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Feb. 20, 2013 at 10:00 PM
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Snowstorm moves east from California

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- About 30 million people in 18 states are under a storm watch or warning as snow and icy conditions that struck California move to the east, forecasters said.

The California Highway Patrol said on its website two major highways that had been shut down due to weather were reopened to traffic.

A section of California Highway 58 in Kern County was shut down Tuesday after a snowstorm trapped "hundreds of vehicles." The CHP said Interstate 5 -- the major north-south route for traffic from Southern California to the north -- was re-opened after having been shut down early Wednesday due to snow and ice.

The storm, barreling out of the Gulf of Alaska, brought tornadoes Tuesday to Tehama and Glenn counties in Northern California. Hamilton City, in Glenn County, was pelted with hail.

Residents took pictures and video of a tornado or funnel cloud that tore the roof off a storage building south of Gerber, the Chico (Calif.) Enterprise-Record reported Wednesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Johnnie Powell called the tornado "weak" and said its wind speeds ranged between 40 mph and 70 mph.

Flagstaff, Ariz., received 3-5 inches of snow by Wednesday morning, with 5-7 inches more expected, the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff reported Wednesday.

A winter storm set to emerge from the Rockies Wednesday night will bring blizzard conditions to portions of the Central Plains, Accuweather.com reported.

The storm will move through the Upper Midwest and bring snow, wind and cold to areas from California to Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

The biggest threat of heavy snow lies in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri, with the possibility of whiteout conditions, CNN said Wednesday, adding 2 inches of snow, along with freezing rain, are predicted for St. Louis, and Chicago can expect 4 inches of snow.

Accumulating snow may reach as far north as Minneapolis with significant snow likely over southern Wisconsin, forecasters said.

Pope may speed up conclave

VATICAN CITY, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- One of Benedict XVI's last acts as pope may be an edict allowing an early vote on his successor, Vatican officials say.

A spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope may make changes to two edicts issued by Pope John Paul II, Benedict's predecessor, the BBC reported. One involves the timing of a conclave to elect the next pope, the other the conduct of the conclave.

Under the current regulations, a conclave would not begin until March 15. Benedict, the first pope to resign in 600 years, leaves office Feb. 28.

The scheduling gives cardinals time to travel to Rome after a pope's death, but in this case the 117 eligible to vote have advance notice. This year, Holy Week begins March 24 with Palm Sunday, and Vatican officials would like to have a new pope in place before the most important season of the Christian year.

Benedict has said he plans to take no part in public life once he leaves office, instead engaging in prayer and reflection in a Vatican convent.

Census: Poverty worst for American Indians

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- American Indians have the highest poverty rate of any ethnic group in the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau said Wednesday.

The group, which includes both Inuit and Indian residents of Alaska, has an overall poverty rate of 27 percent, demographers said. Blacks are the only other group with a poverty rate more than 10 percent above the national average of 14.3 percent, with 25.8 percent living in poverty.

Whites and Asians had poverty rates below the average, while Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders were slightly above average at 17.6 percent and Hispanics had a poverty rate of 23.2 percent.

Census officials said the American Community Survey allows reporting of detailed information for ethnic and other groups.

"With the American Community Survey, we can look at the poverty rates for even the smallest race and Hispanic-origin groups," said Suzanne Macartney, an analyst in the poverty statistics branch.

Among Hispanics, people of Cuban descent had the lowest poverty rate, 16.2 percent, while Dominicans had the highest, 26.3 percent. Vietnamese and Koreans had similar rates of 14.7 percent and 15.0 percent, while the rate for Filipinos is 5.8 percent.

Coast Guard seizes 1,400 pounds of cocaine

MIAMI, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard announced Wednesday it intercepted 1,400 pounds of cocaine from a powerboat in the Caribbean Sea.

While patrolling the southwestern Caribbean on Jan. 24, Customs and Border Protection aircraft spotted the craft, called a "go-fast" boat, and Coast Guard helicopters located it. After law enforcement officials boarded the craft, four alleged smugglers were detained and 18 bales of suspected contraband, which later tested positive for cocaine, was retrieved after being tossed in the water, the Coast Guard said in a release.

The value of the cocaine, destined for the United States, was estimated at $17 million.

Italian police seize 3 tons of marijuana

VARCATURO, Italy, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Three men in Italy were charged with growing 3 tons of marijuana -- an amount equivalent to 300,000 "joints" -- in an indoor greenhouse, officials said.

Police confiscated the cannabis Wednesday from a villa in the Varcaturo near Naples, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The villa housed a greenhouse complete with artificial lighting, heating, irrigation and ventilation for production of the marijuana to be sold illegally, police said.

After neighbors spotted "suspicious and numerous people coming and going" with bags of fertilizer, a search warrant was issued, ANSA reported.

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