Rebecca Solnit: How Change Happens ~ Literary Hub


“If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up.”

September 3, 2019

We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within—or, rather, many overlapping structures. They’re assembled from ideas, visions and values emerging out of conversations, essays, editorials, arguments, slogans, social-media messages, books, protests, and demonstrations. About race, class, gender, sexuality; about nature, power, climate, the interconnectedness of all things; about compassion, generosity, collectivity, communion; about justice, equality, possibility. Though there are individual voices and people who got there first, these are collective projects that matter not when one person says something but when a million integrate it into how they see and act in the world. The we who inhabits those structures grows as what was once subversive or transgressive settles in as normal, as people outside the walls wake up one day inside them and forget they were ever anywhere else.

The consequences of these transformations are perhaps most important where they are most subtle. They remake the world, and they do so mostly by the accretion of small gestures and statements and the embracing of new visions of what can be and should be. The unknown becomes known, the outcasts come inside, the strange becomes ordinary. You can see changes to the ideas about whose rights matter and what is reasonable and who should decide, if you sit still enough and gather the evidence of transformations that happen by a million tiny steps before they result in a landmark legal decision or an election or some other shift that puts us in a place we’ve never been.


I have been watching this beautiful collective process of change unfold with particular intensity over the past several years—generated by the work of countless people separately and together, by the delegitimization of the past and the hope for a better future that lay behind the genesis of Occupy Wall Street (2011), Idle No More (2012), Black Lives Matter (2013), Standing Rock (2016), #MeToo (2017), and the new feminist surges and insurgencies, immigrant and trans rights movements, the Green New Deal (2018), and the growing power and reach of the climate movement. Advocacy of universal healthcare, the elimination of the Electoral College, the end of the death penalty, and an energy revolution that leaves fossil fuels behind have gone from the margins to the center in recent years. A new clarity about how injustice works, from police murders to the endless excuses and victim-blaming for rape, lays bare the machinery of that injustice, makes it recognizable when it recurs, and that recognizability strips away the disguises of and excuses for the old ways.


My formative intellectual experience was, in the early 1990s, watching reactions against the celebration of the quincentennial of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas and the rise in visibility and audibility of Native Americans that radically redefined this hemisphere’s history and ideas about nature and culture. That was how I learned that culture matters, that it’s the substructure of beliefs that shape politics, that change begins on the margins and in the shadows and grows toward the center, that the center is a place of arrival and rarely one of real generation, and that even the most foundational stories can be changed. But now I recognize it’s not the margins, the place of beginnings, or the center, the place of arrival, but the pervasiveness that matters most.

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Washington Post: Trump told officials he would pardon them if they break the law building border wall ~ CNN


Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, in his push to make good on his promise to supporters by Election Day, has told officials he will pardon them should they break any laws in attempting to finish construction on the wall at the US-Mexico border, The Washington Postreported, citing current and former officials involved with the project.

Trump has instructed aides to speed up the process of building the wall, directing them to rush through billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, blow past environmental regulations and to “take the land” necessary by eminent domain, the Post reported Tuesday.
“Don’t worry, I’ll pardon you,” Trump has told officials during meetings at the White House about the wall when aides raised that some of those orders would be illegal, according to the Post. An unnamed White House official told the newspaper that the President is merely joking when he makes such statements about pardons.
The push from Trump to complete his southern border wall — a signature 2016 presidential campaign promise that helped him win the White House — comes as he campaigns for reelection in 2020. Chants of “build the wall” were frequently heard at Trump’s 2016 campaign rallies, and the President has already made it a talking point in his 2020 campaign despite criticism that the wall — in areas in Arizona, California and New Mexico — could harm the environment, prove detrimental to border communities and direct government funding away from other Defense interests.
“Donald Trump promised to secure our border with sane, rational immigration policies to make American communities safer, and that’s happening everywhere the wall is being built,” Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told the Post on Tuesday.
Gidley dismissed internal criticisms of Trump as “just more fabrications by people who hate the fact the status quo, that has crippled this country for decades, is finally changing as President Trump is moving quicker than anyone in history to build the wall, secure the border and enact the very immigration policies the American people voted for.”
Trump has also directed the Army Corps and Department of Homeland Security to paint the wall’s steel barriers black, the Post reported, citing internal communications it reviewed.
US Customs and Border Patrol said it has constructed over 60 miles of “new” border wall system along the Southwest border since 2017 and expects to complete 450 miles by the end of 2020.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper also has approved an additional 20 miles of 30-foot high barriers, a section of the wall that is being paid for by previously re-purposed Pentagon funds.

