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A Faithful Death; Dogs Understand Voices, Emotions; Ukraine President Leaves Kiev; Obama Calls Putin to Discuss Ukraine; U.S., Russia Tied In Olympic Medal Count; Arizona Lawmakers Pass Anti-Gay Bill; Does Poll Support McCain's Theory?; Christie Rejects White House Dinner Invite; Ted Nugent Apologizes, Sort Of; Student Claims Racism

Aired February 22, 2014 - 08:00   ET



PROTESTERS: Veto, veto, veto, veto!


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, they are shouting veto. There is anger in Arizona this morning after a controversial bill makes its way to the governor's desk and it soon maybe legal there for businesses to refuse services to gays and lesbians.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: It is called the cancelator. It may be ruining your air travel, people. Wait until you hear the truth about how you hear your flights are canned. It is not because of the weather.

BLACKWELL: That was big. I mean, people are really going to learn something there.

And just a week after the star of the TV show "Snake Salvation" died from a rattlesnake bite, his son takes over the pulpit with the exact same snake. And get this, he is doing it tonight.

PAUL: Good morning to you on a Saturday. Grab your coffee or O.J. or your cup of choice in the morning and just sit back and relax. We have you covered. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. There is no reason to rush out the door. It's 8:00 and this is NEW DAY SATURDAY. We are certainly going to get to that story about all of the anger of this controversial bill in Arizona because a lot of people are talking about that this weekend.

PAUL: That's a big one.

BLACKWELL: Well, we have to start this hour in Ukraine. I mean, the situation is changing by the minute there. PAUL: Yes. So right now, we know there is no president at the presidential palace in the capital of Kiev. In fact, you are looking here at some live pictures of Kiev right now. Our correspondents on the ground there are telling us that President Viktor Yanukovych has left the city. And all of this happening, of course, just 24 hours after a fragile peace deal was brokered. This followed days of gun fire though and Friday that left dozens of people dead.

BLACKWELL: And the U.S. has been urging calm there. CNN foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott joins us now from Washington. So Elise, we know that President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about what's happening in Ukraine. Talk to us about that conversation.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, basically, Victor and Christi, President Obama picked up the phone and called up President Putin. You know, there has been a lot of tension between the U.S. and Russia over the last couple of months about Ukraine. But now that this deal is brokered and the U.S. and the E.U. really made an effort to bring Russia into the fold here. I think everyone recognizes that the important thing now is to make sure this agreement sticks and so there is no more violence.

PAUL: So Elise, we know that this unrest in the Ukraine began back in November after the president rejected a trade deal and want closer ties with Russia instead. Where do they go from here and how did all of that come about?

LABOTT: Well, this is really been interesting because, you know, you've heard President Obama say and the White House say over the last several weeks and months, you know, this is not a bidding war with Russia. This is not some kind of chess board with Russia. But certainly, that the U.S. and Europe have been fighting for the hearts and minds of Ukrainians against Russia.

There is a division in the country. Yes, all these protesters on the streets of Kiev are the ones that want to move closer to the west. They want to see President Yanukovych go. But there are a lot of Ukrainians in the east that speak Russian, feel more of affinity for Russia.

And so President Putin has been hoping to capitalize on that sentiment and certainly that is where President Yanukovych, we believe that is where he is right now. That is where his political base is. That is when he has been hoping to capitalize. But now that there has been this agreement, it looks very unsure about President Yanukovych's future.

I think that the U.S. and Russia are really going to need to work together here to make sure that Ukraine is on a more important footing. Whether they look towards Russia or whether they look to the west. No one wants to see a civil war breakout in the country.

BLACKWELL: Let's expand that conversation. I mean, is this really about Russia versus the west. I mean, the protesters have made it clear. They have been yanking down statues of Lenin, the symbol of the Russian revolution. They don't want Russian influence at all. Is this still centrally now because it's been going on for several weeks now still about either we go with Vladimir Putin or we move closer to the west?

LABOTT: I think it certainly started like that, Victor. But at this point, it is more about a state of corruption in Ukraine. The moves by President Yanukovych to solidify his power taking a lot of power for himself and not letting the democratic process that has been trying to unfold since the Ukrainian Orange Revolution take place over the last few years. So once it was about Russia versus the west. Now I think it is about Ukrainians want democracy in their future. They don't see President Yanukovych offering that.

