes in one block. These episodes deal with stuff like the buffoonery of Adelie penguins and killer-whale hunting behavior. Then, if the networks so choose, they can buy the seventh and final episode. It just so happens this one covers climate change, a sensitive topic for many networks. You won't be seeing this episode in the United States, due to a "scheduling conflict" by the Discovery Channel, although parts of it will be edited into the sixth episode for American consumption.

It seems weird to divide the series this way. After all, the final episode, "On Thin Ice," is the coda for the series; without it, viewers might not understand the reason for making the documentary. Consider this quote from Alastair Fothergill, executive producer: “This ultimate polar expedition will show many filming firsts and reveal the frozen wildernesses of the Arctic and Antarctica as never seen before – and which may never be seen again." (My emphasis.) Or this one from academic consultant Mark Brandon: “Having carried out scientific research in the polar regions for many years and been on location with the Frozen Planet team, I know firsthand just how unique this frozen wilderness is – and how fragile."

Drama dashes can be forgiven, as these guys are trying to make a point. That is that the polar regions and all their wonderful wildlife might not be around for much longer if the climate keeps warming up. Isn't that important enough to warrant airing the full episode? Doing it the current way seems like running a documentary on the wonders of a lush, mountaintop ecosystem without noting that bulldozers are coming through the next day to clear the land for strip mining. Or as Greenpeace's flack put it, "It’s a bit like pressing the stop button on Titanic just as the iceberg appears."

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Live Chat today on the science of Storm Chasing

November 16, 2011 - 03:27 PM
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Tornadoes taking apart the South piece by piece: La, Ala, Ga...

November 16, 2011 - 02:59 PM
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Nature really has an effective wake-up service. A strong band of thunderstorms moving across the Deep South early this morning poured out a number of suspected tornadoes, jolting residents from dreamworld into full alertness in a matter of milliseconds.

In Louisiana's swampy St. Helena Parish, a probably twister that formed at 3 a.m. lifted a two-story house from its foundation and moved it 10 to 15 feet away. Amazingly, the family trying to catch some shuteye inside the house escaped unharmed. Here are the money quotes from the Associated Press report, plus a photo of the newly minted fixer-upper:

"Like a big gust of wind, like something I've never heard before," Stephanie Blauvelt said. "I can't believe I even knew to do this, but I ran into the shower."

Her boyfriend made a mad dash through the house with her to the bathroom.

"So, we're all panicking and I feel, never felt it before, but I feel myself get lifted and we're spinning and I'm screaming for him and finally, about a minute later. It didn't last long at all. I get out and we walk out. The lights are out and we can't see anything," Blauvelt explained.

After this fireworks-and-marching-band-worthy debut of the storm, residents of the South began reporting a whole host of tornadic activity. From the Storm Prediction Center's litany of reports: windows blown out in Terrebonne, La.; a "wide swatch" of trees pushed down in Marion, Miss.; four people injured in a wind-battered home in Jones, Miss.; an overturned boat in Demopolis, Ala.; a roof blown off a house in Lawrence, Ala. A tree blasted by powerful gusts fell and killed a man in Georgia, where more than three-quarters of the state is still under tornado watches.

All this damage is being spawned by a cold front moving over the country toward the Mid-Atlantic. One long-track supercell in particular could be responsible for a line of carnage beginning in Louisiana and stretching toward Atlanta. Take a look at the storm reports from today (hat tip to WCNC's Brad Panovich for tweeting this graphic):

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Pop quiz: What's the difference between 'rain' and 'showers'?

November 16, 2011 - 12:52 PM
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It's a dismally damp day in D.C., and the weather forecast reflects that: Expect "periods of rain and showers" throughout the afternoon and evening. But wait – isn't it a little redundant to say that? Don't rain and showers amount to the same thing, meaning wet stuff that falls from the sky and sometimes from the roofs of Metro cars, too?