AccuWeather misleads on global warming and heat waves, a throwback to its past climate denial ~ The Washington Post

People cool off in New York’s Flushing Meadows Corona Park on July 21 during a heat wave. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

August 9 at 3:16 PM

A week after a punishing heat wave torched the eastern two-thirds of the country, setting numerous records, AccuWeather chief executive Joel Myers cast doubt on the scientific finding that heat waves in the United States and elsewhere are worsening because of climate change. This point of view, at odds with peer-reviewed research, is reminiscent of the contrarian position AccuWeather took on the climate change issue in the 1990s, which historical documents recently obtained by The Washington Post shine light on.

Both then and now, AccuWeather has landed on the wrong side of the science.

Myers’s essay “Throwing cold water on extreme heat hype,” published online Wednesday, attempts to debunk the scientific finding that heat waves in the United States are becoming more severe, but he cherry-picks data and shows an incomplete understanding of the drivers of temperature change.

“[A]lthough average temperatures have been higher in recent years, there is no evidence so far that extreme heat waves are becoming more common because of climate change, especially when you consider how many heat waves occurred historically compared to recent history,” Myers writes.

In saying this, he ignores the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment, published in 2018 and signed off on by 13 federal agencies, which flat out states — with very high confidence — that the frequency of heat waves has increased since the mid-1960s.

Myers relies mostly on historical data from the 1930s to make his case that heat waves haven’t gotten worse. “Here is a fact rarely, if ever, mentioned,” he writes, “26 of the 50 states set their all-time high temperature recordsduring the 1930s that still stand (some have since been tied).”

He concludes: “Given these numbers … it cannot be said that either the frequency or magnitude of heat waves is more common today.”

But there are problems with this argument that have been addressed in the scientific literature and independent analyses.

The heat waves of the 1930s were exacerbated by land mismanagement tied to the Dust Bowl. A combination of springtime drought and farming practices left fields bare of vegetation, which allowed summer temperatures to skyrocket. In other words, the extreme heat of the 1930s is a reflection of specific circumstances in that decade and does not invalidate a link between today’s heat waves and climate change.

Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist for Berkeley Earth, which specializes in temperature data, points out that although the heat waves in the 1930s may have had higher daytime temperatures, present-day nighttime temperatures are much higher. This is an expected outcome of climate change as the atmosphere responds to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.

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Freak summer hailstorm buries Mexican city under five feet of ice ~ The Washington Post

Mexican city under five feet of ice

A blanket of hail and ice covered streets in the Mexican city of Guadalajara after a heavy storm hit the area on June 30.

July 1 at 8:17 AM

It’s summer in Guadalajara, one of Mexico’s most populous towns, which made what happened there over the weekend all the more surprising.

Sunday morning, residents woke to their roads, yards and even cars buried under more than three feet of icy slush from a freak hailstorm that had blanketed the city.

Residents play on top of ice after a heavy storm of rain and hail that affected some areas of ​​Guadalajara, Mexico, on June 30. (Fernando Carranza/Reuters)

On Twitter, Jalisco Gov. Enrique Alfaro said Civil Protection personnel quickly began cleanup, digging vehicles out from beneath the sea of hail and pumping out floodwaters once it had started to melt.

Enrique Alfaro


Luego de una inusual granizada en distintas colonias del Área Metropolitana de Guadalajara, principalmente en Rancho Blanco y en la Zona Industrial, personal de Protección Civil Jalisco atendió la situación desde la madrugada.

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“I’ve never seen such scenes in Guadalajara,” Alfaro told AFP.

“Then we ask ourselves if climate change is real. These are never-before-seen natural phenomenons,” he said. “It’s incredible.”

In some places, the hail was up to five feet deep, AFP reported.

Residents in the mountainous area, which sits about 350 miles west of Mexico City, reported damage to nearly 200 homes and businesses, according to AFP, and some 50 vehicles were swept away by the heavy ice and rain. No injuries or casualties were reported, Alfaro said.

A man with a bike walks on hail in the eastern area of Guadalajara on June 30. (Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images)

Art critics told him no one would like his paintings. Now fans go on scavenger hunts for them.

