are almost biblical, heat waves that don't end, tornadoes that strike
in savage swarms—there's been a change in the weather lately. What's
A deluge falls from the core of a thunderstorm near Glasgow in
July 2010. “I felt like if you could stand in the middle and look up,
you'd see straight into the heavens,” says photographer Sean Heavey.
The biggest dust storm in living memory rolls into Phoenix on
July 5, 2011, reducing visibility to zero. Desert thunderstorms kicked
up the mile-high wall of dust and sand.
A flaming fence post marks the trail of a forest fire near
Bastrop on September 5, 2011, during a record drought and heat wave. The
fire, which destroyed 1,685 houses, may have been sparked by dead pine
trees falling onto power lines.
Frozen spray from Lake Geneva entombs cars, trees, and a
promenade during a severe cold spell in February 2012. An unusual dip in
the polar jet stream, which looped as far south as Africa, brought
Arctic air and deep snows to Europe, killing several hundred people.
Jamey Howell and Andrea Silvia had just heard that church was
canceled when the flood submerged their Jeep near Nashville on May 2,
2010. The teenagers clung to the roof rack for more than an hour and
then—as their parents watched helplessly—let go. A mile downstream they
struggled onto a riverbank, alive.
Fortified by a levee, a house near Vicksburg survives a Yazoo
River flood in May 2011. Snowmelt and intense rains—eight times as much
rainfall as usual in parts of the Mississippi River watershed—triggered
floods that caused three to four billion dollars in damages.
On April 27, 2011, the U.S. was hit by 199 tornadoes, a
single-day record—but there's no clear evidence, scientists say, of a
long-term rise in tornado frequency. The 190-mile-an-hour twister that
carved a sharp path across Tuscaloosa missed the University of Alabama
football stadium (upper left) by a mile, then threaded between a large
mall (X-shaped building at center) and the main hospital, which was soon
treating victims. The tornado killed 44, then roared northeast to the
Birmingham area, where it killed 20 more.
“It was really cranking,” photographer Mike Hollingshead says of
this 130-mile-an-hour twister. But to him, that was not a clue to run
the other way. A dedicated storm chaser, he shot this funnel on June 20,
2011, outside Bradshaw, where it derailed freight-train cars.
Rainwater cascades onto a Chengdu resident rushing up a flight
of stairs from an underground garage. An unusually severe downpour on
July 3, 2011, flooded streets and knocked out electricity in the city,
which is the capital of Sichuan Province in central China.
The public swimming pool in Spur, a little town in West
Texas, was originally closed because of leaks—but with the drought
making water so scarce lately, there has been no rush to repair the pool
and refill it. It has been empty for four summers now.
Tumbleweeds catch in the furrows of an unplanted cotton field
near Brownfield, southwest of Lubbock. High winds and a record-breaking
heat wave led to damaging erosion, says Buzz Cooper, who runs a cotton
gin nearby. “It was just like a hot fan in an oven,” he says.
The wildfire near Bastrop, Texas, on September 5, 2011, was
so hot it melted the aluminum wheels of this boat trailer. Fanned by
high winds, the fire spread rapidly. “People had literally five or ten
minutes to get out,” says Jack Page, fire marshal of nearby Smithville.
“There were a couple of times we didn't think we would make it.”
Since the drought started almost two years ago, Mark Meyers
has taken in more than 800 donkeys at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue,
a shelter he and his wife, Amy, run near San Angelo, Texas. “With hay
prices up to four times as much as usual, people could not afford to
feed their donkeys,” he says. “So they abandoned them.” Meyers rounds up
the strays with the help of Bonney and two other dogs.
White lines on the hillside (right) record the normal water
level of the E. V. Spence Reservoir near the town of Robert Lee, Texas.
During the prolonged drought the reservoir has dropped by more than 99
percent, and towns that depend on it have had to scramble to find other
water sources—drilling wells, building pipelines, or simply trucking in