BLACKWELL: All right, we will see where this goes as it continues to develop. As we said, changing by the minute. Elise Labott for us in Washington, thank you.

You know, not far from Kiev, the Olympics are wrapping up the final weekend of competition. The race to see who can win the most medals, it could not be closer.

PAUL: Yes, well, the U.S. and Russia, we now know are tied with 27 medals total. Norway, Canada are not far behind. Here is something to chew on. Two of Russia's ten gold medals were won by this guy.

BLACKWELL: Yes. His name is Vic Wild. Born and bred American who then switched citizenship to Russia a few years ago. CNN's Amanda Davies is covering the games in Sochi. OK, snowboarder from Washington State winning gold for Russia. Why is this happening?

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS: Well, it is one of those boy meet girl stories. Fall in love. He became Russian instead of American as simple as that. Vic Wild fell in love with Russia's Alina Zaverina. After the U.S. snowboarding decided to cut the funding for his (inaudible) event, when he was given the choice, would he carry on competing for USA or would he switch to compete for Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics here in Sochi.

He opted for Russia. The Russian flags have been flying high. As you said he claimed two gold medals. He followed up the victory in the giant parallel slalom with the victory parallel slalom earlier today. It would be a great story if that gold medal hadn't meant that Russia are now above the USA in the medals table because they have got more gold medals.

PAUL: All right, so OK, let's call wild the one that got away. Let's do that. There is an 18-year-old American that just became a new Olympic hero. Let's hear about her.

DAVIES: Yes, Mikaela Shiffrin, the girl who started skiing on her parents driveway because she decided she loved hot chocolate when she was going back inside from the cold. She has become the youngest ever winner of the Olympic slalom event. Get this, she loves her sport so much. She is celebrating today, this afternoon by going to stand back on the mountain to watch the men's race, which is taking place as we speak. She is by the age of 18, won everything there is to win, Olympic gold, world championship gold and World Cup season gold. She has medal ceremony later today, promises to be a great moment so one for the family album.

PAUL: All right, Amanda Davies in Sochi there. Thank you, Amanda.

So this is the story a lot of people are buzzing about, claims of discrimination in Arizona. State lawmakers passed this bill that would allow businesses to deny service to gay or lesbian customers based on the owner's religious beliefs.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Arizona's LGBT community is fighting back as you understand. Hundreds protested at the state capitol last night. Our Miguel Marquez was there -- Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Christi, this is the scene outside the Arizona capitol here. Several hundred people, mostly gays and lesbians and business owners gathered here in protest of SB1062. They are chanting things like veto and stop the hate and vote them out. Very, very upset about the legislature here and them passing this law. It now goes to the governor's desk.

She has not decided whether she is going to sign it into law or veto it. It sounds like it will be transmitted to the governor on Monday. That would mean she would have five days probably until Friday or Saturday of next week to make up her mind in order to do that.

What this crowd here is most concerned with is that the LGBT community. The lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender community in the state of Arizona they say would be singled out by this bill for those who are concerned about their religious freedoms. Those who support this bill say it does nothing of the sort.

It only allows those who believe and have deep held religious beliefs to practice religious freedoms freely. Where this all goes is not clear, there is a possibility of lawsuits, the business community here saying they are concerned about boycotts and lawsuits. All of that to come if this bill is passed and signed into law by the governor -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: All right, Miguel, thank you.

So wedding bells rang early in Chicago after a judge ruled same-sex couples in Cook County and only Cook County don't have to wait until June to marry. That is when the state of Illinois will allow marriages between same-sex couples. People rushed to the court house yesterday to get marriage licenses.

The clerk's office in Chicago even stayed open two hours late just to make sure that everybody got what they needed.

BLACKWELL: So what would you do if you were invited to dinner at the White House?

PAUL: I'd go. BLACKWELL: Well, if you are Chris Christie, you will skip out of town before dinner time. We'll explain why.

