Some areas experienced historic floods, others saw historic droughts. Is climate change to blame?
Natural Resources Defense Council
A once-in-five-hundred-year flood inundated the Mississippi River valley. A once-in-a-century drought in Texas shriveled the summer's crops and sparked sweeping forest fires. The deadliest tornado season on record tore communities to splinters. 2011 was clearly a year of extreme weather.
Perhaps it is a sign of the pending 2012 apocalypse, but more likely, it is the result of a changing climate that is amplifying extremes. The chart above marks more than 2,900 separate weather records broken this year, and these records were costly. In all, Mother Nature inflicted $52 billion dollars in damage on the United States.
However, 2011 is not the most expensive natural disaster year on record. That distinction belongs to 2005, the year Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused more than $150 billion in destruction along the Gulf Coast. The difference is that 2005 had only five disasters that reached the billion dollar mark; 2011 had 12, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that sets a new record.
Two of the most consequential weather stories of the year were the drought in Texas and the tornado season in the Midwest. For most of the spring, summer, and fall, the Lone Star state was plagued by exceptional drought -- the highest level recorded by the U.S. drought monitor. The situation has eased somewhat in recent weeks, but climatologists say that because of the persistent pattern of La Niña (cooling off the coast of South America influencing the jet stream over North America), the drought is likely to linger into the new year.
The impacts of the record-breaking summer were enormous. Texas reservoirs sank to their lowest levels in years, even revealing long-forgotten underwater ghost towns. Authorities began predicting long-term water shortages in the state. Crops withered. Cattle herds died in the sun, causing the price of beef and other staples to increase across the country. Nearly half a billion trees perished for lack of rain. On this map comparing average temperature and average rainfall for Texas summers, it is not difficult to find the outlier.
And of course, some of the most powerful images of nature's destruction this year came from Joplin, Missouri, where an EF-5 tornado killed 159 people and destroyed 700 homes. But this was only one of several deadly tornado outbreaks in 2011. In total, 552 Americans died in twisters this year, 12 times the number of tornado deaths of last year and the most since the 1950s.
While it is hard to blame all of this meteorological activity on global warming, 2011 provides evidence of a planet with a wilder climate.
"This year we had three weather events that matched or exceeded three U.S. weather extremes," Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and founder of The Weather Underground blog, says. The Mississippi flood was higher than any other, the Texas drought was drier than any other, and the tornado season was deadlier than any other. "It boggles my mind."
Additionally, Masters finds the records broken this year to be indicative of a more extreme planet. "Fifty-six percent of the U.S. had a top 10 percent wettest or driest year. That's a record." That divergent pattern is to be expected with climate change -- the wet areas will grow wetter, the dry areas drier.
These billion dollar disasters are only likely to increase in the coming years, Masters says, and population growth and increasing wealth factor in as well. If there are more structures to destroy, one storm will cause increasing amounts of damage.
"The climate has changed," Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, tells me via email. He says since the 1970s, the water vapor over the oceans has increased by 4 percent. That water vapor acts as fuel to weather systems, contributing to the severity of the Mississippi flood, and to the thunderstorms which produced the spring's tornadoes.
"Hurricane Irene flooding had a component (5 to
10 percent) from human-induced global warming," he says. "It may not sound like much but it is often the straw that breaks the camel's back."
Here's a recap of the some of the top weather disasters in 2011. (This list is limited to the U.S. The rest of the world had its own share of nature-inflicted tragedy this year, including the 9.0 Japanese earthquake that killed 10,000 people and cost $309 billion.)
The Trump administration may be accelerating "Easternization," argues Gideon Rachman.
Next week, Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to the United States to meet Donald Trump for the first time. But according to Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times, power is flowing in the opposite direction. Rachman is far from the first analyst to argue that China and other Asian nations are rising while the Western world declines, nor is he the first to cite the now-familiar statistics about China’s ballooning economy and unparalleled manufacturing might. His contribution is to help explain some of the most confounding developments of the day—from the Middle East’s descent into anarchy to the ascent of populist politicians in the West to the emergence of nostalgia as a political force—through his theory of the “Easternization” of international affairs.
The Sony World Photography Awards has announced the winners of its Open categories and National categories for 2017.
The Sony World Photography Awards, an annual competition hosted by the World Photography Organisation, has announced the winners of its Open categories and National categories for 2017. This year's contest attracted 227,596 entries from 183 countries. The organizers have again been kind enough to share some of the winners and runners-up with us, gathered below. All captions below come from the photographers.
Angela Merkel’s country can resist the rightward pull in European politics.
Amid fears of a rising populist tide in Europe, Germany seems to be resisting its rightward tug with unique success.The day after Donald Trump’s election, The New York Timeshailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the “Liberal West’s Last Defender.” And it was to Merkel, the new “leader of the free world,” that Barack Obama directed his final phone call as president.
Meanwhile, others around the world are embracing right-wing populism, from the Britons’ stunning decision to leave the European Union to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s authoritarian policies. Trump’s election has appeared at times to inject fresh energy into the right-wing parties of Europe.As some countries there brace for national elections this year, the prospects for these parties look bright. In France, for example, far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen is expected to advance to the second round of balloting in April’s presidential elections; recent polls show her beating scandal-ridden conservative candidate Francois Fillon in the first round.
