Review Category : Top Stories

Connecticut School the Latest to Cancel Halloween Celebrations

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — An elementary school in Connecticut has decided to eliminate Halloween celebrations this year, citing the “safety and exclusion of students.”

The principal of Lillie B. Haynes elementary school in Niantic, Connecticut, announced the policy change in a letter sent to parents on Oct. 19. The letter, which was provided to ABC News, said students will no longer be able to wear Halloween costumes to school.

The school also canceled its Halloween parade, choosing instead to hold classroom celebrations that will be “Fall themed, not Halloween.”

“With increasing societal safety concerns, the number of adults who attend this event, some in costumes, poses a potential safety threat,” the letter from principal Melissa DeLoreto reads in part. “Also, in the past students have been excluded from participating due to religion, cultural beliefs etc.”

The elementary school serves more than 300 students from kindergarten through fourth grade. School district officials and the PTA president of Lillie B. Haynes did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Lillie B. Haynes is not the first school to change its Halloween policy this year.

Miller Elementary School in Canton, Michigan, told school parents earlier this month it would be canceling its longtime Halloween parade tradition. Instead, the school is hosting Haunted Hallways next week inside the school.

“In lieu of the Halloween Day Parade of the past, collaboration with feedback from staff and families led to a decision to allow students to come to school in costume on Halloween Day, during which students will have fun doing various curricular-based activities related to Halloween throughout the school day,” Miller Elementary Principal Blair Klco told ABC News in a statement.

Some schools have also reportedly taken the extra step this year of asking students and parents not to dress in clown costumes due to the recent surge of clown threats and clown sightings.

The scary clown craze prompted Target to remove clown masks from its shelves just weeks before Halloween. The decision was made out of “sensitivity to the issue at hand,” a Target representative told ABC News this week.

The widespread clown craze has even led the White House to say it is a situation that should be taken “quite seriously.”

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‘Rolling Stone’ Writer Admits Mistakes in Rape Story, Blames ‘Jackie’

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The writer of the widely criticized Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” testified Thursday that her depiction of an administrator at the University of Virginia, who is suing her, was fair and accurate, despite the story’s numerous errors.

“She still works at the university, she still got a pay raise,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely said under direct examination by plaintiff Nicole Eramo’s attorney in federal court in Charlottesville.

Eramo, the former associate dean of students who used to head up UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, alleges she was negatively portrayed in Erdely’s November 2014 article as being indifferent to the plight of an alleged gang rape victim that the article referred to as “Jackie,” and that she discouraged her and other alleged survivors from filing complaints with the university, which Eramo has denied.

Eramo is suing Erdely and Rolling Stone on the grounds of defamation for a total of nearly $8 million.

“I’m sure that her feelings were hurt,” Erdely testified in her own defense, but the defamation lawsuit “… seems to me that it has more to do with her being personally found in violation of Title IX and nothing to do with [my story].”

Erdely reported in her article that “Jackie” was gang raped by several men at a frat house party in 2012 during her freshman year at UVA, a top-tier college campus known for its so-called party atmosphere.

But Charlottesville Police Department officials launched a five-month investigation and concluded that they could not find “substantive basis to support the account alleged in the Rolling Stone article.” The fraternity where the rape allegedly occurred, Phi Kappa Psi, denied any wrongdoing. Friends and confidants told different versions of events.

The article was eventually retracted after a report by the Columbia Journalism Review that called into question numerous errors Erdely and Rolling Stone had made, saying it was “a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable.”

Rolling Stone agreed that errors were made, but it is fighting Eramo’s lawsuit.

“We made journalistic mistakes with respect to Jackie’s story and we have learned from them, but these mistakes do not support Dean Eramo’s lawsuit,” the publication said in a statement to ABC News Thursday.

“The depiction of Dean Eramo in the Article was balanced and described the challenges of her role. We now look forward to the jury’s decision in this case.”

U.S. district Judge Glen Conrad has ruled that Eramo will be considered a “limited purpose public figure” in the case. Under legal standards, it means she must demonstrate that Rolling Stone and Erdely published defamatory falsehoods about her knowing they were false or with “reckless disregard” for their truth.

