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March 15, 2019

Thanks to a rainy winter, California is drought-free for the first time in eight years.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released a map on Thursday showing that there are no areas of the state experiencing prolonged drought, the Los Angeles Times reports. The last time the map looked like this was in December 2011. "The reservoirs are full, lakes are full, the streams are flowing, there's tons of snow," Jessica Blunden with the National Climatic Data Center said. "All the drought is officially gone."

At this time in 2018, 88.9 percent of California was considered "abnormally dry," and only 11 percent was experiencing normal conditions. Today, 93 percent of the state is under normal conditions. Catherine Garcia

August 29, 2018

It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment: On Tuesday night, while searching for a boy who was sucked into a Wisconsin storm drain, a firefighter happened to look down at a manhole cover and saw the 11-year-old's fingers pop up through an opening.

The boy was playing with his friends in a flooded drainage ditch in Calumet County when he suddenly slipped under the water, and never came back up, The Associated Press reports. Sheriff's deputies, a dive team, and volunteer firefighters came rushing to the scene, and Deputy Fire Chief Wesley Pompa and another official began trying to determine where the water might take the boy. They were standing on a manhole cover, and when Pompa looked down, he saw the boy's fingers.

Immediately, they got to work prying the cover open, then lifted the boy out. "He was hollering," Pompa told AP. The boy had managed to find an air pocket under the cover, and was holding on to a ladder when Pompa spotted his fingers. "I just thank God he was alive and he'd made it that long," Pompa said. "It could have gone a million different ways but this one way it worked out for him." The boy, whose name was not released, was taken to an area hospital. The region has been hit by several storms over the last week, with flooding reported in 20 counties. Catherine Garcia

July 17, 2018

The Afghan government is planning its second-ever ceasefire with the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday night.

The ceasefire is scheduled to coincide with a Muslim holiday in August. Its announcement comes close on the heels of a United Nations report that civilian deaths for the first six months of 2018 are at a record high since the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking casualties in 2009.

Taliban leaders agreed to an initial ceasefire timed for another holiday in June. The agreement did not include foreign troops, like U.S. forces, and other militant groups, like the Islamic State, were not involved.

The new ceasefire is intended to pave the way for peace talks between the Taliban, the United States, and the Afghan government. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said he does not think a "military victory" is plausible in Afghanistan; rather, "the victory will be a political reconciliation" between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Bonnie Kristian

July 4, 2018

Hawaii is doing something about dying coral reefs, becoming the first state to ban the sale of any sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate.

Gov. David Ige (D) signed the legislation on Tuesday, saying this is "just one small step toward protecting and restoring the resiliency of Hawaii's reefs." The ban will go into effect in 2021.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are in the majority of sunscreens, and scientists say the chemicals increase coral bleaching, cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms, and cause mortality in developing coral, USA Today reports. Once those sunscreen products are prohibited, they will only be available in Hawaii to people with a prescription from their physician. Catherine Garcia

June 19, 2018

The National Park Service is set to reintroduce more than two dozen wolves to Michigan's remote Isle Royale, on the western edge of Lake Superior, in an attempt to right an ecological disaster that was set off when the population was decimated by a disease brought over by a sick domestic dog in 1982, Popular Science reports. In the intervening years, the wolf population on Isle Royale has plunged from 50 to just two, setting off a chain reaction — the wolves kept the moose population down, but with no natural predators, the herbivorous ungulates have exploded in number, chewing their way through the island's balsam firs.

The moose population has grown so large that "add a few more moose and one harsh winter, and the population will starve and collapse if previous trends hold true," Popular Science writes.

Unlike other regions where predators have been reintroduced, like wolves in Yellowstone or panthers in Florida, Michigan's Isle Royale is relatively undisturbed by humans. That makes it a key location for ecological research, both prior to and after the wolf reintroduction.

"The bottom line is safely capturing and releasing wolves into very remote habitat that's difficult to access," said the park's superintendent, Phyllis Green. Read more about the process of reintroducing the wolves at Popular Science. Jeva Lange

June 4, 2018

A new study has found that most women who have early-stage breast cancer might not need to go through chemotherapy, with surgery and hormone therapy being enough.

The study was presented Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers focused on women with early-stage breast cancer that had not spread and was hormone-positive. For these patients, they typically undergo surgery and then take hormone-blocking drugs, but they are often urged to also go through chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that remain.

During the study, the largest one ever done on breast cancer, 10,273 patients took a test called Oncotype DX, which uses a biopsy sample to see how cells are growing and how they respond to hormone therapy, in order to estimate the risk the cancer will recur, The Associated Press reports. The 17 percent of women who had high-risk scores were advised to undergo chemotherapy, while the 16 percent of patients with a low-risk score were told they could skip it. The 67 percent of women at intermediate risk were split into two groups, with all of them having surgery and hormone therapy, but one group also going through chemo.

After nine years, 94 percent of both groups are still alive, and 84 percent are alive without any signs of cancer, showing the chemo didn't change anything. "The impact is tremendous," Dr. Joseph Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, the study's leader, told AP. The researchers say that the findings do not apply to women who have larger tumors or whose cancer has spread, and they need to conduct studies on those patients. Catherine Garcia

March 8, 2018

While speaking at the United Nations headquarters on Thursday, Reese Witherspoon announced that Time's Up, the campaign launched by women in the entertainment industry to fight sexual harassment in the workplace, has been able to assist 1,500 women since it started in January.

The Time's Up Legal Defense Fund has received more than $20 million, Witherspoon said, and helped 1,500 women file harassment suits against their employers for abuse and assault. The response has been "incredible," Witherspoon said, and proof "we are no longer to be harassed, we are no longer going to be mistreated or discriminated against. We are going to create more opportunity for each other." Catherine Garcia

January 24, 2018

Starbucks is investing $250 million into increased pay and benefits for its workers, CNBC reported Wednesday. A Starbucks press release noted that this decision was motivated "by recent changes in the U.S. tax law" and will affect more than 150,000 workers.

In April, Starbucks employees will receive wage increases "based on regional cost of living" that total $120 million. The company is also doling out stock grants; baristas and other store staff will receive at least $500 grants while store managers will get $2,000 grants.

The coffee-chain behemoth is also offering more generous benefits. Employees working full time will be able to accumulate up to five paid sick days per year, and "non-birth parents" will be eligible to take up to six paid weeks off to spend time with their newborn. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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