Octopus/Caveman around Orange County, Calif. (Photos by Octopus/Caveman)
June 9

Anthony Pedersen sat in his painting shed and took stock of all that had gone wrong. He was divorced years ago, he battled a drinking problem, and at one point, he lived in his car. That was after an art gallery told him his work would never sell.

A death in the family last week pushed him to the brink, and Pedersen, surrounded by his paintings, considered taking his own life. But what to do with his art?

“I thought, ‘Maybe I should give away all these paintings before I do that,’ ” Pedersen said.

That idea bloomed into a scavenger hunt, of sorts, fueled by social media.

Pedersen, 36, under his artist name Octopus/Caveman, seeded Orange County with four paintings Friday and Saturday, then posted photos on Twitter with hints to their locations. They included a plea to send photos once they were discovered.

“I only ask that you give this painting a good home,” wrote Pedersen, an intake manager at a law firm by day. “I’d love to see my painting with its new owner. Have a great life together.”

The response was almost too fast for Carrie Murphy.

She awoke at 3 a.m. Saturday and was scrolling through Twitter when she saw the clues. Murphy jumped in her car and drove 30 miles to a Rainbow Donut shop in Westminster. The painting had already vanished, she told The Post on Sunday.

Yet Murphy, an artist herself, was undeterred. She reveled in the hunt, despite the distance from her home in Laguna Niguel. Drizzle splattered her windshield as she set out for the next clue: A painting of a green man left against a wall at Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach.

That, too, was a dry hole, she said.

View image on Twitter


OMG TREASURE! Thank you SO much @OctopusCaveman for the best kind of hunting. I owe you a beer or two💜

Pedersen had planted the other paintings hours later. One, depicting a robot with a beating red heart, was left against a sign outside Cyprus College near Anaheim. Murphy loaded her son, along with her husband — fresh off a flight from Thailand — into the car and roared off to the college.

The painting was gone, Murphy thought. But it had been blown over by the wind and lay flat on the grass. She picked up and held her prize: an Octopus/Caveman original.

“It was the most exciting thing. It felt like the lottery,” Murphy said. “And knowing it’s a treasured piece of art … it gave me so much joy.”

A man discovered the fourth painting at a park in Huntington Beach. “hello thanks you so much for the painting it was [such] a weird coincidence that I found it,” he wrote on Twitter.

Octopus/Caveman around Orange County, Calif. (Photos by Octopus/Caveman)

Suddenly, the rejected artist had found an audience after returning to the studio only last year.

Pedersen paints with “the cheapest stuff you can imagine,” he said. Paint and brushes come from Walmart. He is a self-taught painter, and when he sits down, he has no firm idea about what spills out.

He may go through several paintings, one layered on top of another, he said, before he creates something like a lovelorn robot.

Murphy inspected the painting’s edges and discovered those layers of experimentation and process. “I will have to find a special place for it,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of history on that canvas.”

The gratitude has moved in a cycle. Murphy contacted Pedersen and told him what her find meant to her. He explained his bout with depression, and that his idea had sparked a deep satisfaction in his own work and what he has done for Murphy and others.

“I told him, ‘I hope you realized how much joy you are providing,’ ” Murphy said.

Octopus/Caveman around Orange County, Calif. (Photos by Octopus/Caveman)

“I was really moved. She seemed excited about it,” he said. “Her joy in finding that was fantastic.”

Pedersen is working through what comes next. Maybe an expansion to San Diego. Pedersen thought perhaps there was a way to connect the paintings and the location in a more deliberate way.

But that process will come later. On Sunday, he left a vivid yellow abstract work at a parking garage in Claremont — number five in a growing series.

Smithsonian Folkways Celebrates 50 Years Of New Orleans Jazz Fest ~ NPR

This past May, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary, attracting an estimated 475,000 people to its annual celebration of Louisiana music and culture. To mark this milestone, Smithsonian Folkways has released its Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival box set that includes rare live recordings and photographs of the momentous gathering.

At Jazz Fest, the fear of missing out is real. It’s pretty much unavoidable. There’s music happening on 14 stages — sometimes, all at once. The Smithsonian Folkways anthology reflects the festival’s incredible range of music. The set is not organized by genre or chronology, like typical historical sets. Instead, it replicates the serendipitous randomness of a walk through the festival grounds.