Erdely declined ABC News’ request for an interview before the trial began, citing the ongoing defamation suits.

A few weeks after the publication of “A Rape on Campus,” Erdely told the jury Thursday, she said she was concerned that Jackie was no longer credible. She fired off an email early in the morning of Dec. 5, 2014, to her editors with the subject line “OUR WORST NIGHTMARE” and called for a retraction of her story.

Later that same day, Rolling Stone added a note to the story to acknowledge its reporting errors with an apology to those injured by Erdely’s story, including UVA administrators.

Eramo was later removed from her position as an associate dean of students and as head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, but is still employed with the university.

Erdely broke down several times answering questions about the way she handled her four-month investigation into Jackie’s claims.

“I stand by everything in the article that did not come from Jackie,” Erdely said.

‘We Love Dean Eramo’

The jury listened to audio recordings from Erdely’s taped interviews with Jackie, who is heard repeatedly exclaiming her admiration for Eramo but also fearful that Eramo would be blamed for the university’s handling of rape cases once the story was published. As an associate dean, Eramo served as the intake person for sexual assault victims and advocated in their behalf.

“I feel like it would be really f—- up if they decide that it’s Dean Eramo who’s giving them bad publicity and they kick her in the bucket when the problem’s not her,” Jackie said to Erdely in the taped interview. “It’s people above her, they’re the problem, and she just does what she can.”

Excerpts from their conversations reviewed Thursday illustrate Erdely’s concerns about Eramo.

“I know you love her but it’s not clear she’s not doing right by you or by the university in this scenario. … I think this situation is probably being mishandled … and she may be putting the community at risk,” Erdely said.

In another exchange with Jackie, Erdely is recorded as saying: “So why, why isn’t Dean Eramo f—— doing anything?” Erdely says. “This makes me so mad, actually.”

Eramo has said that she did everything to investigate the case but that Jackie never wanted to report the alleged rape.

“I wasn’t talking about any particular dean in this instance,” Erdely said in defense of her story. “This article is not about Dean Eramo.”

A Reporter’s Nightmare

Erdely admitted Thursday in court that many mistakes were made in her reporting of the story.

“I wish that Jackie had not been in my story,” Erdely said. “It wasn’t a mistake to rely on someone emotionally fragile. It was a mistake to rely on someone intent to deceive me.”

Eramo’s lawyer Libby Locke peppered Erdely with questions about the 9,000-word story, revealing the gaping holes in her reporting, the vague sourcing and erroneous assumptions, which Erdely agreed had happened.

Emails were shown in court from Erdely’s editor, who raised questions about the publication‘s inability to track down any of the men who Jackie had said allegedly raped her.

During her investigation of the story, Erdely testified Thursday, she heard several versions from other sources of what they had been told by Jackie happened the night she said she was raped. Some say Jackie told them it was five men who had raped her, while others said they were told it could have been up to 10, she testified.

Jackie had told various people she had been raped by a broken beer bottle, and others told Erdely that it was with a hanger, Erdely testified.

“It had never occurred to me that details were inconsistent,” she said. “I have an understanding of trauma victim behavior. … Yes, the details had changed over time … as is typical of trauma survivors.”

Locke said, “You only elected to tell the story that Jackie had been thrown over a table and vaginally raped by seven men.”

“Yes,” Erdely replied.

And she admitted relied heavily on hearsay.

“It’s embarrassing to say it,” Erdely said. “I’m not proud of that. This is not an excuse, this is an explanation. I was taking so many reporting avenues. I was thinking about so many other things.”

As Locke listed Erdely’s inability to verify key details of the story, Erdely broke down in tears.

Her testimony resumes Friday.

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‘Prime Target’: Prosecutors Say NSA Contractor Could Flee to Foreign Power

Nabble / Harold Martin(WASHINGTON) — The NSA contractor accused of stealing a gargantuan amount of sensitive and classified data from the U.S. government was studying Russian before he was arrested and would be a “prime target” for foreign spies should he be released on bail, prosecutors argued ahead of a court hearing for Harold Martin, III, Friday.

