National briefs: Record number of flights nixed

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NEW YORK -- The relentless snow and ice storms this winter have led to the highest number of flight cancellations in more than 25 years, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

U.S. airlines have canceled more than 75,000 domestic flights since Dec. 1, including more than 14,000 this week. That's 5.5 percent of the 1.37 million flights scheduled during that period, according calculations based on information provided by flight tracking site FlightAware.

It's the highest total number and highest percent of cancellations since at least the winter of 1987-1988, when the Department of Transportation first started collecting cancellation data.

The nation's air traffic system was still recovering Friday from the latest bout of bad weather. Flights were taking off again Friday.

Ice covering Great Lakes

CHEBOYGAN, Mich. -- It's been so bitterly cold for so long that the Great Lakes are almost completely covered with ice for the first time in 20 years.

The last time they came this close was in 1994, when 94 percent of the lakes' surface was frozen. As of Friday, ice cover extended across 88 percent. That's according to the federal government's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

Sections of the lakes harden almost every winter. But scientists say that over the past four decades, the average ice cover has receded 70 percent, probably in part because of climate change.

Coal ash deal denied

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory denied Friday he had any talks with Duke Energy executives or lobbyists about his administration's scuttled deal to settle environmental violations at two of the $50 billion company's coal ash dumps for $99,000.

Federal prosecutors on Monday served the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources with a grand jury subpoena demanding records as part of a federal investigation into the spill, which contaminated a river so badly the state has advised against prolonged contact with the water or eating fish.

Mr. McCrory worked at Duke 28 years before retiring to make his first run for governor in 2008.

Obama rallies House Dems

CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- President Barack Obama on Friday wrapped up a series of February meetings with congressional Democrats, sessions aimed at finding common ground on a host of contentious issues and plotting strategy for the November elections.

The president, speaking to House Democrats as they ended their three-day retreat at a Maryland Eastern Shore resort, offered a nine-minute pep talk that avoided any mention of contentious issues, notably trade.

Mr. Obama wants legislation that would make it easier for the administration to get trade agreements. Democratic leaders are largely opposed.

Also in the nation ...

A Florida jury weighing the fate of Michael Dunn, accused of shooting an unarmed teenager to death during a dispute over loud music, told officials Friday that it had hit a wall in its deliberations and then broken for the night. Deliberations were to resume today. ... New Jersey lawmakers investigating intentional gridlock at the George Washington Bridge will compel testimony from Bill Baroni, an appointee of Gov. Chris Christie, who previously told them the cause was a traffic study. Mr. Christie, a 51-year-old Republican, has said he knew nothing about the closings as they were happening.


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