Actually, no. The key difference between the two terms is that rain is a form of precipitation, whereas showers is one of several terms used to describe what the precipitation is doing. "Showers" falls into the same category as "patches," "shallow" and "freezing," words you can stick in front of "rain" or "snow" to give people a better idea of the nature of the precipitation outdoors. Take a look at this table showing the METAR aviation codes for rain (RA) and showers (SH) among other things:

difference between rain and showers

"Showers," however, does imply a few things about the rain. Ready to geek out over weather terminology? LET'S DO THIS.

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WATCH: Strong wind blows aircraft away

November 16, 2011 - 12:21 PM
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Now this can't be right... I remember parking my plane right here.

This is what happens when strong gusts of wind conspire with a lousy tie-down job at the local airport. The video, reportedly from the Black Sea town of Gelendzhik, Russia, shows an unmanned light aircraft performing an unplanned vertical takeoff. Explains random Internet commenter eldryn: "Note to pilot: when parking your next airplane, be sure to have the control stick/wheel full forward, or at least locked in a neutral position. The elevators were in a climb position. And climb it did...." What happened afterward to the aircraft-turned-kite is not shown, but one can safely assume it had a hard landing.

In the eternal battle of Humanity v. Weather, mankind loses once again.

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A look ahead to the weekend weather

November 16, 2011 - 06:05 AM
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It's a damp and dreary Wednesday with 1 to 2 inches of rain expected, so let's take a peak at how our weather pattern shifts for the weekend.  Cooler air is on the move and will drop temperatures over the next few days, but as a high pressure system moves offshore, a southwesterly flow will setup (again) over the weekend, and this will cause temperatures to rebound Saturday into Sunday. 

As of now, I'm expecting a chilly start to the weekend with Saturday morning lows near freezing, but vast sunshine and southwesterly winds will allow high temperatures to reach the mid 50s by the early afternoon, which is normal for this time of year.  Sunday morning should be seasonable with temperatures in the upper 30s, however, afternoon temperatures could spike even higher than anticipated. 

I've seen this type of weather pattern many times, and our computer models/simulations often have a tough time with this kind of temperature transition this time of year, so I think that our forecast of 62 degrees Sunday afternoon is rather conservative.  Should the forecast change, it would likely be in the direction of warmer temperatures.  Otherwise, expect partly cloudy skies and a pleasant Sunday.  I'd say the weekend looks agreeable - enjoy!

As always, I post updates and answer questions on Facebook and Twitter.

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Huge mystery structures in China's desert: What the heck?

November 16, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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A top-secret military installation? A long-range radar station? A late embrace of Land Art?

The fact that China is building massively-sized structures in its Kumtag Desert and nobody seems to have a clue why is both fascinating and more than a little worrisome.

News of this ominous development in the wastelands of northwest China surfaced this week on reddit when somebody noticed the oddities on Google Maps, although watchers have pointed out the weird formations since 2009. The Danger Room's Noah Shachtman notes that an imaging satellite has repeatedly focused in on the area, suggesting that the authorities are keeping a close eye on these things. As they probably should.

The above monolith, located near the border of Mongolia, seems designed to provoke extreme anxiety in anyone who's not Chinese. (View it on Google Maps.) What is the meaning of this crazy, mile-long patchwork of precisely drawn lines? Internet speculation has touched on everything from a calibration device for spy satellites to an army target-practice range to a "QR code for aliens." Some folks thinks it's just China's attempt to mess with the heads and wallets of Western powers, as the CIA is rumored to have done with the Soviets by planting false reports of military advances in American magazines.

I would add in the possibility that it's the world's killingest ATV course. But even if that's true, what in Chairman Mao's name is this one?

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October 2011: 2nd warmest land temperatures in known history

November 15, 2011 - 03:25 PM
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Sweating and panting right on the heels of the second warmest summer in U.S. history came a frantically feverish October, according to a new analysis from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. While temperatures over land and sea made the month the eighth hottest on record, land temperatures alone were 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit above average, establishing the month as the second warmest October ever monitored. (Margin of error: plus/minus 0.20 degrees.)

Regions that had prime spots under the heat lamp include Alaska, Canada and most of Europe and Russia. Especially Russia: As evident in the above map from NOAA (larger), the mercury there crept up to 9 degrees above average. The extent of the Arctic sea ice was also exceedingly limited at 23.5 percent below average; NOAA ranks the ice shelf as the second smallest for an October since records began in 1979. The effects of a persevering La Niña helped keep the waters of the Pacific Ocean cool in places, although parts of the north Pacific steamed up to above-normal temperatures.

