15 Incredible Things Revealed by Extreme Weather

STUART HERBERT VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
STUART HERBERT VIA FLICKR // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

High waves, violent winds, and extreme droughts can wreak terrible destruction—but they can also uncover amazing treasures. Recently, Hurricane Michael's storm surge uncovered two ships grounded on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico during another hurricane 119 years ago. During summer 2018, a major drought in Europe revealed "hunger stones" inscribed with dire messages in the Czech Republic, the remains of a prehistoric henge in Ireland, and traces of a 17th-century garden in England. In prior years, weather has exposed Mayan hieroglyphics, medieval skeletons, ancient footprints, and much more. Here are 15 remarkable things revealed by weather.

1. THE OLDEST HUMAN FOOTPRINTS OUTSIDE OF AFRICA

In 2013, strong storms and erosion at Happisburgh, England, cleared away sand and revealed curious depressions in the mud. Archaeologists determined that they were human footprints—the oldest ever found outside of Africa. The people who made the footprints belonged to a different species of Homo than our own, and they lived between 1 million and 0.78 million years ago.

2. A CIVIL WAR SHIP—AND A BOTTLE OF TERRIBLE WINE

Wreck of the Mary Celestia
LookBermuda via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

During the U.S. Civil War, President Lincoln ordered a blockade around southern ports to stop goods from passing through. The Confederacy responded with blockade runners—ships helmed by daring captains who ran cotton, medicine, ammunition, and other goods through the blockade.

The Mary Celestia was one such vessel. It served in this role for only two years before it hit a reef and sank. In recent years, severe hurricanes have stripped away sand from the wreck, and they’ve exposed all sorts of interesting archaeological artifacts—including a sealed bottle of wine. Was the vino still drinkable? Experts sipped it and declared that it mostly tasted like sludgy seawater with notes of … gasoline.

3. A MEDIEVAL SKELETON HANGING FROM TREE ROOTS

In 2015, a tempest in Collooney, Ireland, toppled a huge beech tree—and hoisted half of a skeleton into the air. Archaeologists determined that the bones belonged to an early medieval man who met a violent death from some sort of sharp blade. When the beech tree was toppled, the roots popped up from the soil, carrying the top half of the skeleton with them.

4. A PREHISTORIC FOREST

A submerged forest in Wales
Stuart Herbert via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Wild weather at Cardigan Bay in Wales periodically strips away sand and uncovers an unusual sight: an ancient forest of tree stumps. In 2014 an especially powerful set of storms exposed much of the forest, giving us amazing views of the ancient trees, which died over 4500 years ago as sea levels rose and salt water inundated the land. Archaeologists also found a wooden walkway dating to between 3000 and 4000 years ago, perhaps built by local people in an attempt to deal with rising seas.

5. THE WRECK OF A COAL SCHOONER—PROBABLY

Shipwreck that's probably the Bessie A. White
Nick Normal via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When Hurricane Sandy blew through New York State’s Fire Island, it exposed the hull of a large ship. Experts believe—though they can’t confirm—that this vessel is the Bessie White, a Canadian coal schooner. The ship ran aground in 1919 or 1922 after it became lost in heavy fog. Fortunately, the naval disaster didn’t claim any lives. The whole crew survived, including the ship’s cat.

6. UNEXPLODED SHELLS FROM WORLD WAR II

Explosives from past wars can still be found in our seas, and bad weather sometimes washes them ashore. In 2012, crews in New Jersey found two unexploded shells while combing the beach after Superstorm Sandy. And in 2014, the Royal Navy was called in to examine an unexploded shell on a beach in Devon, England. (After a thorough examination, the navy declared the shell safe.)

7. A CALIFORNIA "SIN SHIP"

In the 1920s and '30s, you could evade the law and gamble to your heart’s content on "sin ships" off the California coast. Many of these vessels had once been used for honest work—some had belonged to the military—but were rebuilt for drinking, gambling, and partying.

The Monte Carlo, a former oil tanker, was one such vessel. As a sin ship, it hosted such illustrious visitors as Mae West and Clark Gable. But on New Year’s Eve in 1936, a tremendous gale arose and the ship broke free of its moorings. Luckily, there were only two caretakers aboard, and they were safely rescued.

