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Associated Press

Thousands stranded at Ft. Lauderdale airport: ‘You feel so vulnerable’

Thousands of travelers and others at the busy Fort Lauderdale airport during Friday’s deadly shooting were kept on lockdown for more than six hours — some reliving their fears through false reports of a second shooting; others stuck on planes, or in their cars awaiting word from loved ones; and many just amassed at the tarmac hoping for a green light to head home.

“People were extremely emotional, crying, horrified,” said Constance McIntyre, 53, who hid in a bathroom stall during the reports of a second shooting. “I didn’t even know if it was a safe place. You feel so vulnerable there. It was stressful and terrifying.”

She and her husband, Vincent McIntyre, had arrived about 1 p.m. to drop off their daughter for a flight to Jamaica at Terminal 4. He soon found out that at Terminal 2, the gunman had opened fire moments earlier. And now, they were part of the second wave of panic. People who heard the reports of another round of shots ran toward Terminal 4. TV news footage showed people ducking behind vehicles and hiding as they again ran.

Vincent McIntyre said that at one point he heard a commotion in the parking area and moments later saw officers searching for people.

“We saw them running toward some guys with their guns drawn, and people around them scattered. They tackled two men and got their bags,” he said.

He said they put one of the suitcases in a bright yellow container and then heard over the speakers that authorities were going to conduct a controlled explosion of a suspicious package.

Ronnie Coutu, a 38-year-old Raleigh, North Carolina, businessman, said he spent hours on a Southwest Airlines plane before he had to be evacuated because of a diabetic emergency.

“The airport did a good job trying to keep up,” Coutu said as he left the emergency room. “They brought water, food and dumped the lavatories.”

He and his wife, Ashley Lambert, said there was confusion on the plane when it landed in Fort Lauderdale and sat unmoving on the tarmac. Then another passenger yelled, “There’s been a shooting,” and a flight attendant confirmed it, they said.

After sunset, McIntyre and his family were still at the airport waiting for his daughter, whose flight was grounded, to come out. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the airport would remain closed until the entire facility was secure.

About 6:30 p.m., SWAT team members began escorting the people who had been standing in the check-in area of Terminal 2 to a parking garage.

About 7:15 p.m., with all flights still grounded, authorities said travelers with vehicles were being allowed to leave the airport and others were being taken in buses to a seaport terminal nearby.

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Obama to attend aide’s wedding Saturday in Florida

President Barack Obama plans a quick trip to Florida on Saturday to attend the wedding of a longtime aide who wears several hats.

Marvin Nicholson is the White House trip director and personal aide to the president. He’s also one of Obama’s most frequent golf partners.

Nicholson and his fiancee, Helen Pajcic, are tying the knot at an evening ceremony in Jacksonville, Florida.

Pajcic’s LinkedIn profile identifies her as a special assistant for vocational and adult education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Both worked on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign before they joined the administration.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest didn’t identify the soon-to-wed White House staffer when he announced the trip on Friday. Nicholson and Pajcic’s wedding website gave them away.

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Family: Shooting suspect ‘lost his mind’ after tour in Iraq

The man police say opened fire with a gun from his checked baggage at a Florida airport had a history of mental health issues – some of which followed his military service in Iraq – and was receiving psychological treatment at his home in Alaska, his relatives said Friday after the deadly shooting.

“Only thing I could tell you was when he came out of Iraq, he wasn’t feeling too good,” his uncle, Hernan Riveratold The Record newspaper.

Esteban Santiago, 26, deployed in 2010 as part of the Puerto Rico National Guard, spending a year with an engineering battalion, according to Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen.

In recent years, Santiago had been living in Anchorage, Alaska, his brother, Bryan Santiago, told The Associated Press from Puerto Rico. Bryan Santiago said his brother’s girlfriend had recently called the family to alert them to his treatment.

In November, Esteban told FBI agents in Alaska that the government was controlling his mind and was forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, a law enforcement official said. The official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke Friday on condition of anonymity.

The FBI agents notified the police after the interview with Esteban Santiago, who took him in for a mental health evaluation.

Bryan Santiago said his brother never spoke to him directly about his medical issues.

“We have not talked for the past three weeks,” Bryan Santiago said. “That’s a bit unusual … I’m in shock. He was a serious person … He was a normal person.”

Esteban Santiago was born in New Jersey but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 2, his brother said. He grew up in the southern coastal town of Penuelas before joining the Guard in 2007.