“Given the nature of his offenses and knowledge of national secrets, [Martin] presents tremendous value to any foreign power that may wish to shelter him within or outside the United States,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing Thursday.

The government said it is “readily apparent to every foreign counterintelligence professional and nongovernmental actor that the Defendant has access to highly classified information, whether in his head, in still-hidden physical locations, or stored in cyberspace — and he has demonstrated absolutely no interest in protecting it. This makes the Defendant a prime target, and his release would seriously endanger the safety of the country and potentially even the Defendant himself.”

Prosecutors noted that Martin purportedly communicated online “with others in languages other than English, including in Russian” and that he had downloaded information on the Russian language just a couple months before he was arrested in August.

Martin’s attorneys, however, said in their own court filing Thursday that there is still no evidence he “intended to betray his country” and argued that he was not a flight risk. All the talk of foreign spies and potential getaway plans, the defense said, were “fantastical scenarios.”

“What we do know is that Hal Martin loves his family and his country. He served our nation honorably in the United States Navy, and he has devoted his entire career to serving and protecting America. We look forward to defending Hal Martin in court,” Martin’s public defender, Jim Wyda, said earlier this month. The defense also said in their filing that Martin currently does not have a valid passport.

Martin, a Navy veteran, was arrested in late August after FBI agents discovered a treasure trove of government documents and data, in stacks of paper and on removable data storage devices, strewn around his house, his car and an outdoor shed. It was a theft, prosecutors said, “that is breathtaking in its longevity and scale” — enough to fill some 500 million pages of documents containing images and text.

The material included some documents marked Secret, Top Secret and in some cases Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI), the highest classification level. Martin allegedly had been taking the information home with him from as many as seven different contracting jobs for the government since 1996. He first received his security clearance during his service in the Navy Reserve.

Martin is currently accused of the theft of government property, but prosecutors said that they expect to bring more serious charges under the Espionage Act. In their Thursday filing, prosecutors also said Martin could pose a risk to himself. His wife apparently told investigators that Martin would kill himself “if he thought it was all over.”

As of a couple weeks ago, investigators were still trying to figure Martin out. Senior officials told ABC News then that he appeared to be “more weirdo than whistleblower,” and it’s unclear why he appears to have hoarded 20 years of government material in his home and vehicle. Online postings and public academic work apparently by Martin indicate he was deeply involved in the technical world of computer security, and Martin allegedly told investigators he was taking his work home with him only to improve his own knowledge and skills.

But prosecutors see something more sinister, based on some sophisticated software tools and the number of firearms discovered at Martin’s residence, and one from under the front seat of his vehicle.

“If the Defendant stole this classified material for his own edification, as he has claimed, there would be no reason to keep some of it in his car, and arm himself as though he were trafficking in dangerous contraband,” prosecutors wrote.

Later Friday, Martin is scheduled to appear before a Maryland federal judge who will decide whether he’s kept in detention until the start of his trial.

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Residents Shelter in Place After Chemical Spill in Kansas

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Residents of Atchinson County, Kansas, were told to shelter in place Friday morning after a chemical spill in the area forced evacuations and sent several individuals to the hospital.

The spill, which happened shortly after 8 a.m. local time, covers a 4-block radius near Main Street, according to officials from the Atchinson County Emergency Management Agency.

“At 8:02 this morning two chemicals were inadvertently mixed together at MGP,” said Trey Cocking, public information officer for the city of Atchinson. “That caused a gaseous plume to develop. That plume covered good portions of the city of Atchinson [and] we have 18 people being treated for respiratory discomfort.”

MGP Ingredients is a supplier of premium distilled spirits and specialty wheat proteins and starches.

Of the 18 people who were treated in the hospital for respiratory issues, five are city employees.

“All injuries are minor, they are being kept for observation,” Cocking told reporters at a press conference.