The ship washed up on the beach at Coronado the next day, New Year’s Day, and it still lies buried in the sand. But every now and then, storms remove enough sediment and it reappears. This past winter, El Nino storms gave beachgoers an impressive view of the wreckage— and a chance to stand where Hollywood stars once partied the night away.

8. IRON AGE SKELETONS

Rough weather battered Shetland in Scotland during the 2012-2013 holiday season. It caused a cliff collapse that exposed a grisly sight: human remains. Archaeologists and police were quick to the scene—but it soon became apparent that the remains were a little too old for a homicide investigation: The bones dated from perhaps 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, a further cliff collapse reburied the site, laying the bodies to rest once again.

9. A NEOLITHIC TOWN

The remains of the ancient town of Skara Brae
marydoll1952, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1850, a tremendous squall hit the Orkney Isles in northern Scotland. It stripped grass and dirt from a large, lumpy knoll known as Skerrabra—and revealed something amazing. The knoll was actually an ancient town. This settlement, known as Skara Brae, dated back to 3200-2200 BCE. It gave archaeologists a glimpse into Scotland’s remarkable ancient past: Skara Brae’s inhabitants raised sheep and cows, feasted on now-extinct great auks, and slept on beds filled with heather.

10. A HUGE WOODEN STEAMBOAT

The steamboat Montana, built in 1882, was the largest ship that ever traveled on the Missouri River. But she lasted just two years before striking an underground tree and sinking. During a severe 2012 drought, water levels in the Missouri dropped low enough to expose the enormous wreck.

11. A GIGANTIC ANCIENT POT

In 2015, a storm’s powerful waves uncovered a nearly 5-foot-tall pot at Palmahim Beach National Park in Israel. Dating from between 300 and 500 CE, the vessel contained artifacts such as an incense pipe and an oil flask. But why would anybody make a piece of pottery as tall as a person? The ancient Romans used these containers, called dolia, to store food and drink.

12. A WHOLE BUNCH OF OIL

In 2016, an oil spill hit a beach in Norfolk, England. But no oil tanker had sunk or run aground in the area …. at least, not for 40 years.

In 1978, the Greek oil tanker Eleni V collided with another ship and capsized. It was later blown up by the army. At the time, policy dictated that the ship’s oil should be buried in trenches along the shore. But storms and erosion eventually exposed the oil, coating a mile of coastline in dark glop—nearly four decades after the offending shipwreck.

13. A SHIPWRECK (INCLUDING A BODY DELIVERY GONE WRONG)

In 1888, the French vessel Jeune Hortense approached the shore at Cornwall, England. It was carrying the body of a Cornish man who had died in France. The crew of four hoped to return the body to its homeland. Unfortunately, the ship ran aground. Fortunately, the crewmembers—and most of the 450 cows onboard—were rescued (it's not quite clear what happened to the body). Over time, sand covered the vessel. Now and then, though, wild waves blast away the sediment and expose it, giving visitors a glimpse of the wreck.

14. MAYAN HIEROGLYPHICS

In 2001, a hurricane hit Guatemala and blew away the sediment that had covered a Mayan staircase. But these were no ordinary stairs. They were covered in hieroglyphics [PDF]—and they told a remarkable story of a massive and incredibly bloody regional conflict, complete with a huge pile of skulls.

15. AN UNUSUAL WHALE SKELETON

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused massive beach erosion in Volusia County, Florida. An Orlando couple who were searching for sand dollars made an incredible discovery: the skeleton of a whale that had been buried for decades. And it was no ordinary whale: It was a Gervais’ beaked whale, a member of a group—beaked whales—so poorly known and mysterious that we’re still discovering new species even today.

A version of this post first ran in 2016.

9 Other Things That Happened on July 4

iStock/LPETTET
iStock/LPETTET

Of course we know that July 4 is Independence Day in the U.S. But lots of other things have happened on that date as well. Here are just a few of them:

1. Three former presidents died.

On July 4, 1826, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—America's second and third presidents, respectively—both passed away. The two politicians had a love-hate relationship, and Adams's last words were supposedly, "Thomas Jefferson survives." (He didn't know that Jefferson had passed away a few hours earlier.) Exactly five years later, on July 4, 1831, fifth U.S. President James Monroe died in New York City.

2. Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond.

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau began his two-year living experiment at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.

3. Alice Liddell first heard the story of Alice in Wonderland.

On July 4, 1862, little Alice Liddell listened to a story told by Lewis Carroll during a boat trip on the Thames ... it would later become, of course, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was published exactly three years later—on July 4, 1865.

4. Two famous advice columnists were born.

On July 4, 1918, twin sisters Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther Friedman were born. Today they're better known as Ann Landers and Dear Abby.

5. George Steinbrenner came into the world.

On July 4, 1930, future Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was born (and presumably fired the doctor immediately).

6. Lou Gehrig delivered his retirement speech.

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig gave his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium after being diagnosed with ALS. He tells the crowd that he considers himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

7. The Zodiac Killer killed for the first time. (As far as we know.)

On July 4, 1968, the Zodiac Killer murdered his first victims (that we know of) at Lake Herman Road in Benicia, California.

8. Koko was born.

On July 4, 1971, Koko, the sign-language gorilla, was born.

9. Bob Ross passed away.

On July 4, 1995, Bob Ross died, and all over the world, Happy Little Trees were a little less happy.

This list first ran in 2008 and was updated for 2019.

12 Facts About Diabetes Mellitus

iStock/mthipsorn
iStock/mthipsorn

Thirty million Americans—about 9 percent of the country's population—are living with diabetes mellitus, or simply diabetes. This chronic condition is characterized by sustained high blood sugar levels. In many patients, symptoms can be managed with insulin injections and lifestyle changes, but in others, the complications can be deadly. Here's what you need to know about diabetes mellitus.

1. There are three types of diabetes.

In healthy people, the pancreas produces enough of the hormone insulin to metabolize sugars into glucose and move the glucose into cells, where it's used for energy.

But people with type 2 diabetes—the most common form of the disease, accounting for about 95 percent of cases—either can't produce enough insulin to transport the sugars, or their cells have become insulin-resistant. The result is a buildup of glucose in the blood (a.k.a. high blood sugar or hyperglycemia). Type 2 diabetes typically develops in adults.

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, makes up the remaining 5 percent of chronic cases and most often develops in children and young adults. With this condition, the initial problem isn’t blood sugar levels, but insulin production: The pancreas can’t make enough insulin to process even normal amounts of glucose. The sugar builds up as a result, leading to dangerous concentrations in the bloodstream.

The third form, gestational diabetes, only afflicts pregnant people who weren’t diabetic before their pregnancy. The mother's blood glucose levels usually spike around the 24th week of pregnancy, but with a healthy diet, exercise, and insulin shots in some cases, diabetes symptoms usually can be managed. Blood sugar levels tend to return to normal in patients following their pregnancies.

2. The mellitus in diabetes mellitus means "honey sweet."

Around 3000 years ago, ancient Egyptians described a condition with diabetes-like symptoms, though it wasn't called diabetes yet. It took a few hundred years before the Greek physician Araetus of Cappodocia came up with the name diabetes based on the Greek word for "passing through" (as in passing a lot of urine, a common diabetes symptom). English doctor Thomas Willis tacked on the word mellitus, meaning "honey sweet," in 1675, building on previous physicians' observations that diabetic patients had sweet urine. Finally, in 1776, another English physician named Matthew Dobson confirmed that both the blood and urine of diabetes patients were made sweeter by high levels of glucose in their blood.

3. The cause of one type of diabetes is well understood; the other, not so much.

A person’s lifestyle is a key predictor of developing type 2 diabetes. Factors like being overweight or obese, consuming a high-calorie diet, smoking, and seldom exercising contribute to the risk. Foods and drinks that are high in sugar—soda, candy, ice cream, dessert— may contribute to hyperglycemia, but any food that’s high in calories, even if it's not sweet, can raise blood sugar levels.

In contrast to these well-established factors, medical experts aren’t entirely sure what causes type 1 diabetes. We do know that type 1 is an autoimmune disease that develops when the body attacks and damages insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Some scientists think that environmental factors, like viruses, may trigger this immune response.