PAUL: Plus one a week after the star of "Snake Salvation" was killed by a rattlesnake, his son returns to the pulpit to take his place. We are going to explain next why serpents are so central for their unique faith.


PAUL: It is a beautiful day. Rise and shine to all our friends in Washington, D.C. Good morning. Cold outside, I know in the nation's capital, but you will have a beautiful day, 64 degrees a little bit later. We're so glad you are starting your NEW DAY with us here at CNN. We're glad to have you.

BLACKWELL: Time now for the political gut check, get you all the news you need coming out of Washington.

PAUL: First stop, a new poll seemed to be supporting Senator John McCain's theory, remember he had said that if an election were held tomorrow, Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the United States.

BLACKWELL: Look at this poll from Gallup. It was released on Friday. It shows Clinton has a favorability of rating of 59 percent. Now that is actually lower than it was since she was secretary of state. So it's dropped a bit. The unfavorable, you see here, is 37 percent.

Also another reminder that the 2016 election really is not too far away, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not going to rub elbows with President Obama this weekend. He was invited to attend the White House dinner for the National Governors Association tomorrow. His people say he is leaving Washington early to get home and celebrate his daughter's 18th birthday.

PAUL: OK, but you know, there are people speculating that Christie doesn't want to be seen with Obama after being criticized for chumming up with him in the aftermath of the Superstorm sandy.

BLACKWELL: Now it is time for politicians say what? Well, today, we are dissecting Ted Nugent's sort of apology to President Obama after he called him a, quote, "subhuman mongrel." And that's just one of the terms.


TED NUGENT, MUSICIAN: I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod and not shame enough Americans to let a Chicago communist, educated and communist nurtured sub human mongrel like the ACORN community organization, gangster, Barrack Hussein Obama weasel his way into the top office in America.


PAUL: OK, listen to how Nugent apologizes when asked about this on a conservative radio show. Here it is.


NUGENT (via telephone): I did cross the line. I do apologize. Not necessarily to the president, but on behalf of much better men than myself like the best governor in America, Governor Rick Perry. The best attorney general in America, just think if America had an attorney general as great as Greg Abbott like we do here in Texas.

BLACKWELL: Of course, listeners quickly pointed out, wait a minute, that did not seem like a sincere apology and it wasn't really to President Obama. When pressed by the show's host if he was directly apologizing to the president, Nugent said simply yes. Remember the apology came after several condemned the comments. We know Nugent is not a politician.

Let's talk about what Senator Rand Paul tweeted. Here it is, Ted Nugent's derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize.

PAUL: Not all Republicans rushed to judgment on the rocker turned conservative activist as he's called. Greg Abbott campaigned with Nugent on Tuesday, and Abbott is the Texas Republican candidate for governor. Listen to how he dodges this question, CNN's question.


ED LAVANDERA,CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Abbott, why did you think it was a good idea to campaign with Ted Nugent?

GRET ABBOTT, TEXAS REPUBLICAN GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: You know, it is funny how the reactive -- the Davis campaign is to this. It shows he has driven a wedge and exposed the fraud that they have displayed on second amendment based issues. So Ted Nugent was a way to expose Winnie Davis for her flip flopping on government related issues.

LAVANDERA: This is Texas. Finding someone who is pro guns is not that hard. Why Ted Nugent?

ABBOTT: What's your question?


BLACKWELL: Yes, just kind of moved on for the follow-up. Then Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative darling from Texas, he said after Nugent's shocking comments, he is not ruling out the idea of campaigning with him.


SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Look, those sentiments there, of course, I do not agree with him. You would never hear me say such a thing and nor would I. There is a reason Ted Nugent people have listened to him. He has been fighting passionately for second amendment rights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you campaign with Ted Nugent? CRUZ: You know, I haven't yet and I will avoid engaging in hypotheticals.


PAUL: Of course, some people point out that you can't be too surprised when Ted Nugent says something shocking because, you know, it is not the first time that's he's done it.

BLACKWELL: There is also this racist stunt at Ole Miss and it's turn now into a criminal investigation after a noose and confederate federal flag were placed on the statue of its first black student.

PAUL: Now the second racially charged incident is really rubbing raw nerve with students there. We will tell you what is going on.