Chemicals were mixed together “inadvertently in the delivery process” when one chemical was put in the wrong holding tank, according to Cocker. It was not clear which two chemicals had been mixed.

Cocking said that by 11 a.m. local time the heavy plume had mostly lifted.

“Right now the cloud has dissipated, we’re beginning to assess the situation,” Cocking said, adding that local government officials were still waiting on state and federal officials to respond.

Thousands of students at local schools were evacuated in addition to staff at the county courthouse. By 11 a.m. officials from the Emergency management Services said students were returning to the schools as the plume continued to dissipate.

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Candidate Profile: Robert Sprague

Our series of profiles for the candidates you’ll see on the November ballot looks at the 83rd House District race today. On the topic of opiate abuse in the state, incumbent Robert Sprague says he’s supported measures to reduce opiate addiction…

Audio: Robert Sprague

Sprague says he has also supported efforts to limit doctor shopping among other initiatives.

When it comes to education, Sprague says high standards are good, but they need to stop changing so much…

Audio: Robert Sprague

Sprague says as far as educational funding goes, the state has worked to make sure rural districts get their share of funding as well.

On the topic of overseeing medical marijuana, Sprague says doctors should only prescribe it in certain situations…

Audio: Robert Sprague

Sprague does not believe a chronic pain diagnosis should get a prescription for medical marijuana.

Next week we’ll focus on the Putnam County Sheriff’s race.

Full Interview:

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Police Arrest Two in San Francisco High School Shooting

KGO-TV(SAN FRANCISCO) — Two people have been arrested in connection with Tuesday’s shooting incident outside a pair of San Francisco high schools which left four students injured, police said Thursday evening.

“#SFPD has made two arrests in connection to the #JuneJordan High School shooting incident. This is an active & ongoing investigation,” the San Francisco Police Department tweeted.

The shooting incident occurred Tuesday around 3:15 p.m., when four teenage students were shot in the shared parking lot of two San Francisco high schools, the June Jordan School for Equity and City Arts and Technology High School.

The shooting left one of the injured, a female student, in critical condition. Police said she may have been targeted, adding that the incident was “not a random shooting.”

Police did not release any further details about the arrests, but according to ABC-owned KGO-TV in San Francisco, one of the suspects was arrested Thursday in Fairfield, a city located about 50 miles northeast from where the shooting happened. The second suspect was arrested Tuesday night, according to KGO-TV.

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Video of DC Metro Police Arrest Stirs Controversy

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Metro Transit Police in Washington, D.C., are under fire after a video surfaced on social media of an officer tripping a detained woman when she refused orders to sit down at the Columbia Heights station.

According to Metro Transit police, the confrontation began when an officer with the Metro Transit Police Department asked a woman on the paid side of the fare gates to put her bag of potato chips away. According to the Metro, riders cannot “eat, drink, smoke or litter on Metro vehicles or in stations. Metro Transit Police issue citations or make arrests to enforce the law.”

The woman, according to the police report, refused to put away her food.

An officer then tells the woman, who is not named, that if she does not put her food away, she would need to leave the station, according to the police. She responded, “No, I’m not going anywhere!”

A video of the encounter, shot by a bystander and posted on YouTube on Oct. 18 by an “April Goggans,” contains a description that says the woman was walking with a bag of chips and a lollipop. The video shows a small crowd gathering around a handcuffed woman and a few officers. An officer is seen tripping the woman after she refuses two orders to sit down.

The woman then attempts to stand up. The officer, who had tripped her moments before, puts his hand on the woman’s shoulder, pushing her back to the ground.

Moments later, the video shows a police officer going through a backpack next to the woman, who is seated and handcuffed. The woman is heard asking why the officer is going through her belongings. The police report obtained by ABC News does not mention the officer’s search.

A second video shows the woman, who police say is 18 years old, appearing to resist at times while the police escort her out of the Metro station.

When the officers arrive at the police vehicle, the woman is seen on video struggling with officers. One officer repeatedly orders the woman to “get off my hand” and “let me do my job.” The arrested woman continues to scream and curse at the officers, complaining that her face had been “slapped against the (expletive) car.”