Since returning from Iraq, Santiago served in the Army Reserves and the Alaska National Guard in Fairbanks. He was serving as a combat engineer in the Guard before his discharge for “unsatisfactory performance,” said Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman. His military rank upon discharge was E3, private 1st class, and he worked one weekend a month with an additional 15 days of training yearly, Olmstead said.

She would not elaborate on his discharge, but the Pentagon said he’d gone AWOL several times and was demoted and discharged.

Still, he’d had some successes during his military career, being awarded a number of medals and commendations including the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

His uncle and aunt in New Jersey were trying to make sense of what they were hearing about Santiago after his arrest at the Fort Lauderdale airport. FBI agents arrived at their house to question them, and reporters swarmed around.

Maria Ruiz told The Record that her nephew had recently become a father and was struggling.

“It was like he lost his mind,” she said in Spanish of his return from Iraq. “He said he saw things.”

In Anchorage, police officers told reporters that they were interviewing people at an address for Santiago but wouldn’t give details and were keeping journalists away from the home. FBI agents were also seen at the scene by neighbors.

Santiago was flying from Anchorage on a Delta flight and had checked only one piece of luggage – the one containing the gun.

He was involved in a number of minor court cases in Alaska, including fines for not having proof of insurance and a criminal mischief case that led to a deferred sentence. His attorney, Max Holmquist, declined to discuss his client with an AP reporter.

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Tide-Tigers II: The matchups that will decide the national title

Every defensive meeting at Clemson this week might as well have started with coordinator Brent Venables passing around a photo of Alabama‘s O.J. Howard with the caption “Know where 88 is at all times.”

For the second straight season, the Tigers and Crimson Tide will meet for the College Football Playoff championship. Howard is the talented tight end who came into last season’s title game with 33 catches for 394 yards and no touchdowns. He then went off for 208 yards on five catches with two scores as Clemson’s defense seemed unaware that Howard was an eligible receiver.

While it’s safe to assume quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Jalen Hurts will play pivotal roles in Monday’s game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, you never know who will emerge as a star on the big stage – especially with the most talented rosters in college football facing off.

With the help of some coaches who have played each team and the scouting website Pro Football Focus, these are some of the matchups that could determine Tigers-Tide II.

Watson vs. Alabama’s scoring defense

Watson is probably going to throw an interception at some point against Alabama. He has thrown 17 on the season after throwing 13 last season, including one in his magnificent championship game performance.

The junior Heisman Trophy runner-up is a confident passer who will try to make difficult throws. He is also able to escape trouble with his mobility and strength. Add those up and he occasionally courts trouble.

As everyone who has been paying attention knows by now, Alabama’s defense scores a lot. Twelve touchdowns to be exact. Alabama’s athletes are so crazy good – from defensive end Jonathan Allen to linebacker Ryan Anderson to safety Minkah Fitzpatrick – that they become dynamic ball carriers when running through fast guys who can’t tackle and big guys who aren’t fast enough to keep up.

Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who faced Alabama when he was coach at Western Kentucky this season and lost 38-10, said the touchdowns are no fluke. Most defenses provide some opportunities for safe throws. Not Alabama’s.

“They’re going to press you,” he said. “They’re going to get up on you. So there’s not a whole lot of separation unless you want to hold onto the ball.” And holding on to the ball usually doesn’t end well against the best pass rush in college football – a pass rush that does not rely on much blitzing.

Troy coach Neal Brown, whose team lost 30-24 at Clemson on Sept. 10, said Clemson usually tries to set up Watson for easy throws early in the game to get him comfortable.

“They did a great job schematically of getting him into the flow of the game,” Brown said.

Brohm said Clemson’s offense, which is heavy on misdirection and gets Watson involved in the running game, matches up as well as possible against Alabama’s defense.

Alabama’s offense, with an inconsistent passer in Hurts, is not necessarily built to match scores with Watson. Clemson’s path to victory includes forcing the Tide’s offense to provide all of Alabama’s points.

Clemson WR Mike Williams vs. Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey.

Williams, at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, gets compared to all those big, impossible-to-cover receivers that play in the NFL : Alshon Jeffrey (6-3, 216), Demariyus Thomas (6-3, 235) and even former great Calvin Johnson (6-5, 237).

The junior is Watson’s security blanket – almost to a fault. The Tigers have so many effective weapons that at times this season they almost became too reliant on Williams and limited an offense that does so much well. Then again, it’s easy to want to force feed Williams, who has the speed to get deep and size and strength to catch passes when covered.