BLACKWELL: It's 21 after the hour now. This morning, students at Ole Miss, they are understandably on edge after two racially charged incidents on campus there.

PAUL: The thing is the FBI is now involved with this. They are working with university officials after a noose was placed on the statue of civil rights pioneer, James Meredith. He integrated Ole Miss in 1962.

BLACKWELL: Now the FBI and police want to know if a separate incident involving a female student and racial slurs is also connected. Our CNN reporter, Nick Valencia is there live in Oxford, Mississippi.

Nick, Ole Miss is a school with a past, with a history. These events don't help to get over the stigma there. What is happening now?

PAUL: Right now, part of the investigation, Victor, is to find out if the incidents were connected. I spoke to campus officials yesterday. They said there is no evidence to suggest they were. They are isolated incidents. That is how they are treated now. That is causing uneasy emotions to have these events happen back-to-back.

Yesterday, I spoke to Kiesha Reeves. She is the African-American student who says that she had alcohol thrown at her, outside of her apartment complex and somebody called her the "n" word. She took us back to the scene and told us what happened.


KIESHA REEVES, STUDENT: I never witnessed or display of hatred or racism. I only heard it. For this to happen, it impacted me. To be a black student at Ole Miss is very hard. Sometimes your voice isn't heard, but I learned today that I can -- I feel that the administration is great and black history month, this happened during black history month. I think things are changing for the better.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VALENCIA: Now no suspects have been named in the incidents against Kiesha Reeves. I spoke to campus officials and they say they were looking into it. Also in regard to the James Meredith statue, three freshman students here from the state of Georgia, also fraternity members, who have since been expelled from that fraternity. They are being further investigated. We understand that officials are waiting on arrest warrants. We don't know when those will come out. When they do, we will be here to cover it -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: All right, Nick Valencia, glad you are. Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Several high school wrestlers in New Jersey will not compete because of a photo some say is racist.

PAUL: Some are posing around a wrestling dummy. The dummy is hung from the ceiling.

The dummy is dressed in a rival school. The principal said he has no comment at this point.

Coming up on NEW DAY, just days after a snake-handling pastor died from being bitten by the snake, his son is returning to the pulpit with the exact same reptile. I know you are wondering why do they use snakes in worship services? We will talk about it in a moment.

BLACKWELL: Yes, but first, Christine Romans has a preview of "YOUR MONEY" coming up in an hour from now. Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christi and Victor. Coming up at 9:30, my exclusive interview with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.


JACK LEW, TREASURY SECRETARY: I don't believe it is right for people to work 40 hours and take home pay that is below the poverty line.


ROMANS: So can they get a minimum wage increase through? See you at 9:30 a.m. Eastern on an all new "YOUR MONEY."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the number one American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I reckon I can handle your serve. You have a height advantage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you can, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, John Isner's height gets him that opportunity to get angles that normal players don't get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are we in tennis in the U.S.? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think in the '70s, '80s and '90s, American tennis fans were spoiled. You have to look at the era our guys are playing in right now. Roger every grand slam, Rafa, Djokovic and Murray. I don't think American tennis is as bad as people portray it to be. We were a bit spoiled in the past.



PAUL: If you are running around crazy this morning and listening, we get that. We've been there. It is 8:29. We're glad you are with us. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. And when there is great video, we're going to say "Hey look at the screen." And then you could just kind of peak back.

PAUL: Because we've got some.

BLACKWELL: Yes we do have some. Let's start with the five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

Up first after days of deadly protests, Ukraine's embattled president has left the capital Kiev. Now opposition lawmakers and parliament are calling for him to resign immediately and they want elections by the end of May. And all of this is happening just one day after a peace deal was brokered that sharply reduces the President's powers.

PAUL: Number two this is some of the video we're talking about here. Take a look at this the driver of this car was pulling into her driveway when that sinkhole just swallowed it. Yes her and the car. She says she was trying to park it and it just started going down. She called 911. Fire crews were able to get out there and get her out by lifting her out of the driver's side window.


PAUL: Thankfully she is ok.

