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8 Extreme Weather Events As Seen From Space

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Most of us have seen at least one extreme weather event in our lives. But no matter how things look from the ground, these events look drastically different, even surprisingly peaceful, from above. Here are some of the biggest weather events of the last few decades, as seen from space.

1. Hurricane Katrina

Most of us remember the severe devastation Hurricane Katrina (top image) caused, and it’s easy to see why the storm presented so many problems when seen from above—the arms of the hurricane expanded across most of the Gulf of Mexico. When this image was taken on August 28, 2005, winds in the storm were recorded traveling at about 160 mph.

Katrina was not only one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history—it was also the most expensive natural disaster in the country's history, causing more than $108 billion in damages.

2. Superstorm Sandy

Just last year, the Floss headquarters was closed for weeks thanks to this massive hurricane that caused over $75 billion in damage. 

3. Ireland and Britain’s Winter of 2009-2010

While not due to one storm in particular, the winter of 2009 through 2010 was unusually cold throughout Europe, earning the season the title of “The Big Freeze.” This satellite image from January 7, 2010 shows the extent of snow covering over England and Scotland.

4. Snowmageddon

Europe wasn’t the only area hit hard by winter that season. On February 5, 2010, the North Atlantic coast was hit by a category 3 (major) blizzard. Up to 35 inches of snow was dropped on the East Coast of the U.S. The area was already suffering from the effects of a blizzard that had occurred in December, and when another category 3 blizzard happened only a few days later, bringing another 20 inches of snow, the media began pronouncing the event “snowpocalypse,” “snoverkill” and “snowmageggon.” Catchy nicknames aside, the storms resulted in the snowiest winter on record for much of the Mid-Atlantic, which is easy to imagine given how much snow is visible in this satellite image taken on February 11.

5. Cyclone Gafilo

While it might not be as famous as many of the other storms on this list, 2004’s Cyclone Gafilo is the most intense cyclone to ever form in the south-western Indian Ocean and the strongest cyclone to strike Madagascar. With winds reaching over 185 miles per hour, the storm caused more than $250 million in damages and resulted in 172 deaths.

This image shows the cyclone on March 6, after it reached peak speed and was about to strike northwest Madagascar.

6. 2009's Australian Sandstorm

When someone says “extreme weather,” you probably think of wet conditions, but when high winds hit sand, they can result in massive dust storms that can be just as intense as a blizzard. In September of 2009, a dust storm hit Eastern Australia, sweeping dirt and debris across New South Wales and Queensland. Typically, air particle concentrations register at 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air. During bushfires, the air particle concentration raises to about 500 micrograms per cubic meter. So you can imagine how concentrated the dust must have been for the air concentration levels to reach 15,400 during the storm. It’s been estimated that the storm carried over 16 million tons of dust from the desert to the coast, at a peak level of 75,000 tons per hour.

7. 2003 Firestorm

Many would hesitate to call wildfires a weather event, but in most cases, weather is at least partially responsible. This was definitely the case in the California wildfires of October 2003, where over 15 wildfires broke out throughout Southern California and Baja, Mexico. I was in San Diego when the fires first broke out and there was so much thick, white ash in the air that even 20 miles from the fires, it looked like the roads were covered in snow.

8. 2007 Wildfires

I was also present for the 2007 California wildfires, which were a result of many of the same weather conditions as the 2003 fires, which have become a seasonal problem for the region.

Were any of you witness to these events, or do you have any extreme weather stories of your own? While everyone loves a good story, you might consider yourself lucky if your answer is “no” this time.

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11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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