Physically, Humphrey is about as a good a matchup for Williams as you’ll find. The junior is 6-1 and 196. His problem has been getting beat down the field. He has allowed 16.3 yards per catch this season, according to Pro Football Focus, after allowing 17.4 last year.

Hurts vs. Clemson’s pass rush

The Tide’s pass rush is ferocious (50 sacks), but the Tigers get after passers almost as well (49 sacks).

Pressure has been a problem for Hurts. According to Pro Football Focus, Hurts’ completion percentage drops to 31 percent when he is under pressure. Incompletions are not the worst thing. Better than interceptions. Hurts has thrown four of his nine picks when facing pressure, according to PFF. Hurts (891 yards rushing) can also turn a near sack into a big gain.

So Clemson needs to force hurried throws, but also be disciplined enough to not allow Hurts room to take off.

LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said Lane Kiffin, now the former Alabama offensive coordinator, turned the Tide’s offense into one that morphs from week to week to attack an opponents’ weakness.

“The biggest thing with Alabama, you had to look at yourself before you looked at them. What hurt you in the past?” said Aranda, whose team lost 10-0 to Alabama on Nov. 5. Now with Steve Sarkisian calling plays : “I’m wondering how much that changes,” Aranda said.

Aranda said Alabama gets Hurts involved in the running game when defenses get overly aggressive.

“The quarterback run cancels out a lot of aggression for aggression sake,” Aranda said.

Alabama center Bradley Bozeman vs. Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence

The Tigers got 17 sacks from tackles Carlos Watkins (10.5) and Lawrence (6.5), the 340-pound freshman freak. Venables is going to make it hard for Alabama to double-team the big guy.

“Venables does a great job creating Bear fronts, which, in a Bear front, all five offensive linemen are covered. Which creates one-on-one matchups,” Brown said.

The good news for Hurts is Alabama’s offensive line is as good as any in the country at protecting the passer. The Crimson Tide allowed 24 sacks but that’s a little misleading because it counts running plays where Hurts was caught behind the line. In 434 passing plays, Alabama allowed six sacks, according to PFF.

Bozeman is the rock in the middle of that line, a 319-pound junior. Guards Ross Pierschbacher and Korren Kirven will also get their chances to deal with the Clemson’s man-child. In fact, don’t be surprised if Venables tries to get Lawrence matched up on the guards who are not as good as Bozeman.

Prediction

Alabama is better or at worst equal to Clemson everywhere but one spot: quarterback. Watson and the nature of Clemson’s offensive scheme give the Tigers answers for Alabama’s smothering defense that few teams have. But the combination of Nick Saban‘s preparation and planning and the most talented roster in college football means nothing less than another all-time performance from Watson will be needed for Clemson to win. It wasn’t enough last year and it won’t be this year.

Alabama 33-21.

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

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Just go dark? Playoff teams confront Twitter pot shots

Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware is the team’s top tackler and a lightning rod for criticism on Twitter. Some of the tweets cuss him out, others he laughs off.

But one was way out of line: His father had to contact the police after one person picked on Boulware’s little sister.

“Is it really that serious? You have to find my little sister and say something to her?” Boulware said. “It’s football. Sorry that I ruined your day so much, that I tackled your quarterback too hard. It’s ridiculous.”

The bigger the stage, the more fans talk about and taunt college players behind a Twitter handle. It’s a fact of life circa 2017. Ben Boulware knows that well. It’s a part of life as a college celebrity, and it means learning how to respond – or not respond – with the public watching every post.

“I hear it every day. I don’t care,” Boulware said. “If they want to take five minutes out of their day and tweet at somebody you don’t know, you’re a loser. Go do something with your life. Talking negative about somebody, it’s just so lame. Don’t you have something better to do?”

Is the best option to shut up? Snipe back? Engage with the fan? Go dark?

Boulware’s father, Jamie Boulware, contacted the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office after daughter Bailee, a Clemson junior, received a threat. He was told it wasn’t likely anything would come out of it.

The Twitter fallout has lightened up since the Louisville game, Jamie Boulware said. He asked a couple of the offenders to visit him at the family tailgate so they could talk, but they didn’t take him up on it.

“It’s a shame that these days people can say things like that without consequences,” he said.

All four playoff teams have stories about Twitter nastiness, and most players try to restrain themselves from firing back.

Clemson has a no-social-media policy during the season, a plan voted on by the players. Alabama coach Nick Saban lets players know that what they say on social media is part of their “brand,” for better or worse.