BLACKWELL: And number three. With propane gas and boat flares exploding, here is a good video. Here is something amazing here you want to see. A massive multi-alarm marina fire roared out of control for hours in Washington State. Now it's not clear how this fire started. But reports say most of the boats there are fiberglass and of course they go up in flames fast.

As many as 20 boats caught fire before the fire department got things under control. Now we can say look at this video because we know that there were no injuries reported in this fire.

PAUL: Thank goodness.

Number four, the city of Detroit considering deep pension cuts for current and retired city workers as they try to make the plan to emerge from bankruptcy. Now the city says it's considering dropping health coverage for retirees. And instead, they would give them a stipend to buy insurance on health care exchanges.

BLACKWELL: Number five here. This is pretty rare. I mean imagine how many times in history this has happened Pope Francis and Pope Benedict embracing this morning in Vatican City -- two Popes alive at the same time to embrace one another. The former leader of the Catholic Church was there to witness Francis create 19 new cardinals from around the world. The first such appointment since he was elected pontiff last march.

PAUL: One week after Kentucky Pastor Jamie Coots died from a snake bite, his son is going to walk up to the pulpit with the exact same snake that killed his father.

BLACKWELL: Yes and today will be the first sermon for 21-year-old Cody Coots. And he belongs to a group of Christians that handle venomous snakes as part of worship. Now believers point to the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 16:18. It reads and follows, "They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them."

BLACKWELL: Despite more than 90, yes you heard me right 90, 9-0 death stemming from snake bites in church followers believe that the reptiles are essential to their faith as the bible.

BLACKWELL: Yes let's talk about this, let's bring in Bill Estep, he's a reporter for Lexington Herald-Leader, he's on the phone with us and we've got Ralph Hood, professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. And he is attending the sermon tonight. Thank you both for being with us. And you both knew Pastor Coots personally. Tell us about his passion for handling these snakes. Let's start with you, Ralph.

RALPH HOOD, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE, CHATTANOOGA (voice over): Well, Jamie Coots is part of the tradition that believes in the plain meaning in the Gospel of Mark. And they believe that they should take up serpents because it says these signs shall follow them to believe. And so to indicate the sincerity of their belief, they handle serpents in a simple of act of obedience to the Gospel to Mark.

PAUL: Bill you know, what do you know about -- let's listen actually let's listen to something Jamie Coots said first about his -- his interpretation of the bible prior to his death. Take a listen.


JAMIE COOTS: To me it is much a commandment from God when they shall take up serpents because as it was the Ten Commandments when he said thou shall not commit adultery. When I first started in church I said if I ever went to a hospital or a doctor if I was snake bit, I would quit the church.


PAUL: Actually Ralph let me give this to you. You know there are critics who say snake handlers are taking this far too literally. What do you say to that?

HOOP: They response to the serpent handler at they take the Gospel when it has a plain meaning to mean exactly what it says. And it's hard to dispute the notion that Mark says they shall take up serpents. And Jamie Coots is absolutely right. And that he had at least eight previous bites and he had never sought medical aid. And on this last bite that proved to be fatal, his family refused the medical assistance in honoring the beliefs and wishes of Jamie Coots.

BLACKWELL: So Bill, I wonder I mean now that Pastor Coots has died and the scripture says that they shall take up serpents and it shall not hurt them. Does these groups of Christians the way they believe and the bible quite literally. Do they see death differently?

BILL ESTEP, REPORTER, LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER (via telephone): Some of them struggle with what a death means in that context. Although I talked this week with Cody Coots with Jamie's son and also with Andrew Hamlin who's another young snake handling minister from Tennessee. I asked them both about that. And their -- their belief is that -- that everybody has a time to die. Is that time is set from the time of your birth and God knows that. And whether that's going to be by heart attack, stroke, car wreck, whatever it's going to be or a rattlesnake bite that that's what's in God's plan. They don't question that. They believe this was Jamie Coot's time to go. That this is the way it was ordained for him to go, to die. They don't question that it's not a sign of defeat. It's part of God's plan to them.

PAUL: So Bill, I know you have been following this. How diverse is the serpent handling community? I mean do they -- do they feel that they are being misrepresented in some way?

