US productivity, as measured by output per hour of work, shot up by a 3 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2006, the Department of Labor reported Wednesday. That was nearly double what many economists anticipated. Overall, productivity for the year grew 2.1 percent, the slowest pace in nine years.

Severe winter weather, blamed for 13 deaths and numerous school closings and flight cancellations, maintained its grip on much of the Midwest and Northeast on Wednesday. Lake-effect snowfall in upstate New York totaled 62 inches in two days, and in Chicago the early-morning wind-chill factor was 14 below zero. A slight thaw is expected by the end of the week.

Released on bail and wearing a monitoring device, NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak returned home to Houston Wednesday from Orlando, Fla., where she was charged with attempted murder. Nowak was accused of confronting Colleen Shipman, a US Air Force captain, over a mutual romantic interest. NASA said it suspended Nowak and removed her from all shuttle activities.

Texas awarded its first lease for exploration of renewable geothermal energy on Tuesday to a Nevada-based company. Within the next five years, Ormat Technologies will explore the energy's potential along the Gulf Coast in hopes of tapping under-ocean strata for pockets of extremely hot water and steam.

At least 334 US troops were killed in combat during the past four months in Iraq, the highest of any comparable stretch since the war began, according to casualty figures kept by the Associated Press and released Wednesday.

A three-day, antigang summit conference, begun Wednesday in Los Angeles, focused on increasing cross-border cooperation between the city's law enforcement officials and those in Central American countries. Los Angeles County, which is home to an estimated 40,000 gang members, has deported many of them to Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Videographer Josh Wolf spent his 169th day in prison Tuesday, making him the longest incarcerated journalist in US history. An openly left-wing freelancer, Wolf has refused to turn over footage of a violent 2005 San Francisco street protest against a G-8 meeting to federal investigators.

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