Nicholas continues dumping rain on the South.
Published: 2021-09-16 06:24 am
Nicholas, Big and Slow
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Nicholas continues dumping rain on the South.

(image)
A sanitation worker drags a trash bag through standing water after Hurricane Nicholas in Galveston, Texas on Tuesday.Credit...Callaghan O'Hare for The New York Times

Since the storm named Nicholas made landfall in Texas on Tuesday, it hasn’t traveled very far.

It first lingered over southeastern Texas, dumping rain along the coast and causing power outages in Houston. Since then, the storm has moved east over Louisiana, sometimes as slow as two miles an hour. Nicholas could cause flooding in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida today and tomorrow.

This kind of storm — big and slow, bringing enormous amounts of rain — is an increasingly common part of life under climate change.

There are two main reasons. One is that hotter air can hold more moisture than cooler air. (For the same reason, your skin stays moister in the summer than in the winter.) Gabriel Vecchi, a Princeton University scientist, compares warmer air to a bigger bucket: It can carry more water from oceans and then dump that water on land.

The second reason is that climate change seems to have caused a slowdown in the speed of storms, allowing them to spend more time in one place. One 2019 study found that the average speed of storms near the Atlantic coast of North America had slowed by more than 15 percent.

Why? Wind speed is partly a function of the difference in temperature between air masses, as Henry Fountain, a Times climate reporter, explained to me. A larger temperature difference leads to faster winds, as the mixing air tries to reach equilibrium. The warming of the Arctic has reduced the temperature difference between it and the Equator, weakening the winds between them, in North America. That weakness, in turn, has slowed the movement of tropical storms.

Climate change is fantastically complex, and some individual storms may have little relation to it. Yet the scale and frequency of severe weather in recent decades have changed too much to reflect normal variation, scientists say.

Many places are moving even more toward one extreme. Hot, dry places — like much of the American West — have become hotter and drier, while wet places — like the coast along the Gulf of Mexico — have become wetter.

Credit...Source: NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information

Many places were not built to handle this extreme weather. It leads to more flooding — be it in basement apartments in New York or houses in Louisiana — and more power outages, as well as more wildfires and heat deaths.

Nicholas is not likely to be one of the worst storms of 2021, but that’s part of the point. It is part of the new normal, and it is making life more difficult, including for the tens of thousands of Louisiana residents who have already been without power for the past two weeks, since another big storm — Hurricane Ida — hit.

Related: Mount Shasta in California is nearly snowless, a rare event that is helping to melt the mountain’s glaciers, The Washington Post reports.

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Simone Biles was one of the gymnasts to testify yesterday.Credit...Pool photo by Saul Loeb

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After the murder of George Floyd last year, and the widespread protests demanding racial justice across the U.S., readers rushed to buy books about race and racism. “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo, sold 10 times as many copies as it had the year before.

Publishers took notice. They signed deals for books about the experiences of Black Americans, Elizabeth Harris writes in The Times, many of which are coming out now. At least half a dozen new imprints prioritize books by and about people of color, including Roxane Gay Books, which the author and social commentator will edit; and Black Privilege Publishing, led by the radio host Charlamagne tha God.

“What we’re talking about is not the category of ‘books about Black people’ or ‘racism,’” said Chris Jackson, editor in chief at Random House’s One World. “We’re talking about the category of ‘books about the American experience.’”

Books that assess race through a conservative lens are taking off, too — including titles by Candace Owens and Mark R. Levin — thanks in part, Harris writes, to “aggressive coverage of critical race theory by outlets like Fox News.” — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

Credit...Linda Xiao for The New York Times
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