Disc One includes invocations from Mardi Gras Indians and there’s also a brilliant duet between boogie-woogie piano legend Champion Jack Dupree and one of his many followers, the songwriter and producer Alan Toussaint, recorded at the 1990 fest. Toussaint turns up again on Disc Two, leading his own band through one of his infectious uptown-funk hits from the 1970s.


Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivalbox set includes 5 discs, over 300 minutes of music and a 136-page book.

Smithsonian Folkways


At this fest, and maybe no place else on earth, it’s a short walk from funk to the traditional dances of Cajun country. Jazz Fest celebrates Louisiana as a kind of miracle mixing bowl – not just the birthplace of jazz, but a cauldron that’s given the world countless grooves and styles. Among them is “rum boogie,” the cross between boogie-woogie and Caribbean rhythm that the late pianist and singer Professor Longhair developed in the 1950s. He was a regular at the festival in its early years, when there were only a few stages and tents.

This anthology does not include performances by Bruce Springsteen, the Dave Matthews Band, and others — headliners who’ve opened the festival to criticism that it’s strayed from its mission. Instead, it focuses almost exclusively on legends and rising stars from the region. It doesn’t go too deep in any one genre. It offers tastes, not full meals. But if you’ve never experienced the Jazz & Heritage Festival, this rollicking, spirited celebration of living, breathing music history shows exactly what you’ve been missing.

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is out now via The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.

Leon Redbone, An Unusual Singer From A Bygone Era, Has Died


Leon Redbone, the perpetually anachronistic, famously mysterious artist who rose to prominence as a performer on Toronto’s folk circuit in the early ’70s, died Thursday while in hospice care in Bucks County, Pa.

Redbone’s family confirmed his death through a publicist. No cause was given, and Redbone’s age was a subject of speculation for decades.

“I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1974, “and I can’t tell, but you gotta see him.” That same year, when asked about his age by Rolling Stone, Redbone replied: “Of course I don’t know. It’s just something I vaguely recall. I can’t say for sure.” In the news release announcing his death, Redbone’s age was cited as 127.

The only things known — ostensibly — of Redbone’s origins were revealed by Toronto Star columnist George Gamester in the 1980s: that he was a Cypriot named Dickran Gobalian, who emigrated to Ontario in the 1960s and changed his name after arriving in Canada.

Redbone’s obscurantist tendencies, including his ever-present, masking uniform of sunglasses, bushy mustache and Panama hat, gave Redbone the aura of a quixotic time-traveler, someone who simply stepped onto the stage fully formed.

And Redbone was a man happily — or at least, authentically — out-of-time. He played dusty classics — from Tin Pan Alley and ragtime to blues and country — with a loose fidelity, always anchored by his casually lovely and always wry voice.

Dylan’s endorsement, made at the apex of his and Rolling Stone‘s cultural footprints, was a defining moment for Redbone and helped widened interest in him from stars of the era, including Bonnie Raitt and John Prine.

His commercial success, according to the Billboard charts, peaked in 1977 when the album Double Time reached the top 50 — helped, in part, by two performances during Saturday Night Live‘s debut season. But Redbone remained a cultural presence for decades, singing the theme song for ’80s sitcom Mr. Belvedere and appearing as “Leon the Snowman” in the now-classic Christmas film Elf in 2003.

In 2015, Redbone announced his retirement from touring, with a rep citing health concerns. He followed that retirement up with another album, Long Way Home, composed of his earliest recordings and released by Jack White’s label, Third Man Records.

When asked by NPR’s Lynn Neary in 1984 whether he enjoyed his performances, Redbone responded with a wink: “I never have a good time … but I try.”


Leon Redbone, Cult Singer Who Helped Revive Ragtime, Dead at 69 ~ RollingStone

“He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover and a simple tip of his hat,” family writes in statement, noting age of humorous singer as 127

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 22 -- Air Date 05/29/1976 -- Pictured: Musical Guest Leon Redbone during "Shine on Harvest Moon" musical performance on May 29, 1976  (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Leon Redbone, the nasally singer who helped revive ragtime, vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley music, has died at age 69.

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Leon Redbone, the singer who built a career out of performing ragtime, vaudeville and American standards with a sly wink and an unmistakable, nasally voice, died Thursday. He was 69.

