Stunning pictures arise from New York storm
Storm clouds blanketed New York's Columbus Circle Thursday.
July 26th, 2012
10:41 PM ET

Stunning pictures arise from New York storm

The warnings of severe thunderstorms in the New York area started coming in Thursday afternoon. But anyone outside who looked up didn't need to hear it from the National Weather Service - the sky told them.

Finding beauty in violent storms.

Dark clouds - and then lighting - provided awe-inspiring images around the region.

Photos: Storms hits Northeast

"The brunt of the storm itself was intense but short," iReporter Matthew Burke of New York City said. "There was very strong rain and wind for about 15 minutes, at which point the rain cleared and the lightning show began."

Gawker and the New York Daily News posted photos of the heavy clouds that appeared to blanket the sky and barrel down to the ground all at once.

The storms that hit central New York were severe, and wind gusts that may exceed 80 mph were forecast for metropolitan New York City and expected to arrive Thursday night.

Did you snap photos of Derecho? Share your images with CNN.

Photos: Storm chasers

July 26th, 2012
10:06 PM ET

Five Olympic-sized gaffes ahead of London 2012

Hosting the Olympic Games is never going to be easy. You might recall the behind-schedule construction nightmares before Athens 2004, the pollution complaints at Beijing 2008 and Montreal’s near-bankruptcy in 1976.

London 2012 hasn’t been immune to public relations disappointments, either.

The games haven’t even officially started, but already we’ve seen a North Korea football team walk off a field before an early game because someone embarrassingly introduced the squad with the wrong flag.

With billions of people expected to watch London 2012 at some point during the 17-day event, organizers will hope many of the major troubles are behind them by the time Friday’s opening ceremony begins.

Here are five ways the run-up to these games wasn’t as smooth as organizers would have hoped:

1. Security contractor thousands of guards short

The games got a bit of a jolt just two weeks ago when a security contractor announced it wouldn’t be able to field all of the guards that it promised.

Private security firm G4S had committed to recruiting a staff of about 10,400 as part of a total security force for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. But on July 11, G4S announced that although 4,000 of its people already were working at 100 venues, it didn’t have enough time left to train and vet applicants for all of the remaining positions.

That prompted lawmakers to summon the company’s CEO, Nick Buckles, for questioning. Buckles admitted that the staffing fiasco is "a humiliating shambles for the country."

To make up for the shortfall, Britain announced it would deploy a few thousand extra troops to the Olympics, many more than previously planned. About 1,200 of those were called up just this week after being placed on standby.

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Filed under: Olympics • Sports • United Kingdom
Area in extreme drought increases by size of Texas, report says
The map, released Thursday, shows the intensity levels of the drought in all parts of the country.
July 26th, 2012
05:13 PM ET

Area in extreme drought increases by size of Texas, report says

The portion of the country with some level of drought increased only slightly in the last week, but areas at risk for major crop losses and widespread water shortages jumped significantly, according to a report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Areas of the contiguous United States under extreme or exceptional drought conditions increased by an area roughly the size of Texas - from 13.5% of the land to 20.5% - in the past seven days, according to the Drought Monitor report released Thursday.

"It's getting to the point where some of the (agricultural) damage is not reversible" in the extreme-drought areas, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the center. "The damage is done, and even with rain, you're not going to reverse some of these problems, at least not this growing season."

The areas newly put into the extreme category are spread over many states, including parts of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and South Dakota. (See last week's map, for comparison with the one above.)

Meanwhile, the portion of the Lower 48 states under moderate or worse drought conditions rose slightly in the last week  from 63.54% to 63.86% putting the contiguous United States in the largest drought by area in the report's 12-year history. This is the fourth consecutive week the Lower 48 set a Drought Monitor record in this category.

A week of very hot and very dry conditions coming after roughly two months of similar weather pushed more areas into the extreme or exceptional categories, Fuchs said.

Areas in the "extreme" drought category the third most severe of four classifications could see major crop and pasture losses with widespread water shortages, according to the center.

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July 26th, 2012
12:53 PM ET

Prince Jackson blasts aunts, uncles over grandmother's treatment

Michael Jackson's oldest son blasted his famous aunts and uncles on Twitter on Thursday for taking his grandmother away and keeping her out of touch for 10 days.

"I'm really angry and hurt," Prince Jackson tweeted.

His tweets came just hours after Katherine Jackson returned to the Calabasas, California, home where she has been raising Prince, 15, Paris, 14, and Prince Michael II, 10, who's also known as Blanket.