ESTEP: Some of them are reluctant and has been historically reluctant for years. I know Dr. Hood has talked to the lot of people in this community. They feel like the outside world doesn't understand their belief and doesn't really want to that they are mocked by people outside that their belief is seen and crazy and dangerous.

So a lot of them have been reluctant to talk to outsiders and to the media in particular. But there have been folks who like Jamie, like Andrew Hamlin and like others and some others before them who are willing to try to help people understand. I know Dr. Hood has been to many services. Other researchers I have been to a number of services in Kentucky and West Virginia down in Tennessee.

There were -- there were member -- were people in the church who were like Jamie who are willing to try to help people understand. And Jamie actually saw I mean you know he was on the reality TV show last year that he saw as a chance to actually spread the Gospel further than he could have by any other means. So he was willing to try to help people understand.

I have known Jamie for more than 15 years. And as Dr. Hood said, he was very sincere. I mean to him, that commandment was just like the Ten Commandments just like you know the bible says that believers should tithe. Give 10 percent of their income. Any other thing that was a direct, clear command in the bible, they believe you should follow that.


ESTEP: And this is just one of them.

BLACKWELL: Ralph and Bill, thank you so much for speaking with us. And Ralph I want to ask you, you are going to the service tonight. Maybe you can join us in the morning and tell us how it went the first service after Pastor Jamie died from this bite and his son now at the pulpit. Hopefully we'll see you in the morning.

HOOD: I don't know. It remains to be seen what his son will do. They believe in handling serpents, but not necessarily just to demonstrate to the outside world that they can do it. So it will be dependent upon what happens at the service tonight. And that's in question.

PAUL: All right.

BLACKWELL: All right Ralph and Bill, thank you so much for helping us understand this.

PAUL: Yes thank you so much.

And still to come on NEW DAY, do you believe it's only February and we're talking about tornadoes in nine states.


PAUL: Severe lightning storms across the U.S. Oh we've got a weekend forecast for you coming up.

BLACKWELL: Plus, man's best friend is even more like us than you thought. We'll tell you what a new study shows about the way your dog understands you.


PAUL: Forty-two minutes past the hour.

Listen I know this probably isn't shocking news to you dog lovers and owners out there. But a study has found some surprising similarities between dogs and humans. It turns out those dogs know when we're sad because the dog's brain processes human voices the way our brains do. So in other words dogs always know when you are having a bad day. And that's why they are always so good for us.


PAUL: Always making us feel better no matter what happened when we come home. And they love us.

BLACKWELL: I hear. I've never actually had a dog.

PAUL: I have two. I'll lend you one of mine for a while, you can find out.

BLACKWELL: That's all right. I'll just look at the cell phone pictures.

PAUL: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: We'll go with that.

PAUL: Ok you know what else dogs do? They freak out during bad weather don't they? You all know this, right?

But boy when we talk about bad weather, we're talking wind and hail and strong winds and more than 20 tornadoes that ripped through the southeast already and the Midwest. And this is just in the past 48 hours.

BLACKWELL: And some of this is serious. In Michigan, multiple car accidents and icy conditions shut down parts of the interstate. A powerful snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow in Minnesota. And then check out this shot of lightning, wow, striking buildings in Nashville. I mean the thunderstorms there are intense.

Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray for more on the weather this weekend. And -- and you know, we're talking about how it just seems so early for all of this to happen.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes you can definitely have tornadoes in February. The weird part about it was we had the extreme severe weather. We even had blizzard conditions going on at the exact same times. We had a winter component and we also had a severe component going on at the exact same time. Those are really cool shots of that new building in Nashville that actually happened on Thursday night.

So I'm going to show you the reports. Now a lot of these reports and they are just preliminary reports. We had 28 tornado reports. These are the ones on Thursday. And then as we know, it pushed offshore early yesterday. We had a couple more reports. A lot of these tornado reports could actually turn into straight line wind reports after the surveys are done. So these are just an early look at what went on over the past couple of days.

All of that is gone though. It has pushed well offshore. We are going to have high pressure and sunshine for most of the south, the East Coast, the northeast -- looking good as we go through the next couple of days.