A statement on Redbone’s website confirmed his death, though it did so with a sweet bit of humor and joking that he was actually 127 years old.

“He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover and a simple tip of his hat,” his family said in a statement. “He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing singalong number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you… and good evening everybody.’”

Often clad in a Panama hat and big, dark sunglasses, Redbone rose to prominence in the mid-Seventies, though he always had an air of mystery about him, famously refusing to answer questions about his age and background. He was reportedly born in Cyprus, but moved to Canada in the Sixties and began performing in Toronto nightclubs. He eventually hit the folk festival circuit, which is how he met Bob Dylan, who praised Redbone’s enigmatic aura in a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone.

“Leon interests me,” Dylan said. “I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, I’ve been [a foot and a half from him] and I can’t tell. But you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.”

Redbone kept things characteristically strange when Rolling Stone profiled him several months later. When asked if his parents were musicians, Redbone joked that his father was the long-dead Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini and his mother was the 19th century Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind. When asked where the first place he ever played publicly was, Redbone threw on a W.C. Fields voice and cracked, “In a pool hall, but I wasn’t playing guitar, you see. I was playing pool.”

“The remarkable thing about Leon Redbone is that he’s so accurate in every aspect of his presentation – from his scat singing to his yodeling to his authentic nasally slurred vocals to the unerring accuracy of his Blind Blake-styled , ragtime-piano type of guitar playing,” Rolling Stonewriter Steve Weitzman wrote in 1974.

Redbone soon notched a record deal with Warner Bros and released his debut album, On the Track, in 1975. The album offered up endearing takes on classics like “Ain’t Misbehavin,” “Lazybones” and “Some of These Days.” He would release two more albums on Warner, 1977’s Double Time and 1978’s Champagne Charlie. His 1981 album, From Branch to Branch (released via Atlantic) featured his sole Hot 100 hit, a rendition of Gary Tigerman’s “Seduced.”

Though Redbone never achieved huge commercial success, he developed a cult following thanks in part to frequent appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared in commercials for companies like Budweiser, Chevrolet, All laundry detergent and Ken-L Ration dog food, and sang the theme songs for Mr. Belvedere and Harry and the Hendersons.

Redbone continued to tour and record albums throughout the Eighties and Nineties,though his output slowed as he got older. In the 2003 film, Elf, he voiced Leon the Snowmanand recorded a rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanelthat played over the film’s closing credits.

Redbone released his final studio album, Flying By, in 2014, and announced his retirement from music due to health concerns a year later. In 2015, Third Man Records issued a double-album compilation, A Long Way Home, that collected Redbone’s live and studio solo recordings, dating back to 1972.

“He’s just amazing,” Bonnie Raitt said of Redbone in 1974 before nodding to his enigmatic past. “He’s probably the best combination singer-guitarist I’ve heard in years. I’d like to know where he gets his stuff. I’d also like to find out how old he is.”




Leon Redbone, Idiosyncratic Throwback Singer, Is Dead at 69 ~ NYT

Leon Redbone in performance in Cambridge, England, in 1995. His music defied easy categorization; he was sometimes described as a jazz singer, other times as a folk or pop or blues artist.CreditCreditDave Peabody/Redferns, via Getty Images


Leon Redbone, who burst onto the pop-music scene in the mid-1970s with a startlingly throwback singing style and a look to go with it, favoring songs from bygone eras drolly delivered, died on Thursday in Bucks County, Pa. He was 69.

His family announced the death on his website. A specific cause of death was not given, but Mr. Redbone had retired from performing in 2015 because of ill health.

Toting an acoustic guitar, his face generally half-hidden by a Panama hat and dark glasses, Mr. Redbone channeled performers and songwriters from ragtime, Delta blues, Tin Pan Alley and more, material not generally heard by the rock generation. His music defied easy categorization; he was sometimes described as a jazz singer, other times as a folk or pop or blues artist. He sang in a deep, gravelly voice that combined singing and mumbling, but he also deployed a falsetto of sorts on occasion.