The woman was arrested for unlawful entry and was not injured from the arrest, according to police. Prosecutors have decided not to charge the woman, according to a statement today from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

“Prohibitions on eating, drinking, smoking, playing music without headphones, etc. have been in place since Metro opened in 1976 and are criminal statutes in each of the jurisdictions. In other words, these are not Metro rules or policies, they are ordinances,” the statement read. “Metro does not receive any revenue as a result of fines; that goes to the jurisdictions. It is correct that the prohibition on eating reduces rodents, pests, unsanitary conditions and unpleasant smells.”

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokesperson Dan Stessel said MTPD command staff “are reviewing the handling of this arrest, which is standard when there is a public question about use of force.”

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Woman Killed by NYPD Had Written About ‘Problems’ on How Police Deal With the Mentally Ill

WABC-TV(NEW YORK) — The 66-year-old woman with schizophrenia who was killed by an NYPD sergeant Tuesday had written a poignant essay in 2012 about living with mental illness in which she expressed that police are ill-equipped to deal with the mentally ill.

In the six-page essay titled “Living With Schizophrenia,” Deborah Danner wrote about a 1984 police encounter eerily similar to the way in which she eventually died. A Bronx woman named Eleanor Bumpurs, whom Danner mistakenly characterized as “Gompers,” was fatally shot after she waved a knife at officers who were evicting her from her apartment, according to The Associated Press. The officer who fired the fatal shot was acquitted of all charges and the city paid her family.

Police shot Bumpurs because she was “a threat to the safety of several grown men who are also police officers,” Danner wrote. “They used deadly force to subdue her because they were not trained sufficiently [on] how to engage the mentally ill in crisis.”

Like Danner, Bumpurs was a black woman in her 60s with a history of mental illness, The New York Times reported. Danner said Bumpurs’ case was “not an isolated incident.” ABC News reached out to the NYPD for comment on Danners’ claim the police officers involved with Bumpurs were insufficiently trained to deal with the mentally ill in crisis, but the NYPD did not respond.

A uniformed NYPD sergeant shot Danner twice Tuesday as she attempted to strike him with a baseball bat, police said. Danner first brandished a pair of scissors at him, but the officer, Sgt. Hugh Barry, was able to convince her to put them down, police said.

On July 7, shortly after the police-involved shooting deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Danner expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter and accused police of targeting people based on the color of their skin.

Point of the Conversation: How’d U like to move about w/a TARGET on you because of the color of your skin? BLACK LIVES MATTER!

— Deborah Danner (@DeborahDanner01) July 8, 2016

Police have a “very difficult job to do” when they intervene in situations involving a mentally ill person, said Michael B. Friedman, a professor of mental health policy at Columbia University’s School of Social Work.

While Friedman said it’s necessary to continue to improve training for all police officers on how to deal with an emotionally disturbed or psychotic person, he added that it may be better to have crisis teams specifically trained to effectively deal with the mentally ill.

“There is no question that people with serious mental illnesses sometimes suffer in our society in ways that they shouldn’t suffer,” Friedman said. “Sometimes they have encounters with people from law enforcement that are not well done.”

Most medium- to large-sized police departments have some sort of mental health training for their officers, said Dr. Laurence Miller, a clinical and forensic psychologist in South Florida. But, while the training is “good in the abstract,” it may not prevent a tragedy from happening when dealing with a mentally ill person.

“Mental illness can make the situation more dangerous,” Miller said, adding an emotionally disturbed person can be unpredictable or unstable, and may not obey typical commands.

Miller said ordinary household items such as a knife, club, brick, lamp or potted plant could become a deadly weapon in the hands of a mentally ill person, and Friedman cautioned the public from rushing to judgment on whether the police officer in question was justified in his use of force before the investigation is complete.

In a press conference Wednesday, New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the NYPD “failed” Danner when they responded to a neighbor’s 911 call for a “person in crisis.”