A judge suspended Katherine Jackson as their guardian Wednesday because of her absence, which her own lawyers suggested might have been against her will. TJ Jackson, the 34-year-old son of Tito Jackson, was named temporary guardian.

"Although I am happy my grandma was returned, after speaking with her I realized how misguided and how badly she was lied to." Prince Jackson tweeted.

Janet, Jermaine, Randy and Rebbie Jackson teamed up to take their 82-year-old mother to a spa near Tucson, Arizona, on July 15, later saying it was under a doctor's orders.

The three children, who have been in their grandmother's custody since their father's sudden death three years ago, became upset after several days of not hearing from her. Critical tweets have flowed from sister Paris for days, but her older brother is now being heard.

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Filed under: Entertainment • U.S.
July 26th, 2012
12:51 PM ET

Battles for key cities of Aleppo, Damascus heat up in Syrian civil war

Undeterred by a wave of casualties, Syrian rebels say they will not back down in their quest to seize Aleppo, the country's commercial hub and a crucial city in the Syrian civil war.

After six days of fighting, the seesaw battle with government forces raged again Thursday as helicopter gunships flew over the city, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least one rebel fighter was killed, the group said.

The seat of President Bashar al-Assad's power also saw renewed violence Thursday as explosions rocked several Damascus neighborhoods, another opposition group said.

Regime and rebel forces battled in several Damascus neighborhoods, and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk endured "fierce helicopter shelling with machine guns," the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

The LCC also reported dozens of dead and wounded in shelling by regime forces in Yalda, in the Damascus suburbs, and in bomb attacks in the Mashtal district of the capital.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
Smoking orangutan moves to island to kick habit
Before moving to her new island, Tori smokes a cigarette discarded by a zoo visitor.
July 26th, 2012
12:22 PM ET

Smoking orangutan moves to island to kick habit

Call it an orangutan detox facility.

It's an island in the middle of a lake in Indonesia's Taru Jurug Zoo, and it's where Tori, the smoking orangutan, will be spending her days.

The 13-year-old primate picked up the habit by grabbing still-burning butts discarded in her enclosure by zoo visitors and imitating their actions, zoo officials told the Jakarta Globe.

Signs warned against the practice, but zoo visitors paid no heed, the zoo's director, Lilik Kristianto, told the Globe.

“A common problem for zoos in Indonesia are naughty visitors,” the director is quoted as saying. “Although there are sign prohibiting them from giving food or cigarettes to the animals, they keep on doing it. It is not rare that visitors even hurt the animals.”

Besides keeping puffing visitors at a safe distance, the island will have other advantages over the concrete cage Tori has called home at the zoo in Solo.

“Tori can climb five big trees on the island. This might be the best orangutan enclosure in Indonesia,” the zoo director is quoted as saying.

Tori isn't alone on the island. A male, Didik, has joined her.

But Didik has no need for rehab. While Tori would puff on the butts, Didik used to stamp them out, the Globe reported.

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Filed under: Animals • Indonesia • Orangutan
July 26th, 2012
10:36 AM ET

Report: Penn State faced 4-year 'death penalty'

Penn State faced a multiyear shutdown of its football program had it not agreed with the sanctions imposed by the NCAA earlier this week, university President Rodney Erickson told ESPN.

The football program at Penn State faced a four-year "death penalty," a complete cessation of football activities, Erickson said, according to the ESPN report, as well as fines well in excess of the $60 million levied.

The four-year death penalty option was confirmed by NCAA President Mark Emmert, who said in a separate interview with ESPN that what the network termed "a core group of NCAA school presidents" had agreed on the unprecedented sanctions.

Once Penn State learned of the NCAA intentions, school officials engaged in five days of secret discussions with the NCAA that resulted in the penalties announced Monday, ESPN reported. Those include the record $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, a four-year reduction in football scholarships and five years of probation. Penn State also was forced to vacate its football victories since 1998, including 111 by the late coach Joe Paterno.

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Filed under: Crime • Football • Jerry Sandusky • Joe Paterno • Penn State • Sports
July 26th, 2012
07:47 AM ET

Thursday's live events

The race to the presidency now turns toward the general election in November.  CNN.com Live is your home for all the latest news and views from the campaign trail.

Today's programming highlights...

10:00 am ET - Geithner on Capitol Hill hot seat - Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will be asked about the LIBOR scandal, "fiscal cliff" fears and more when he testifies before the Senate Banking Committee.

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Filed under: Budget • Economy • Elections • Finance • On CNN.com today • Politics