Not Doomed Yet: How Many 500-Year Rainfalls Can Happen in a Year?

According to one meteorologist, the Louisiana flood is the sixth 500-year flood this year.

A casket floats in flood waters in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. (Jonathan Bachman / Reuters )

This is ‘Not Doomed Yet,’ The Atlantic’s newsletter about global warming. It lives here in the Science section; you can also get it in your inbox:

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For the week beginning on August 7, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured average carbon dioxide levels at 402.88 parts per million. A year ago, it observed atmospheric carbon at 399.24 ppm. Ten years ago, it measured atmospheric carbon levels at 380.76 ppm.

Certainly the week’s most-talked-about climate story was this report from Baghdad, from Hugh Naylor, The Washington Post’s Beirut correspondent. Iraq is undergoing its worst heat wave in recorded history, and Naylor reports on all the big and little stressors that result. I appreciated his melding of the climatological—Is this happening more than it used to?—the economical—What is this costing Iraq today?—and the personal—What does it feel like? Does anyone have AC? Recommended if you haven’t seen it yet.

Also, like: Parts of Iran and the U.A.E. reported a heat index above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. What.

North America, too, is in the middle of a heat wave, though a considerably milder one. Down the Acela corridor, temperatures remained in the 90s even hours after the sun set. And Los Angeles County, especially inland in the valleys, will see temperatures north of 100.

What’s most dangerous about heat waves—and what has changed about them in the past 50 years—is that nights have stayed stubbornly warm.

The “heat index” assumes a five-foot-seven-inch, 147-pound model person,“[walking] at about 3.1 miles per hour in a light breeze, wearing long pants and a short-sleeved shirt.

Where it wasn’t hot, it was raining. Louisiana suffered a 500-year rainstorm that created Katrina-like floods (though not nearly as broad in scope). My favorite take was Eric Holthaus’s, in his newsletter: “This is the eighth 500-year rainfall event in America since just last May.”

And polio has broken out in northeastern Nigeria. The disease resurfaced exactly a year before the African continent would have been declared polio-free, an event now postponed to 2019.

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In energy news, Paul Rodgers, an international-security professor, looks at energy technology and sees an enormous amount of hope. He cites The Economist’s opposition to a new nuclear plant in the U.K. as evidence that things are changing much faster than they seem: “This element of human futures is much brighter than appreciated.”

Eighty-seven percent of American cars could be replaced with electric cars today.

In U.S. policy news, President Obama has ordered federal agencies to consider the climate impacts of any proposed policy or project, essentially expanding the reach of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act. My favorite analysis was a tweetstorm from the energy-policy analyst Alex Gilbert.

A new study proposed that unemployed coal workers could move and become solar-panel installers. A Kentuckian and migration economist was like: Yeah, no, nah.

Elsewhere, Australia has re-established climate science in its federal science department, after NASA criticized its decision to cut the science.

People very likely did not first populate the Americas by walking across the Bering Strait land bridge.

And an offshore drilling rig was blown ashore.

And this week, two episodes from the Californian anthropocene:

• In the Sierra National Forest, as many as 90 percent of all mid-elevation ponderosa pines have died—killed by thirst, Phytophthora ramorum, or bark beetles. California will start to log the dead trees to reduce wildfire risk, even though there is scant evidence that dead trees increase fire risk. (And they may in fact reduce local risk.)

• And a story that I wrote: The island fox, one of the few fox species endemic to North America, was removed from the endangered species list this week. But the ecologist who identified their complicated ecological threat—it involved feral pigs and inflated golden eagles—thinks the government should have acted much faster in the first place.

And this has nothing to do with the climate: “What is it like to understand advanced mathematics?”