The Growing Power of Hurricanes

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Hurricane Laura shares something in common with both Hurricane Florence, a 2018 storm that killed 52 Americans, and Hurricane Katrina, which struck Louisiana 15 years ago this week. All three changed from more typical hurricanes into severe ones in just a day or two.

That kind of rapid intensification — to use the scientific term for it — used to be rare. In recent years, it has become more common.

And that change is a useful summary of how climate change is, and is not, affecting hurricanes.

The warming of the planet doesn’t seem to have increased the frequency of hurricanes. But it has increased their severity, scientists say. Storms draw their energy from the ocean, and warmer water provides more energy. Warmer air, in turn, can carry more water, increasing rainfall and flooding.

Since the 1990s, the frequency of extreme hurricanes — either Category 4 or 5 — has roughly doubled in the Atlantic Ocean. No single storm is solely a result of climate change, of course. Yet climate change is leading to more storms like Laura.

The scariest part of the trend is that it isn’t over. Climate change acts slowly. The destruction sweeping across Louisiana and Texas this morning will probably be even more common in the future than it is today.

More on the storm:

  • Laura made landfall as a Category 4 storm early this morning near the Louisiana-Texas border. The National Hurricane Center called the expected storm surge “unsurvivable,” and said that it could push 40 miles inland.

  • In a broader policy move, the federal government has begun giving up on protecting some flood-prone communities. It will instead use tax dollars to relocate those communities — a policy once dismissed as too radical.

  • Saturday will be the 15th anniversary of Katrina making landfall in Louisiana. In an essay, Talmon Joseph Smith, a Times editor and New Orleans native, has reflected on the storm and calls its lessons “unlearned.”

Professional sports seasons seemed in doubt, as athletes staged walkouts to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was partly paralyzed after a white police officer shot him in Kenosha, Wis., this week.

The N.B.A.’s Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game yesterday, which quickly led to the cancellation of other N.B.A. games, as well as events in the W.N.B.A. and professional baseball, soccer and tennis. Players on the N.B.A.’s two Los Angeles teams have voted to cancel the rest of the season, according to The Athletic, and the league’s players and owners will meet separately today to make decisions, according to ESPN.

Murder charges: Wisconsin authorities arrested Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white Illinois resident, and charged him with first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting of two protesters on Tuesday. Rittenhouse had often posted on social media in support of the police and considered himself a militia member, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The Times’s visual investigations team analyzed hours of footage to follow Rittenhouse’s movements in the moments leading up to the shootings.

Here are the latest Kenosha developments.

Republicans used the third night of their convention to continue warning about violence and lawlessness, trying to capitalize on the unrest in Wisconsin. “The hard truth is, you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Vice President Mike Pence said in the keynote speech.

Pence also defended the Trump’s administration’s handling of the coronavirus, often in misleading ways.

Here’s a five-minute video summarizing last night.

What political analysts are saying:

  • “America right now has: deadly pandemic, massive unemployment and recession, schools unable to open, protests over racial injustice, a killer hurricane bearing down on the South… And I am watching Mike Pence talk about how bad things would be in Joe Biden’s America,” The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser wrote.

Officials in the Trump administration told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin discouraging people without symptoms from being tested, two federal health officials said Wednesday. President Trump has long complained that the U.S. does too much testing, returning high numbers of infections that make the country look bad.

Scientists say the revision is a dangerous step back for a country still struggling to contain the virus — and hoping to reopen schools.

In other virus developments:

  • Brenton Tarrant, an Australian who last year murdered 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was sentenced to life in prison without any chance of parole. It’s the first time a New Zealand court has imposed such a sentence.

  • Kevin Mayer said he would resign as the chief executive of TikTok, less than four months after joining the video app. The Trump administration has ordered the Chinese-owned company to sell its U.S. operations.

  • The Navy is investigating a sailor for arson in the fire that engulfed the warship U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard in July.

  • The Justice Department executed Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American man on federal death row, against the wishes of Navajo leaders. He was the fourth person to be executed since the Trump administration resumed federal capital punishment last year.

  • Lives Lived: Angela Buxton was a white, Jewish Englishwoman. Her doubles partner in tennis, Althea Gibson, was a Black American. In the elite, segregated world of 1950s tennis, they forged a remarkable, Wimbledon-winning friendship. Buxton died at 85.

Several universities have recently required students to take at least one class in ethnic studies — the academic discipline that studies race and racism, focusing on the experiences of people of color. The list includes Emory, Pittsburgh and California State, which is the country’s largest public system.

Some students at other universities are agitating for similar requirements, while others are criticizing the move. Here’s an overview of the debate.

What’s the case for requiring it? In short, empathy. Students who study a different culture’s accomplishments, traditions and struggles are more likely to understand them — and to understand racism and prejudice, too. That’s a crucial part of the broad knowledge that a bachelor’s degree should provide, advocates say.

“History is not just about memorizing facts. It’s about developing character,” Shirley Weber, the California Assembly member who proposed the legislative change, has said.

What’s the case against? Bias, basically. Skeptics argue that the current definition of ethnic studies excludes some minority groups — Jewish, Hindu and Korean organizations have lodged a complaint about California’s curriculum — and is closer to jargon-filled left-wing propaganda than a rigorous academic field.

Course materials can be “progressive to the point of self-parody,” Kevin Kiley, a Republican member of the California Assembly, has said.

The history: Code Switch, an NPR podcast, explored the long and bloody student strike to establish the first ethnic studies department in the country, at a San Francisco commuter college 50 years ago.

In May, we told you where to buy chile oil. Now, we’re here to tell you how to make it. Tonight, mix together J. Kenji López-Alt’s Sichuan Chile Oil, a vermilion slick that’s as much tingle as taste. Tomorrow, after it has infused, serve it over ramen with charred scallions and green beans for a quick and aromatic vegan meal.

When the pandemic forced celebrities off the streets of Los Angeles, the paparazzi struggled to snap photos of A-listers running even the most mundane of errands. So Fletcher Greene decided to focus his camera on one Hollywood group still venturing out and throwing wild parties: the influencers of TikTok and YouTube.

New York City’s comedy clubs remain closed, but comedy hasn’t stopped: Stand-ups are performing in gardens, parks and on rooftops, and hundreds of people are coming out to watch.

“Performing live comedy in New York right now is like selling beer during Prohibition,” writes The Times’s Jason Zinoman. “It’s outlawed and everyone’s doing it.”

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