“This is sort of something that we’re constantly trying to address with players so that they can brand themselves in a positive way,” Saban said.

Former players can only marvel at what their successors have to deal with. Ex-Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy doesn’t think he would have been mature enough to handle the starting job as a freshman like Jalen Hurts , partly because of social media critics.

“I definitely couldn’t have handled it as an 18-year-old, especially if I was an 18-year-old in 2016,” said McElroy, now an analyst for the SEC Network. “It’s only been six years since I finished, and the world’s changed quite a bit in a very short period of time. It’s a tall order for sure and it does take a remarkable amount of maturity.”

And restraint.

Washington quarterback Jake Browning avoids some of the in-season attention, good or bad, by staying off Twitter. His last Tweet before the Huskies semifinal loss to Alabama came on Aug. 7: “Hello fall camp. Goodbye Twitter.”

Ohio State guard Billy Price says he “could get a false start and I get crucified on Twitter.” He says that’s just reality and there’s nothing players can do but try to get better. It’s also a splash of reality because they’ve gotten so much in-person praise during their careers.

“That’s the cold, hard truth of it,” Price said. “Especially in this program, because the truth comes at you fast. It’s hard, especially as a young guy when you’re not ready for that. You’ve never been told you suck because you’re in high school and you’re around your hometown and people love you.

“You go to Wal-Mart and people love you. You see the little old lady at church that loves you and you give her a hug and say, ‘Hi, Mrs. Smith.’ But once you come here, the truth comes out. You got beat, you lost. Just get better. That’s what it comes down to.”

Then again, he didn’t much appreciate people tweeting at his girlfriend that “your boyfriend’s trash.”

Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis grew up seeing and hearing people criticize his father, Gary Pettis, a former major league outfielder who won five Gold Gloves and is now the Houston Astros’ third base coach. He said there will always be people who “say bad stuff.”

“If that’s what they think that’s what they think,” Dante Pettis said. “Maybe they’re jealous of where we are, maybe they wish they could be here. But at the end of the day we know what we’re doing is good so that’s all that matters.”

Alabama tailback Damien Harris, one of the Crimson Tide’s more frequent posters, said one user once said he hoped he would break his leg and have a career-ending injury.

He got some backlash in September after posting comments about a presidential debate , which later was a topic in his political communications class.

“People were all like, ‘Stick to football. You don’t know what you’re talking about,'” Harris said. “So I’m like, ‘Since I play football, that means I can’t be involved in something that affects me?’ That stuff didn’t make sense. Just like everything else, you read it and then you move on.”

Washington running back Myles Gaskin said he tries not to spend much time looking at responses to his posts. His solution: Block the worst offenders.

“It’s definitely part of the game,” Gaskin said. “People are going to say what they’ve got to say but at the end of the day true fans of UW and anybody that supports this university, I feel like they’ll only give us constructive criticism. They’ll always have our backs.

“Anybody that is out there saying mean stuff I know you’ve got something better to do. Don’t bother me with it. That’s the way I look at it.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

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Brother: Airport suspect treated for mental health

The brother of the man who has been tentatively named as the suspect in a deadly shooting at a Florida airport says the suspect had been receiving psychological treatment while living in Alaska.

Bryan Santiago tells The Associated Press that his family got a call in recent months from 26-year-old Esteban Santiago’s girlfriend alerting them to the situation.

Bryan Santiago said he didn’t know what his brother was being treated for and that they never talked about it over the phone.

He said Esteban Santiago was born in New Jersey but moved to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico when he was 2 years old. He said Esteban Santiago grew up in the southern coastal town of Penuelas and served with the island’s National Guard for a couple of years. He was deployed to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year there with the 130th Engineer Battalion, the 1013th engineer company out of Aguadilla, according to Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said that the gunman was carrying a military ID that identified him as Esteban Santiago, but that it was unclear whether the ID was his. Nelson gave no further information on the suspect.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.

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Official: Fort Lauderdale airport shooting suspect not linked to Canada

The Latest on the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport (all times local):

5 p.m. — A spokeswoman from the Canadian Embassy says the suspect in the shooting at the international airport in Fort Lauderdale has no connection to the country and did not fly to Florida from there.

Embassy spokeswoman Christine Constantin said in an email to The Associated Press that the suspect did not travel from Canada and was not on an Air Canada flight. She says the suspect has no connection to Canada.

The shooting happened at the airport’s terminal 2, where Air Canada and Delta operate flights. Five were killed and eight wounded.

