Nature's Nightmares
March 26, 2014

A few days ago, the media elite sounded the alarms, warning of a Nor'easter bomb' that was on a collision course with major cities dotting the Northeast. The original forecast called for several inches of snow, blustery winds, and an all-around mood ruiner set to ring in the first full week of spring.

Well, good news! The massive storm veered into the ocean, with the worst of it missing Washington D.C., New York, and Boston. But, bad news! It had to go somewhere. So, the people of Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and eastern Canada are dealing with hurricane force winds, several feet of snow, and white-out conditions. The coastal storm is giving weather nerds "meteorological eye-candy for those not in the direct path."

Just imagine if this storm was 500 miles west. We owe you one, Canada. --Jordan Valinsky

Real life results
10:29 a.m. ET

While Volkswagen is the only car manufacturer to have been caught outright cheating on emissions tests, a new report by The Guardian reveals that it isn't the only car company with a discrepancy in how its diesel cars fare in emissions tests versus in real life. Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, and Mitsubishi have all been found to have diesel cars that "emit significantly more pollution on the road than in regulatory tests," The Guardian reports.

Mercedes-Benz diesel cars, for example, produce five times more nitric and nitrogen oxide than is allowed per the European Union's Euro 6 emission standard, Mashable reports. Honda's diesel cars emitted NOx levels "between 2.6 and six times the official levels," The Guardian says. Mazda diesel cars emit between 1.6 and 3.6 times the test levels and Mitsubishi diesel autos' emissions are between 1.5 and 3.4 higher.

Spokesmen from the four companies all defended the diesel cars in question and said that they had been tested in accordance with European laws. "Since real-world driving conditions do not generally reflect those in the laboratory, the consumption figures may differ from the standardized figures," a Mercedes spokesman told The Guardian.

Still, some posit that this data reveals that this is a systemic issue that permeates the entire industry. Last week, The Guardian found that Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo, and Jeep all produced "significantly more" NOx in real-life driving conditions than in tests. Becca Stanek

10:16 a.m. ET

A Michigan woman named Mary Hostein has been targeted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since 2013 after she attempted to bring a jar of apple butter through airport security. The agency has slapped her with a $2,000 fine, and has threatened litigation if she doesn't pay soon.

Hostein didn't think that the near-solid spread counted as a liquid subject to the TSA's 3-ounce limit, so she tried to take her jar through two different TSA lines — a decision the TSA claims indicates her intent to break the rules.

For her part, Hostein is shocked that the agency has devoted so much time and levied so harsh a fine over apple butter. "I’m a nobody fighting a government agency that I feel is being relentless," she says. "Is this really what you [the TSA] pay your manpower to do? Is this really protecting our country?" Bonnie Kristian

no smoking
9:41 a.m. ET

China will lose a third of its young men to smoking, according to devastating numbers reported by the British medical journal The Lancet. Researchers at Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Chinese Center for Disease Control worked on two different and geographically diverse studies 15 years apart, with hundreds of thousands of participants, to get their results. The findings revealed that smoking deaths in China are set to triple by 2050 to 3 million people a year — a population larger than the entire city of Chicago.

Smoking rates in the United States have halved in the past 50 years, and one in five deaths in the U.S. are linked to the habit. The decline in the States is in part due to aggressive anti-smoking public service campaigns that aren't as common in China, where "the belief that protective biological mechanisms specific to Asian populations make smoking less hazardous, that it is easy to quit smoking, and that tobacco use is an intrinsic and ancient part of Chinese culture" are widely accepted as true, the study reports. Half of the adults interviewed were unaware that smoking can cause strokes or heart disease; only 10 percent of Chinese smokers quit by choice.

The study additionally found that men who start smoking before age 20 had twice the mortality rate of non-smokers, and that for the two-thirds of Chinese men who take up smoking, half of them will die as a result. Women in China smoke significantly less than men, the BBC reports, with only 2.4 percent taking up the habit, as compared to more than half of Chinese men.

It will be no surprise at this point to hear that China is also the largest consumer of cigarettes in the world, with the average smoker lighting up 22 times a day. Read more about the findings in The Lancet. Jeva Lange

(don't) watch this
8:20 a.m. ET
YouTube/Draft Joe Biden

Joe Biden was none too happy with his super PAC's six-figure TV ad asking him to run for president, calling it "in poor taste" according to anonymous sources who spoke with the press. The super PAC, Draft Biden, has since responded by agreeing not to run the advertisement nationally, The Boston Globe reports. Titled "My Redemption," the ad showed images of Biden's family, including his late son Beau, with a sound clip of Biden's heart-wrenching speech about his personal tragedies that he gave at an address at Yale in May. The ad ended with two words on screen: Joe, run.

"The vice president appreciates that they are trying to help," a source "close to the vice president" told The Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "But he has seen the ad and thinks the ad treads on sacred ground and hopes they don't run it."

Others have criticized the super PAC of exploiting the tragic car accident that killed Biden's wife and daughter in 1972, and the brain cancer that killed Beau Biden earlier this year.

"Obviously we will honor his wishes," the senior adviser to the super PAC said in a statement. While Biden's supporters had planned to run the 90-second ad nationally, it had not yet been on air before it was yanked. Jeva Lange

This just in
8:13 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. will no longer be training Syrian rebels, Obama administration officials said Friday. After the $500 million Pentagon program failed to produce ground combat forces that could effectively take on the Islamic State in Syria, The New York Times reports that the White House decided to pull the plug.

The program had initially promised to produce 5,000 capable fighters by the end of the year, a goal that officials admitted at the end of last month was "unattainable," Foreign Policy reports. The U.S. had suspended the recruitment of new fighters last month after the first two groups that were trained had "either been killed, handed over some of their equipment to the al Qaeda-backed al Nusra Front, or simply melted away," Foreign Policy says.

Pentagon officials are expected to make an official announcement Friday. Becca Stanek

Crisis in Syria
8:08 a.m. ET

With Syrian forces, backed by Russian and Iranian military assistance, attacking rebel troops and occupying their attention, Islamic State attacked the rebels from the other side on Thursday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. By Friday, ISIS had captured a string of towns and villages, starting with a rebel-held Syrian military base, north of Aleppo. Iran also blamed ISIS for the death Thursday afternoon of a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Hossein Hamedani, who Iranian state television said "martyred by Daesh [ISIS] terrorists while carrying out an advisory mission in the outskirts of Aleppo."

The surprise attack by ISIS was its biggest advance in months, The Associated Press reports, citing the Observatory. "Why didn't America attack Daesh fighters during their attack?" asked the group's director, Rami Abdurrahman. BBC News explains the complicated tangle of alliances and objectives in Syria in the video below. Peter Weber

This just in
7:08 a.m. ET
CC by: Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Northern Arizona University said Thursday that one person was dead and three wounded overnight outside a dorm at the university's Flagstaff campus. The suspected shooter is in custody and the campus isn't on lockdown, the university added. NSU spokeswoman Cindy Brown didn't provide many details about the shooting, except that it was first reported at about 1:20 a.m. local time happened outside Mountain View Hall, a dormitory that ABC News says houses most of the students involved in Greek organizations. Peter Weber

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