The only real story today, cold temperatures up in the northern plains; we have wind chill advisories in place with temperatures feeling like 20 degrees and 30 degrees below zero. A far cry from how we are feeling in the south of Atlanta at 67 degrees today, warming up into the 70s tomorrow; D.C., 65 tomorrow; New York City, 51 tomorrow. So, a little bit of relief, guys, for the weekend.

And then as we go into next week, we will have some colder air pushing in. Chicago, Minneapolis, you start to cool off again by Monday, Tuesday, into Wednesday. And then we will start to see our next push of arctic air. And that's going to pull in by the middle part of next week. So more cold air is coming, but we do have quite a while just to relax and enjoy the outdoors especially here in the south. It's going to be great this weekend.

BLACKWELL: Can we just live in the now before we see that arctic air come back?

GRAY: Yes, we're going to --

BLACKWELL: Let's enjoy now.

GRAY: Yes, the weekend is going to be good.

PAUL: I don't need to see it. I don't know what you're talking about.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

All right. Jennifer Gray, thanks.

GRAY: Right.

PAUL: You know there is nothing more frustrating than when you go to the airport early and you think "I've got it. I'm on time. I'm ready to go." And then your flight is delayed or even worse, it is canceled.

It is not as random though --


PAUL: -- as we think, right?

BLACKWELL: Really. Up next, we will tell you how to beat the program airlines use to control the skies. There is a program. There is science. It is known as the cancellator.


PAUL: 49 minutes past the hour.

And if you have been to the airport recently, I bet you probably had to deal with canceled flight or two and before you blame the weather, because you know we always do, blame it on something called the cancellator.

That is the focus of this week's "Time" magazine cover story. It's called "Airport Confidential". And according to this report airlines use sophisticated algorithms to determine which flights take off and which ones stay grounded.

We're going to bring in author of "Travel Unscripted", Mark Murphy to discuss this. Mark, thank you so much for being with us.


PAUL: How the heck does this thing work?

MURPHY: Well, it's basically like you said -- algorithms. So it's computer programming. Think about airlines. They fly based on computers. So, on the ground, logistics, getting those planes from one point to another, crews from one point to another. A crew might be based out of Phoenix but needs to get to Charlotte in order to catch to their plane if they're going to fly then to, let's say, London.

So, all of those algorithms make sure that that coordination takes place. When something like weather comes up or frankly, crew changes or with the new law about crew rest, they have to make adjustments and sometimes your flight gets canceled as a result. And it is a pro- active way to cancel flights.

PAUL: Ok. So when I'm standing at the gate and they're telling it is the weather, it's the weather, it's the weather, are they lying to us?

MURPHY: You know sometimes, it could be the weather. You could be looking outside. It could be a beautiful and sunny day in, let's say, Chicago but your flight is coming, let's say, from Atlanta and you had a big ice storm. So even though it is nice in Chicago, your flight is delayed because of weather, because of something else that happens at another airport. That definitely happens.

I think sometimes the frustration as a traveler is when I show up, it says my flight is on time. Ten minutes before the flight leaves and the airplane is not even at the gate.

PAUL: Right.

MURPHY: And I want them to update me. And I think the airlines have tried to get better at that and hence you've have seen some of these pro-active cancellations in advance of weather because they know there are going to be problems and logistically they know they're just not going to be able to get you off the ground.

PAUL: Ok. Is there a way to beat, quote, "the cancellator"?

MURPHY: It's really tough to beat the cancellator. But here is what you can do. Before you go and book your flight, think about booking with a travel agent. The reason I say book with a travel agent, they get notices about flight cancellations. So if you are in the air and your flight is delayed and you're going to miss your connection, they are actively working to re-book you. So that's step one.

Go get a nonstop flight. That is the other thing. And make sure you have the highest chance of getting to that final destination.

Also look at airports that are not right in your backyard. You might drive an hour, an hour and a half to get that nonstop flight and that could certainly save you time.

Another thing is that counter. Skip that counter. When that flight gets canceled, don't get behind the other 100 people. Grab your smartphone, grab your tablet, go ahead and get online to rebook. And certainly if you can, take that first flight out in the morning because guess what you have a better chance of getting on your way no matter what the conditions are if you are on that first flight out.