He began turning up on the coffeehouse circuit in Toronto in the 1960s and developed a cult following. He broke through to a larger audience in late 1975 with his first album, “On the Track,” which included songs like “My Walking Stick,” by Irving Berlin, and “Lazybones,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. His sound was unique for the era, as The New York Times noted in a January 1976 article about the record and its producer, Joel Dorn:

Leon Redbone – “Walking Stick” Live at the 1973 Buffalo Folk FestivalCreditCreditVideo by OfficialTMR


“Redbone, who in his nightclub appearances plays the role of a grinning, almost catatonic folkie, will undoubtedly confound many, but Dorn has certainly given him his due in a completely ungimmicked musical setting.”

The album earned Mr. Redbone two appearances on “Saturday Night Live” in 1976, during the show’s first season. Fifteen more albums followed, most recently “Flying By” in 2014. Mr. Redbone also sang the theme songs for the television series “Mr. Belvedere” and “Harry and the Hendersons,” was heard on various commercials, and provided the voice of an animated snowman in the 2003 movie “Elf.”

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Record-Setting Precipitation Leaves U.S. Soils Soggy & MORE

Record-Setting Precipitation Leaves U.S. Soils Soggy

The continental United States recently finished its soggiest 12 months in 124 years of modern recordkeeping. The results are visible in satellite measurements of fresh water.

From May 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019, the lower 48 states collectively averaged 36.20 inches (919.48 millimeters) of precipitation, a full 6.25 inches (158.75 mm) above the mean. The previous record (April 2015 to March 2016) was 35.95 inches. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, ten U.S. states had their wettest 12 months, and three others were in the top three. Many of them were clustered in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.

According to the May 21 report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, just 2.72 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, among the lowest levels in two decades of records. California is completely out of drought for the first time since 2011. As recently as February 2018, one-third of the United States was in drought.

The map above shows how groundwater has responded to the unusually wet year. The colors depict the wetness percentile; that is, how the amount of groundwater on May 13, 2019, compares to all Mays from 1948 to 2012. Blue areas have more abundant groundwater than usual for the time of year, and orange and red areas have less. The map is based on multiple types of meteorological data (precipitation, temperature, etc.) integrated within an advanced computer model developed by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The second map shows soil moisture anomalies, or how much the water content near the land surface was above or below the norm on May 11–13, 2019. The measurements are derived from data collected by the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, the first NASA satellite dedicated to measuring the water content of soils. SMAP’s radiometer can detect water in the top 5 centimeters (2 inches) of the ground. Scientists use that surface layer data in a hydrologic model to estimate how much water is present even deeper in the root zone, which is important for agriculture.

Much of the East and Midwest had an extremely damp autumn in 2018; land-falling category 5 hurricanes Michael and Florence dropped copious amounts of rainfall in the late summer; and California has been soaked by sporadic atmospheric river events and the effects of a mild El Niño. But there is no one explanation for the extreme precipitation of the past year. It does, however, fit with long-term increases in overall precipitation and with heavy rainfall events in our changing climate.

“I do not have an explanation for the weather systems that caused the heavy precipitation, but sea surface temperatures in the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico have been generally well above normal over the past year. This has surely added to the atmospheric water vapor content available to the precipitating weather systems,” said Ken Kunkel, a climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The pattern of precipitation over the past 12 months indicates general wetness over most parts of the U.S. but does not match projections of the future, which show increases mostly in the northern U.S. Thus, the recent wetness probably has explanations in addition to, or instead of, just anthropogenic forcing.”

In the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 2018, scientists reported: “a national average increase of 4 percent in annual precipitation since 1901 is mostly a result of large increases in the fall season. Heavy precipitation events in most parts of the United States have increased in both intensity and frequency since 1901…The frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events are projected to continue to increase over the 21st century. Mesoscale convective systems (organized clusters of thunderstorms) in the central United States are expected to continue to increase in number and intensity in the future.”

Writing for The Washington Post, meteorologist Jason Samenow reflected on a record-setting year of rain in the nation’s capital: “The historic rainfall over the past year is somewhat of a random occurrence. It is mostly a result of weather patterns that have frequently arranged themselves, by chance, in an optimal way to squeeze water from the sky. Yet, at the same time, this record-wet year has occurred against a longer-term backdrop of climate warming and increasing precipitation extremes. In other words, climate change probably intensified the rain and increased the chance it would become a record breaker.”

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin and Joshua Stevens using soil moisture data from the NASA-USDA SMAP team and using GRACE data from The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and rainfall data from The Iowa Environmental Mesonet The Iowa Environmental Mesonet (IEM). Story by Mike Carlowicz.



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