How did the U.S. shape up, specifically?

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Massive solar prominence is shaped like a Diplodocus (PHOTO)

November 15, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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On the morning of Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, French skywatcher Sylvain Weiller peered into his telescope only to find a giant sauropod looking back.

The gentle dinosaur was rising slowly from the southeast face of the Sun, looming ever higher as one of the biggest solar prominences in recent history. Weiller decided that it looked most like a Diplodocus. In reality, the prominence was composed of superhot plasma that would melt the face off of any reptile that approached within a million miles.

The dinosaur has since gone extinct by evolving into "other animals," according to Weiller, but a couple photos memorialized its brief return to relevance. Farewell, sweet Diplodocus:

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A split jet stream brings severe weather to the U.S. (MAP)

November 14, 2011 - 03:14 PM
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While D.C. is having a grand ol' weather day, a swatch of land stretching from Illinois through Indiana to Ohio to three other states has fallen under tornado watches and warnings. What's causing this discontent in the atmosphere? Blame it on a disturbed jet stream, a river of wind that can scream along at up to 450 m.p.h. several miles above in the sky.

The jet stream typically flows in a single thick band traveling west to east. But around this time during La Nina years, the stream can become split, with one vein coursing through the north part of the country and the other through the south. A split jet stream is a harbinger of severe weather; look above and you'll see why.

The blue in NOAA's map from today represents wind speed at a height of about 3.5 miles, with the darkest blue/purple areas indicating places where gusts top 100 m.p.h. The fast winds denote the location of the jet stream. The stream begins to split in the Pacific Northwest: One branch loops down into Mexico while the other stays the course at the top of the U.S. Where they rejoin is where the problems start. The northern stream is holding a load of frigid air that it carried in from Canada, whereas the southern one is damp and warm thanks to a nice vacation in the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of these disparate atmospheric conditions forms the recipe for severe storms, and is the reason that one tornado and quarter-sized hail have already been reported in Champaign County, Ill.

Here's another view of the same phenomenon, taken at 2 p.m. EST today by the GOES-13 satellite:

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WATCH: Astronauts film Northern lights and thunderstorms in HD

November 14, 2011 - 01:37 PM
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This gorgeous video recorded from the International Space Station flows like a hypnagogic hallucination, with shimmering cities of silver and gold and pancake-shaped cloud clusters blinking off and on with lightning. The viridian ropes of the Northern Lights flow through it all like a frolicking symphonic theme.

Berlin-based Michael König created the film by piecing together photos taken this year by astronaut Ron Garan and the crew of the International Space Station's expeditions 28 and 29. The vantage point is about 220 miles above the ground as the spacecraft whizzes along at nearly 17,230 m.p.h. The astronauts were able to capture the world in stunning detail via a type of high-ISO Japanese camera called the SS-HDTV, and König added his own editing finesse to make the footage "refurbished, smoothed, retimed, denoised, deflickered, cut, etc." He did not fiddle with any of the colors, though, so what you're seen actually occurs above your head on any given night.

For more of the kind of raw ISS photos that the film draws upon, check out NASA's Image Science and Analysis Laboratory. A list of the locations covered in the video follows the jump.

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Rainfall this week: where, when, and how much

November 14, 2011 - 05:36 AM
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The weather pattern this week has Fall written all over it as temperatures and conditions will be wide ranging.  The focus for the first half of the week will be mild temperatures and rain.  We're expecting highs in the 60s Monday through Wednesday, which will be five to ten degrees above average for this time of year.  However, in typical spring fashion our temperatures will take a tumble with highs back down to near 50 degrees by Thursday and Friday despite vast sunshine.  By the way the average high at Reagan National Airport (DCA) is 59 degrees today. 