PAUL: All right. Mark Murphy, my goodness. Thank you so much --

MURPHY: Thank you.

PAUL: -- for letting us know what is going on because that is a mess.

MURPHY: Yes. Yes, it is.

PAUL: But now I feel like I am a little bit in the know. Mark, have a great day. Thank you.

MURPHY: All right. You, too, Christi.

PAUL: Thanks.

MURPHY: Thank you.

PAUL: Up next, do you live in the happiest state in the nation or the most miserable? There is a new list out. We're going to will show it to you. Stay close.


PAUL: So what do you think? Do you think you live in America's happiest state? Well, Gallup ranked them all. And the winner is?

BLACKWELL: North Dakota.

PAUL: North Dakota, people.

BLACKWELL: Who's surprised? Raise your hand.

PAUL: Followed by South Dakota and Nebraska, Minnesota and Montana.

BLACKWELL: Oh, look at that. Hey, West Virginia, sorry about this. Gallup says you are the least happy in the country. Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, you are not feeling life, either.

PAUL: Ohio? That's the O-H-I-O.

BLACKWELL: We know. We know.

PAUL: Look, I'm from Ohio. I don't believe it. I don't buy it. My friends and family in Ohio are happy people.

BLACKWELL: What are they enjoying out in the Dakotas that we don't know about?

PAUL: I don't know.

BLACKWELL: I mean North and South, one and two?

PAUL: One and two -- I know. We need to take a trip there. Congratulations to you nonetheless.

Let's talk about the Peach State here in Georgia though. When you think about the capital Atlanta, right? You might think it's the world of Coke and the King Center, even CNN might come to mind. But there is a lot more to consider if you are planning a trip here.

Travel writer Trey Butler toured some of the cool spots in the ATL in this week's "Travel Insider".


TREY BUTLER, TRAVEL WRITER: Hi I'm Trey Butler. I'm a travel writer and author and Atlanta is my city.

Here we are on the Atlanta Beltline's new east side trail. Atlanta has never been known as much of a pedestrian city, but I think that is changing rapidly. Tell me a little bit about the history of the beltline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Atlanta Beltline is four freight rail corridors. They were built around the time the city was coming into the age. It's sort of unifying for us that the city has never had.

BUTLER: You have a bit of everything. The jog, ride bikes even a skate park. And some delicious brunch spots like Two Urban Licks. Let's check it out.

Atlanta is definitely a town that loves a long, leisurely brunch. I love this patio for soaking up the sun and doing a little bit of people watching. It's also a great place for getting a new twist on some southern classics.

I love (inaudible). So good.

Here is the Sister Louisa's Church at the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium which is one of my favorite spots in town. The walls are covered with art work by Grant Henry who is a local artist, a.k.a. Sister Louisa. The art is a little bit on the edgy side.

GRANT HENRY, ARTIST: There are about 250 pieces in here. I'm selling. It is for sale.

BUTLER: I can buy one of these and leave with it today.

HENRY: You can do that or I will trade you for something at some point in life. Everything is from thrift shops and antique stores.

BUTLER: Even though it is an art bar and it is a bar filled with art, it is not a pretentious crowd.

It's always a good time. There's no comparison.


BLACKWELL: Guys, your "Must See Moment" now -- a toddler gets the surprise of her life. Check this out. PAUL: Little Bridget Carr, she was so excited, you know, to open this huge present for her third birthday. What's inside -- a mini fridge, a bike, a Barbie, a dream house? Pull open the flap and --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's see. Happy birthday.


PAUL: Oh, it's dad. Oh, my gosh. That is the best thing ever -- people.

BLACKWELL: So much better than a mini fridge.

PAUL: Yes, U.S. soldier Josh McCormack in a special delivery on leave from his second tour in Afghanistan just in time for Bridget's birthday. Welcome home. Thank you for your service and thank you for sharing this with us.

BLACKWELL: It is always great when it works out the way you want and get the reaction you are hoping for.

PAUL: Look at her. Look at her and him.

BLACKWELL: Thank you for starting your morning with us.

PAUL: Next hour of NEW DAY starts right now.