TIME climate change

2014 Could Be the Hottest Year on Record

A girl plays with the water curtains that have been installed by firemen to bring relief to local people suffering from scorching heat on Piotrowska Street in Lodz, Poland on May 24, 2014.
A girl plays with the water curtains that have been installed by firemen to bring relief to local people suffering from scorching heat on Piotrowska Street in Lodz, Poland on May 24, 2014. Grzegorz Michalowski—EPA

May, June, August and September have all been record-breaking months

The earth could be heading for its warmest year on record, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Monday.

Last month was the warmest September in 135 years of record keeping, with the global average temperature 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), the Associated Press reports. May, June and August were also record-breaking months.

NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden told AP it was “pretty likely” that 2014 would be the hottest year since measurements began.

The reason for the rise in temperature is partly due to a band of warm water that develops in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño. Other record-breaking years started off with El Niño, and meteorologists forecast one is likely to occur this year.

“This is one of many indicators that climate change has not stopped and that it continues to be one of the most important issues facing humanity,” University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles told AP.

[Associated Press]

TIME weather

This Is What Hurricane Gonzalo Looks Like From Space

Tropical Weather
Hurricane Gonzalo seen from the International Space Station as it moves toward Bermuda on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. Alexander Gerst—ESA/NASA/AP

The Category 2 storm is headed north this weekend

Hurricane Gonzalo smashed into Bermuda Friday, with winds reaching 110mph and waves approaching heights of 40 feet as the Category 2 storm swept northward, according to USA Today. Approximately 30,600 customers of Bermuda’s power company were without power as of late Friday night, while the National Hurricane Center warned of “a life-threatening storm surge.”

The storm is headed for the North Atlantic this weekend.

From space, Gonzalo is a massive, white vortex—but despite its size, it really looks quite serene. This photo comes care of Alexander Gerst, a European astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station.



TIME weather

Hurricane Gonzalo Charges Toward Bermuda

Hurricane Gonzalo NOAA

The Category 4 storm is scheduled to hit the island Friday afternoon

A dangerous weather system named Hurricane Gonzalo is expected to slam into Bermuda Friday afternoon, where officials warn it could cause serious damage and lead to significant coastal flooding.

The National Weather Service predicts the Category Four hurricane will hit Bermuda with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph with stronger gusts, alongside rain accumulations of between three and six inches. A “dangerous and life-threatening storm surge” is expected to hit the island, causing flooding and large, destructive waves along the coast.

The eye of the storm is projected to pass near Bermuda Friday afternoon or evening.

TIME weather

1934 Dust Bowl Drought Was North America’s Worst in a Millennium

More than 70% of western North America was affected

The 1934 drought that helped kick off the Dust Bowl era was the worst to hit North America for the past 1,000 years, according to a new study.

Scientists from NASA and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory reconstructed the history of droughts in the U.S. using modern practices and tree-ring records from the years 1000 to 2005.

They found that the 1934 drought covered more than 70% of western North America and was 30% severer than the next worst, which struck in 1580.

“It was the worst by a large margin, falling pretty far outside the normal range of variability that we see in the record,” said Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the study’s lead author.

Cook says a high-pressure system during the west coast’s winter that kept rains at bay, combined with poor land management practices, led to dust storms in the spring.

The study is due to be published in the Oct. 17 edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

TIME weather

Polar Vortex Could Return This Winter

Accuweather says arctic conditions will return to the northeastern U.S. this winter, though the NOAA says things won't be as bad

In spite of a gradual transition from summer to fall, forecasters report that winter is, in fact, coming with a pronounced drop in temperature and high amount of snow.

“After record-shattering temperatures and high snow totals last winter in the Northeast, a similar theme will continue into the 2014-2015 season,” said forecasters Accuweather, noting that the polar vortex, a sequel no one asked for, “will slip down into the [Northeast] region from time to time,” although it will not be as “persistent.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a more tempered projection for this winter, however. Even though temperatures will be below average in the south-central and southeastern states, it said, overall weather will not be as extreme as the winter of 2013-2014. It even forecast that the west coast will experience one of its warmest winters on record. Drought conditions are expected to improve in December and January.

The Weather Channel says that while last winter primarily hit the upper Midwest, this winter’s chill will largely impact the East Coast and Gulf Coast.

TIME weather

Severe Weather Rips Through South, Killing at Least 2

Severe Weather-Louisiana
Mike Doyle jumps over a puddle while checking on a house that was damaged in the storm in Monroe, La., on Oct. 13, 2014 Henrietta Wildsmith—AP

The devastation stretched from Texas to Alabama, leaving a path of torched homes, uprooted trees, crumpled cars and downed power lines

A violent storm system wielding tornadoes, high winds, lightning, hail and rain walloped the South and Midwest on Monday, killing at least two people, according to authorities. The devastation stretched from Texas to Alabama, leaving a path of torched homes, uprooted trees, crumpled cars and downed power lines.