Constantin’s email says, “We understand from officials he was on a flight originating in Anchorage, transiting through Minneapolis and landing in Ft. Lauderdale.”

3:35 p.m. — A county official says the Fort Lauderdale airport shooter pulled a gun out of a checked bag, loaded in a bathroom and started shooting, killing five people and wounding at least eight.

Chip LaMarca, a Broward County commissioner, was briefed on the airport shooting by Broward Sheriff’s office. He told The Associated Press by phone that the shooter was a passenger on a Canadian flight and had checked a gun.

LaMarca says the shooter pulled out the gun in the bathroom after claiming his bag.

Sheriff Scott Israel says the gunman was not harmed and that law enforcement did not fire any shots. He says it is not yet known if the shooting was an act of terror.

Israel also says there was nothing to substantiate reports of a second shooting at the airport.

3:15 p.m.

A passenger says he heard the first gunshots as he picked up his luggage from a baggage claim carousel in a shooting at a Florida airport that left five dead and eight wounded.

John Schilcher told Fox News the person next to him fell to the ground Friday. He says other people started falling, and he then dropped to the ground with his wife and mother-in-law. Schilcher says “the firing just went on and on.”

He says the shooter emptied his weapon and reloaded during an eerily quiet lull in the gunfire. Schilcher says he didn’t assume it was safe until he saw a police officer standing over him at the Fort Lauderdale international airport.

He says he remained on the ground and was told not to move as authorities investigated unconfirmed reports of a second shooting.

3 p.m. — Officials say there have been unconfirmed reports of additional shots fired at the international airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after a gunman killed five people and wounded eight there.

On Friday afternoon, the Broward County sheriff’s office said on its Twitter account: “Active search: Unconfirmed reports of addt’l shots fired on airport property.”

Earlier in the afternoon, the shooting stopped all traffic at the airport. Passengers were evacuated from the terminal 2 baggage claim area. Passengers returned to the airport as officials said the lone gunman was in custody. But TV reports showed some passengers evacuating again, several looking panicked and ducking behind cars or hiding.

Witness Judah Fernandez told CNN he heard what he believes were the first shots, re-entered the airport, but then rushed out again shortly later to the tarmac. He said: “Everyone’s running now.” He said both security officials and passengers were running.

___

2:50 p.m. — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says the Fort Lauderdale airport gunman was carrying a military ID with the name Esteban Santiago, though it’s not clear if it belonged to him or to someone else.

Nelson did not spell the name for reporters during a news conference Friday. Nelson says the baggage claim area is a “soft target.” The airport had initially reported an “incident” in the baggage claim area.

Authorities say five people were killed and eight wounded in the shooting.

Nelson says a motive still hasn’t been determined.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.

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A traditional end to an unconventional presidential election

The end of the 2016 presidential election is at hand.

A joint session of Congress is set to count the Electoral College votes on Friday, a traditional ending to a most unconventional presidential election.

Friday’s vote count marks the last chance for Democrats and other anti-Trump forces to disrupt Donald Trump‘s election. But even if they are successful, the most Democrats could do is slow the process because they don’t have the votes to overturn the outcome.

Barring something bizarre happening, Trump will be declared the winner and will be sworn in at his inauguration on Jan. 20. Vice President Joe Biden will preside over the vote count in his role as president of the Senate.

All 538 electors met in their respective state capitals in December to cast their votes. Trump finished with 304 votes and Democrat Hillary Clinton with 227, according to a tally by The Associated Press. It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.

Trump won even though Clinton received nearly 2.9 million more votes. His election has generated much angst among Democrats and others who oppose the billionaire businessman. But they have been powerless to change the outcome.

Despite rumblings of a revolt, only two Republican electors — both from Texas — cast protest votes for someone other than Trump. Clinton lost four Democratic electors in Washington state and one in Hawaii.

The secretary of state’s office in Washington said the four “faithless” electors would be fined $1,000 apiece.

During Friday’s session, Democrats will have an opportunity to file objections, questioning the validity of the vote count.

Under federal law, if at least one senator and one House member object to the vote from any state, the House and Senate would meet separately to debate the merits of the objection.

Several House Democrats have talked about filing an objection, but no senator has publicly backed the idea. Regardless, with Republicans controlling both chambers, any objection would have little chance of affecting the outcome.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., considered objecting but said, “This is not about trying to stop Donald Trump from becoming president.”