“That’s not how it’s supposed to go,” O’Neill said. “It’s not how we train. Our first obligation is to preserve life — not to take a life when it can be avoided.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio corroborated O’Neill’s statement, saying that Barry did not follow his police training.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association said: “Being forced to shoot a civilian under any circumstances is traumatic for police officers, but to be immediately vilified based on innuendo and the social and political climate only compounds the tragedy.”

Barry has been put on administrative leave while the NYPD conducts an internal investigation into why he used deadly force rather than deploying a Taser.

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Thousands of Seattle Teachers Wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ T-Shirts to Support Students of Color

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) — Thousands of teachers donned “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts in Seattle Wednesday to show support for students of color in their community, according to the union.

“We have the fifth-largest opportunity gap between our African-American and our white students in the country,” Phyllis Campano, the president of the Seattle Education Association told ABC News, “So we know, as educators, that we need to show our kids that we believe in them, and we set high expectations for them.”

“It’s not really about Black Lives Matter as a movement, but about how black lives matter in our schools,” Campano said, “it is not about the t-shirts, it is about how we support our students of color in our community.”

Campano said that they are still trying to finalize numbers, but she estimates a few thousand teachers in about 80 schools donned t-shirts yesterday to show support for Seattle’s black students. In addition to wearing the t-shirts, many schools also held workshops after school and events to discuss issues of racism and civil rights, but these events varied school-to-school.

“With our scores on education being put out there, everyone keeps saying we are failing the black kids in our community,” Campano said, “What do we need to do? We need to come together, we need to show support.”

Campano said that the feedback they received from the community was overwhelmingly positive, although she says they did receive a few negative emails from a few community members. A law enforcement group, Blue Lives Matter, wrote in a statement on its website that they disagreed with the “political message” that is being promoted in schools.

“The t-shirts were a catalyst to the conversation, and the conversation in our schools is how do we make education better for our children of color? It should be a national conversation,” Campano said.

Campano said she hoped that events such as this one will help students of color feel like they are a part of the schools they are in.

“They don’t see themselves in curriculum or the histories, and we need more educators of color,” Campano said, “but in the meantime we need to make kids feel like they are truly included, and a part of the school.”

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Forecasters Predict Cold and Snowy Winter for the North; Dry, Warm Winter for the South

Max Golembo/ABC News(NEW YORK) — Thursday NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued the U.S. Winter Outlook, saying that La Nina is expected to influence winter conditions this year.

The Climate Prediction Center said La Nina is likely to develop in late fall or early winter, but it is expected to be weak and short-lived.

With the possible weak La Nina, we are expecting more arctic outbreaks for the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes. With colder air moving over relatively warm Great Lakes, lake-effect snow could be heavier than normal especially early in the winter months, said Mike Halpert, deputy director, the Climate Prediction Center. Cities like Bismarck, Minneapolis and Green Bay could see colder than normal conditions, while Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit could see a snowier winter.

Also, snowier conditions are expected in the northern Rockies, so if you have a winter break trip planned to Sun Valley, Idaho, or Big Sky Resort, Montana, you might be in luck for some champagne powder.

A pacific jet stream aimed at Washington State and Oregon will likely deliver wetter and cooler weather for Seattle and Portland, increasing chances for flooding and mudslides.

As far as the Northeast goes, most of the area will see near-normal snowfall and temperatures for winter, save for northern New England, where conditions might be warmer than normal. Having said that, last winter was one of the warmest winters on record in the Northeast, so the near-normal temperatures forecast for this winter could feel much colder.

For the megalopolis of the Northeast, it looks like winter will be more rainy than snowy. During a typical La Nina winter, the jet stream curves north into eastern Canada keeping the coldest arctic air away from the immediate East Coast, leaving the coastal cities mostly with rain or a mix precipitation. Further inland, it could be a different story.

If you want a warmer and drier than normal winter this year, you better head south. From Los Angeles to Dallas to Atlanta, the Climate Prediction Center said to expect less severe winter storms and warmer than average temperatures. Of course, this is bad news for Southern California, which has been dealing with an exceptional drought the last five years.

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