The program is based on the idea that habit-forming behaviors start in childhood.
At a Berlin day-care center, the children packed away all the toys: the cars, the tiny plastic animals, the blocks and Legos, even the board games and most of the art materials. They then stood in the empty classroom and looked at their two instructors.
“What should I do now?” my son, then 5, asked.
He did not get an answer to this question for a long time. His day-care center, or kita, was starting a toy-free kindergarten project. For several weeks, the toys would disappear, and the teachers wouldn’t tell the children what to play. While this practice may seem harsh, the project has an important pedagogic goal: to improve the children’s life skills to strengthen them against addictive behaviors in the future.
The Fox News host—like White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer—landed himself in hot water Tuesday for responding to how a woman of color looked, and not to what she said.
Tuesday was not a good day for America’s hard-charging white men. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly began his day on the set of Fox & Friends, where he was asked about remarks that Representative Maxine Waters made Monday evening on the floor of Congress about Trump supporters and patriotism. Instead of responding to Waters’s comments, O’Reilly opted to focus on something else. “I didn’t hear a word she said,” O’Reilly said, interrupting his hosts. “I was looking at the James Brown wig.”
In response, there were loud barks of (male) laughter on the set.
O’Reilly continued: “If we have a picture of James—it’s the same one.”
The laughter continued.
Host Ainsley Earhardt interjected, “No, I gotta defend her on that,” she said, “You can’t go after a woman’s looks. I think she’s very attractive.”
No, the regional manager of the fictional Dunder Mifflin insisted: His suit fits him, and he is a man, therefore, "at the very least, it's bisexual." What made it clear to Michael, finally, that his "power suit" was indeed also a women's suit was that the buttons of its jacket were, he noted, "on the wrong side."
Leave it to Michael Scott to bumble, via a sales bin and a career separates brand named MISSterious, into an insight about the arbitrary gender differences in clothing. Women’s and men’s shirts and jackets differ not just in terms of how they’re cut, but also in how they’re oriented: To the person wearing them, men’s dress shirts have their buttons on the right, while women’s have them on the left.
Years of misleading coverage left viewers so misinformed that many were shocked when confronted with the actual costs of repeal.
As the Republican Party struggled and then failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, pulling a wildly unpopular bill from the House without even taking a vote, a flurry of insightful articles helped the public understand what exactly just happened. Robert Draper explained the roles that Stephen Bannon, Paul Ryan, and others played in deciding what agenda items President Trump would pursue in what order. Politicoreported on how and why the House Freedom Caucus insisted that the health care bill repeal even relatively popular parts of Obamacare. Lest anyone pin blame for the GOP’s failure on that faction, Reihan Salam argued persuasively that responsibility rests with poor leadership by House Speaker Paul Ryan and a GOP coalition with “policy goals that simply can’t be achieved.”
The philosophers he influenced set the stage for the technological revolution that remade our world.
THE HISTORY Ofcomputers is often told as a history of objects, from the abacus to the Babbage engine up through the code-breaking machines of World War II. In fact, it is better understood as a history of ideas, mainly ideas that emerged from mathematical logic, an obscure and cult-like discipline that first developed in the 19th century. Mathematical logic was pioneered by philosopher-mathematicians, most notably George Boole and Gottlob Frege, who were themselves inspired by Leibniz’s dream of a universal “concept language,” and the ancient logical system of Aristotle.
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Mathematical logic was initially considered a hopelessly abstract subject with no conceivable applications. As one computer scientist commented: “If, in 1901, a talented and sympathetic outsider had been called upon to survey the sciences and name the branch which would be least fruitful in [the] century ahead, his choice might well have settled upon mathematical logic.” And yet, it would provide the foundation for a field that would have more impact on the modern world than any other.
A new poll suggests a majority back the president’s unsubstantiated accusations about former President Obama.
An overwhelming majority of Republicans—at 74 percent—believe it’s likely that Donald Trump was wiretapped or otherwise subject to government surveillance while he was running for president, according to a CBS News poll released on Wednesday.
The results suggest that Republican voters have largely accepted the president’s claim—which he first made earlier this month in a tweet—that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. That’s despite the fact that there is no evidence to substantiate his charge, which PolitiFact has labeled “false.” So why do so many Republicans appear to believe the president if there’s no concrete evidence to back him up? A few factors help explain the polling result.
Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner promised a long, slow, even dull inquiry into election interference—an implicit rebuke to the House’s ever-more-chaotic process.
As Tolstoy would have written if he were a national-security reporter, all dysfunctional committees are dysfunctional in their own way, while all functional committees are frustratingly tight-lipped.
Or something like that. In any case, a Wednesday press conference by Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, presented a glaring contrast to the House’s own intelligence committee, which seems to spin into greater chaos daily. The pair emphasized bipartisanship, process, and patience, offering little in the way of factual revelations while implicitly rebuking the House Intelligence Committee.