The dead included a 33-year-old former Marine whose Arkansas home was hit by a tornado and a 75-year-old woman in Alabama whose home was crushed by a tree, The Weather Channel reported. Other tornadoes were reported in Missouri, where Game 4 of the American League …

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME weather

Severe Storms, Tornadoes Threaten Southern U.S.

Storm clouds are seen above the southern United States via this satellite image on Oct. 11, 2014. NOAA/AP

Cities from Dallas to Chicago could experience wind gusts of at least 58 mph

Nearly 40 million Americans faced the threat of severe thunderstorms, hail and possible tornadoes on Monday, forecasters warned.

One person was killed when a strong storm damaged a house in Little River County, Arkansas, early Monday, according to the Little River Sheriff’s Office. NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported downed power lines in North Texas following heavy rain and hail Monday morning.

A large portion of the northeast of the state was under a tornado watch, according to the National Weather Service. Thunderstorms were expected to progress from East Texas through the Mississippi Valley and into the Tennessee Valley on Monday, according to…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Science

Why Leaves Change Color in the Fall

Autumn leaves
Getty Images

Some good old-fashioned science unearthed from TIME's archives

It’s time to bust out your sweaters and boots, friends, because today, Sept. 23, marks the official first day of autumn. Some people love this season for its football, others love it for its lattes — but pretty much everyone loves it for its gorgeous, vibrant colors. (If you don’t love fall for the foliage you’re a monster.)

But have you ever stopped to ask, perhaps while enjoying some cider in a leafy meadow dotted with yellow, orange and red, why the leaves change color every year? Back in October, 1941, TIME explained the science behind this annual metamorphosis. And, naturally, the anonymous writer did so in the most science-y way possible — with a poem:

Fall poem
From the Oct. 20, 1941, issue of TIME

In other words, as summer comes to a close, trees lose their green color as their chlorophyll breaks down. Once the chlorophyll disappears, other substances like carotene and xanthophyll — which have been present all along but masked by the green of summertime — begin to show. “Red appears in maples, sumacs and some other plants when slowdown of the trees’ physiological processes prevents carrying away of the sugars (made with the aid of the fading chlorophyll out of air, water and light) from the leaves,” the article continues. “These sugars turn into a class of glucosides called anthocyanins, which are bright red and purple pigments. Anthocyanins develop best where 1) soil is acid. 2) nitrates are scarce, 3) light is abundant. Thus the light-bathed tips of maple leaves and the sunny sides of apples are reddest.”

But of course, all good things must come to an end. Here’s what happens as those lovely hues begin to fade:

By late autumn, the yellow and red pigments, following the green, disintegrate in the leaves. This final unmasking reveals the dull brown tannins, which are chemically so stable that they remain till the leaf rots to powder. Unlike flower pigments, which have the vital function of attracting pollen-spreading insects and birds, autumn’s colorful foliage is just a meaningless, glorious show.

So next time you’re strolling through the park with your friends on a crisp autumn afternoon and somebody comments on the colors, hit them with some science to explain the phenomenon. Surely they’ll be so impressed they’ll buy you a pumpkin spice latte, or at least some pumpkin spice Oreos.

TIME States

California Declares a State of Emergency as Wildfires Spread

"It's been an explosive couple of days"

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday in two northern counties as wildfires spread with explosive speed.

A fire in El Dorado County east of Sacramento more than doubled in size Wednesday night, from 44 square miles to 111 square miles, the Los Angeles Times reports, and was just 5% contained by Thursday morning. A separate fire in the northern Siskiyou County that started late Monday has damaged more than 150 structures, including a churches, and was about 65% contained.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. Thousands of firefighters are helping to tackle the blazes, which threaten some 4,000 homes.

Federal aid has been apportioned to cover the cost of fighting the fire that began Monday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request Wednesday for additional aid to combat the fire in El Dorado.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME weather

Hurricane Eduoard Becomes First Major Storm of Atlantic Season

Hurricane Edouard seen in the Atlantic Ocean. NASA—AFP/Getty Images

Atlantic hurricane season kicks off with a distant category 3 hurricane dubbed "Eduoard"

NOAA officials have declared the first major hurricane of the season, “Eduoard,” a category 3 whirlwind currently some 420 miles east of Bermuda.

Hurricane Edouard’s winds top 115 miles per hour and extend roughly 45 miles outward from the eye of the storm. NOAA says it’s moving north and west at 13 miles per hour. Officials expect the storm to lose strength as early as Wednesday, and they predict it has no likelihood of making landfall or causing damage.

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