Perlmutter said he wants to register his objection to Russia after U.S. intelligence community findings that Moscow engaged in computer hacking to sway the election in favor of Trump. America’s top intelligence official told Congress on Thursday that Russia undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“We cannot allow a foreign nation to ever influence our elections because it harms our liberty, freedom and independence,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “This is bigger than just one election, and for the sake of our democracy, we must remain vigilant.”

Trump has not fully embraced the findings of the intelligence community. In fact, he has repeatedly mocked America’s intelligence officials.

This week, Trump went on Twitter to question why an intelligence briefing he is to receive was delayed. However, intelligence officials said there had been no delay. Still, Trump wrote: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida panther deaths still at record-high for 2016

A record number of endangered Florida panthers died again last year — 42 of the remaining big cats were killed, matching the 2015 record. Thirty-four were hit by vehicles in southwest Florida, where development is shrinking what’s left of their habitat.

The tally kept by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission includes six new litters, with a total of 14 cubs born in 2016. But the state estimates that only 100 to 180 of the big cats remain in the wild.

Critics say government officials have failed to implement “coherent efforts” to save the Florida panthers. In a statement Wednesday, Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said he doesn’t expect their plight to improve under President-elect Donald Trump.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Quirk may shield U.S. coast during busy hurricane seasons

A climatic quirk seems to be slightly shielding the U.S. coast during busy hurricane seasons, often weakening major storms just as they approach America’s beaches, a new study finds.

That could help explain why it’s been more than 11 years since a major hurricane with winds of more than 110 mph has hit the United States mainland.

Last year’s Hurricane Matthew was a perfect example of this uniquely American “protective barrier” of stronger crosswinds and cooler coastal waters, according to the study’s author, climate scientist Jim Kossin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Matthew devastated Haiti as a monster storm hitting land with 145 mph winds, threatened Florida as a major hurricane and then fizzled as it finally came ashore in South Carolina, barely registering as a hurricane with 75 mph winds.

Kossin’s study published Wednesday in the journal Nature found that shifts in air and ocean conditions over decades work together to weaken major storms along the U.S. coast. This protective barrier begins around the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, and gets more noticeable around the Atlantic coast, Kossin said.

“It’s a lucky byproduct for the United States coast,” Kossin said. “It’s really unfortunate that we’re the only ones that seem to be benefiting from this situation.”

This image provided by NOAA. taken Oct. 7, 2016, shows Hurricane Matthew over the Southeastern part of the U.S. A new study finds wind and water shifts during busy hurricane seasons seem to provide a somewhat protective barrier for the U.S. coast. Last year’s Hurricane Matthew, which was a major storm and hit Haiti with 145 mph winds but fizzled as it neared the American mainland, is a good example.This Oct. 7, 2016, satellite image shows Matthew as it threatens Florida, but it later hit South Carolina as a minimal hurricane with 75 mph winds. (NOAA via AP)

The Atlantic Ocean seems to alternate between cycles of heavy and low hurricane activity. The current heavy cycle began in 1993, after a low period of more than two decades. During those quieter times, when a major hurricane forms in the Atlantic it is three to six times more likely to rapidly intensify near the U.S. coast than during the busier times, according to the study.

Kossin mapped sea surface temperatures and wind shear levels in the Atlantic to see small changes near the U.S. coast — but only during a busy cycle. His study found a localized increase in high altitude crosswinds — called wind shear — that tear at a storm’s structure. It also found slightly cooler sea surface temperatures, which reduce a hurricane’s fuel of hot water. The changes seem to be just a function of larger natural conditions, he said.

Take October’s Hurricane Matthew: “As it approached Florida, it started to encounter wind shear, which weakened it to a minimal hurricane,” Kossin said.

Previously, he also found that during busy cycles, bigger storms tend to form slightly more to the east — toward Africa — giving them more opportunity to curve harmlessly north in the Atlantic instead of hitting the U.S. coastline. All those factors seem to be helping reduce the U.S. threat compared to other places in the Atlantic, he said.

Even with that “protective barrier” as Kossin calls it in the paper, there is still a greater chance of major hurricanes nearing the U.S. during busy times than quiet times, Kossin said. That’s because there are more storms brewing overall.

Three outside scientists contacted by The Associated Press praised the study as interesting, though not complete, while two others cautioned against reading too much into it. Georgia Tech’s Judith Curry called it solid research while Penn State’s David Titley said he worried about small sample size and natural variations.

Kossin and other scientists also said the 11-year major hurricane landfall drought since 2005’s Wilma is a bit of a statistical quirk because of strict meteorological definitions and national borders. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 wasn’t considered a major hurricane because its winds weren’t strong enough.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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