This year national weather and climate forecasters said they saw a La Niña condition developing in the Pacific, and promised dryness, as they did last year. This year, for virtually all of California, and much of the nation as well, they've been right.
Here's the drought forecast, in a graphic from NOAA [National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration]:
More drought to come, looks like...and it's already killed an estimated half-billion trees in Texas.
Yes, that's 500 million trees, as reported last week in the Houston Chronicle.
Here's a startling image from Jeff Masters' astounding Wunderblog, showing exactly how dry it's been in the country and virtually the entirety of California this past week..
The forecast concludes:
The latest GFS model forecast predicts that this unusually dry pattern will persist for at least the next ten days, with the possibility of it breaking down during the last week of January.
At least Texas got some rain, thanks to "a highly abnormal jet stream pattern that is keeping the northern polar branch of the jet stream far to the north in Canada."
Sometimes change is easier to hear in language than it is to contextualize in reality.
My meager understanding of tuberculosis cannot be expected to grade the seriousness of the news that several new strains of the disease have been found in populations in India and Iran.
This sounds alarming, but after all, medical researchers have tricks up there sleeve as well. This may represent less a threat to you and me than simply the fact that this disease, once slated for eradication, seems to have slipped our medical net.
Yet even the experts at Chest magazine used precisely that word -- alarming -- to describe this development. .
MUMBAI: Tuberculosis, which kills around 1,000 people a day in India, has acquired a deadlier edge. A new entity-ominously called Totally Drug-Resistant TB (TDR-TB )-has been isolated in the fluid samples of 12 TB patients in the past three months alone at Hinduja Hospital at Mahim . The hospital's laboratory has been certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test TB patients for drug resistance.
While Iran first reported TDRTB cases three years ago, India seems to be only the second country to report this deadly form of the disease. TDR-TB is the result of the latest mutation of the bacilli after Multi-Drug-Resistant TB (MDR-TB ) and Extremely Drug-Resistant TB (XDR-TB ) were diagnozed earlier.
This frank twist in our language occured because milder new variants on this old disease had already taken their places in the lexicon, complete with acronyms; such as the strain resistant to multiple drug therapies, (MDR-TB) and the strain extremely resistant (XDR-TB).
Jerry Roberts knows more about California than you, and me, and probably most of the people in the state put together. He's edited major newspapers, for decades; written columns, for decades; launched websites, written books, taugth at university -- his rap sheet is as long as a cliche. He left teaching a year ago to concentrate on his writing, he said, and from the opening to his latest column in the Santa Barbara Independent, it's clear he made the right move. To wit:
Letting loose a little Latin lexicon, Jerry Brown offered up some context from the classics to describe the political challenges facing Sacramento in 2012.
“Ad Astra per Aspera,” the Jesuit-trained governor intoned in a look-ahead interview about the legislative session that began this week.
Chatting with public radio’s ace Capitol correspondent John Myers, the governor translated the expression as, “To the stars through the thorns.”
The whole column is worth reading, but that is beautiful.
Sometimes it's so easy to see the Jesuit in Jerry Brown.
Thousands of dead blackbirds rained down on a town in central Arkansas last New Year's Eve after revelers set off fireworks that spooked them from their roost, and officials were reporting a similar occurrence Saturday as 2012 approached.
Police in Beebe said dozens of blackbirds had fallen dead, prompting officers to ban residents from shooting fireworks Saturday night. It wasn't immediately clear if fireworks were again to blame, but authorities weren't taking a chance.
Officer John Weeks said the first reports of "birds on the streets" came around 7 p.m. as residents celebrated the year's end with fireworks in their neighborhoods.
"We started shutting down fireworks," he said. "We're working on cleaning up the birds now."
Such was an image in two films this year, both contemplating environmental disaster. (Without the fireworks, admittedly.) The first being Melancholia, where blackbirds fall from the sky, and people plenty of good reasons to look to the heavens, as they contemplate the end.
By contrast, 2011 also featured a beautifully understated dramatic examination of oncoming disaster, called Take Shelter. In this movie a devoted father, plagued by delusional nightmares of a storm the likes of which has never been seen in Ohio, turns his life upside down. He alienates his brother, frightens his wife, and loses his job -- all in the attempt to save his family.
Despite being devastated by blackbirds falling from the sky, he wonders if he's going crazy.
Describing what motivated him to make this film, the writer/director Jeff Nichols said:
I wrote TAKE SHELTER because I believed there was a feeling out in the world that was palpable. It was an anxiety that was very real in my life, and I had the notion it was very real in the lives of other Americans as well as other people around the world. This film was a way for me to talk about that fear and that anxiety. I hope there is an answer to this feeling by the end of the film. I believe there is, and it's the reason that this wonderful group of people came together to help me make TAKE SHELTER.
Yes, there is a palpable sense of disaster about to descend -- no? For better or worse. Perhaps we're all wrong, but the fear is there, among us.
Leave aside the much-reported record twelve billion-dollar climactic disasters of the U.S. in 2011. You can hear in the rhetoric of Ron Paul and his followers, remarked on by leading conservative Ross Douthat. You can read it in frightened Tea Party economic analysis. You can hear it in the serious music of today, such as Holocene, by Bon Iver, and in A.O. Scott's superb encapsulation of the film's central drama:
Is Curtis mad, or is he prescient? You can debate this question when the movie is over — the brilliant final scene invites as much — but you are unlikely to find a comfortable answer. The real question is what difference it makes...in “Take Shelter,” [Nichols] has made a perfect allegory for a panicky time. There is no shortage of delusion and paranoia out there in the world. There is also a lot to be afraid of.
Once our culture located God in the skies; now we wonder if we can trust Him -- or them.