In terms of rain, a series of cold fronts and upper level energy will help cause the showers, and as of now, it looks like the heaviest rain will hold off until Wednesday morning. However, a few showers are expected in the mountains/west of I-81 today.  Isolated rain is also in the works for Tuesday as well, but the most organized and widespread rain is set for Wednesday when everyone should get some of the action.  Accumulations should be on the order of 1-2 inches by Wednesday evening when the rain comes to a halt (see above image).  Stay tuned to abc7 for updates to this forecast.

We all know that there hasn't been a shortage of rain over the past three months, but November has thus far been running below average for precipitation at DCA with totals 1.30 inches below normal.  That said, our year-to-date precipitation is still 5.23 inches above average.  The rainfall this week should get November back on track for rainfall across the metro area.   

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New photos of Fukushima nuclear plant's eerie 'exclusion zone'

November 14, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Welcome news! The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is finally ready to accept visitors.

Granted, the visitors must wear contamination suits and take photos through the windows of a bus. And they have to duck in and out of the site like burglars because, like the tens of thousands of people who used to call Okuma, Fukushima, home, this stricken land is not a place you want to hang around in for long.

For the first time since the tsunami waves washed over Fukushima on March 11 (video), Japanese officials have allowed local and international journalists to visit the nuclear plant. It's a work in progress. The site employs about 3,000 workers a day for clean-up duties; in the heavy days after the explosions and meltdown, more than 6,400 workers toiled to contain the disaster.

Reports the Associated Press:

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Here comes the rain again…

November 13, 2011 - 06:58 PM
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Although no major weather events are on the horizon, a few rainy days are on the horizon for next week. A deep southwesterly flow will combine with a cold front currently in the Plains that is heading east. The strong upper-level jet stream, or zone of strong winds high in the atmosphere, ahead of the front will allow rain to arrive Tuesday and continue through Wednesday. A low pressure will develop along the front as it moves across the Interstate 95 corridor, enhancing the rainfall. Before all is set and done Wednesday evening, 1 inch appears likely in the District with up to 1.50 inches in the Potomac Highlands. This amount of rain will likely erase the going November rainfall deficit while the yearly departure remains above average.


With that in mind, let’s break down the monthly precipitation departures from average starting with January for the official weather recording station in Washington, D.C., Reagan National Airport. The surplus in precipitation in August and September is attributed to Hurricane Irene and the remains of Tropical Storm Lee.

January: -0.96 inch
February: -0.51 inch
March: +0.80 inch
April: +0.43 inch
May: -2.12 inch
June: -1.45 inch
July: -0.63 inch
August: +5.99 inch
September: +5.12 inch
October: +0.51 inch
November: -1.21 inch
Year-to-Date: +5.32 inch

Looking down the road, temperatures will likely remain near average with a hint of a colder pattern possible by the end of November/beginning of December. Fast zonal flow in the upper-levels of the atmosphere will likely drive Pacific cold fronts quickly across the country through the end of the month with rain chances at least once a week through the end of November. Since they likely won’t have a Canadian or Arctic connection, temperatures in the wake of each front will only dip to slightly below average levels.

Be sure to stay tuned to ABC7 and WTOP for the latest forecasts.

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Birth of an island: Underwater volcano erupts in the Atlantic

November 11, 2011 - 01:43 PM
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The Canary Islands, a Spanish-claimed archipelago off the coast of Morocco, have an explosive history, literally: All seven of the largest islands were formed by hot volcanic vents pushing upward through cold Atlantic waters. With the rare exception, these reeking peaks have all detonated in the last million years. The islands are also home to the third tallest oceanic volcano in the world, Mount Teide, known as a "Decade Volcano" for its history of destructive blasts and potential for snuffing out large quantities of life.

So it's no surprise that something over in the Canaries is erupting right now. Meet the newest island of the bunch, a yet-unnamed lava-barfer situated near tiny El Hierro, the "Island of the Apocalypse":

The cone that is pumping out magma is located more than 600 feet below the sea surface, and it's unknown how long it could take for a craggy finger of something solid to poke out from the waves. It might never even happen. For now, the hidden vent is making its presence felt by sickening at least one volcanic technician and killing scads of fish, making it quite popular with local felines.

Another view of the underwater volcano makes it look like a giant just did a cannonball into the Atlantic:

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