4. Family history also plays a role in diabetes risk.

If a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes, you are predisposed to developing pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle habits explain some of these incidences, since family members may share similar diets and exercise habits. Genetics also play a role, but just because one close relative has diabetes does not mean you're destined to. Research conducted on identical twins, which share identical genes, showed that the pairs have discordant risk. Among twins in which one has type 1 diabetes, the other has only a 50 percent chance of developing it; for type 2, the risk for the second twin is 75 percent at most.

5. Racial minorities are at a higher risk for developing diabetes.

Many racial minority groups in the U.S. have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Black Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and some groups of Asian Americans are more likely to have pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes than white Americans. This can be partly explained by the fact that some of these groups also have higher rates of obesity, which is one of the primary risk factors of type 2 diabetes. Socioeconomics may also play a role: One study shows that people with diabetes living in poverty are less likely to visit diabetes clinics and receive proper testing than their middle-income counterparts. According to another study, diabetic people without health insurance have higher blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol rates than insured diabetics. Genetics, on the other hand, don’t appear to contribute to these trends.

6. Diabetes is one of the world's deadliest diseases.

With proper management, people with diabetes can live long, comfortable lives. But if the disease isn’t treated, it can have dire consequences. Diabetics make up the majority of people who develop chronic kidney disease, have adult-onset blindness, and need lower-limb amputations. In the most serious cases, diabetes leads to death. The condition is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, killing more people than breast cancer and AIDS combined.

7. Millions of Americans are pre-diabetic.

According to the CDC, 84 million adults living in the U.S. are pre-diabetic: Their blood sugar is higher than what’s considered safe, but hasn't yet reached diabetic level. In pre-diabetic patients, blood glucose levels after eight hours of fasting fall between 100 and 125 milligrams per deciliter, and diabetic levels are anything above that. People with pre-diabetes are not just at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes, but also for heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, people who are diagnosed with pre-diabetes can take steps to eat a healthier diet, increase physical activity, and test their blood glucose level several times a day to control the condition. In some cases, doctors will prescribe drugs like metformin that make the body more receptive to the insulin it produces.

8. After climbing for decades, rates of diabetes incidence are declining.

In the U.S., the rate of new diagnoses skyrocketed 382 percent between 1988 and 2014. Globally, 108 million people had diabetes in 1980, but by 2014 that number was 422 million.

But thanks to nationwide education and prevention efforts, the trend has reversed in the U.S., according to the CDC. Since peaking in 2009, the number of new diabetes cases in America has dropped by 35 percent. In that same timeframe, the number of people living with diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. has plateaued, suggesting people with the condition are living longer.

9. The first successful treatment for type 1 diabetes occurred in 1922.

Prior to the 20th century, type 1 diabetes was usually fatal. Diabetic ketoacidosis—a toxic buildup of chemicals called ketones, which arise when the body can no longer use glucose and instead breaks down other tissues for energy—killed most patients within a year or two of diagnosis. In searching for way to save children with juvenile (type 1) diabetes, Canadian physician Frederick Banting and medical student Charles Best built on the work of earlier researchers, who had demonstrated that removing the pancreas from a dog immediately caused diabetes symptoms in the animal. Banting and Best extracted insulin from dog pancreases in University of Toronto professor J.J.R. Macleod's lab. After injecting the insulin back into dogs whose pancreases had been removed, they realized the hormone regulated blood sugar levels. On January 11, 1922, they administered insulin to a human patient, and further refined the extract to reduce side effects. In 1923, Banting and Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work.

10. A pioneering physicist discovered the difference between type and and type 1 diabetes.

In the 1950s, physicist Rosalyn Yalow and her research partner Solomon Berson developed a method for measuring minute amounts of substances in blood. Inspired by Yalow's husband's struggle with diabetes, Yalow focused her research on insulin. Their "radioimmunoassay" technology revealed that some diabetes patients were still able to produce their own insulin, leading them to create two separate categories for the disease: “insulin-dependent” (type 1) and “non-insulin-dependent” (type 2). Prior to that discovery in 1959, there was no distinction between the two types. In 1977, Yalow won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the radioimmunoassay, one of only 12 female Nobel laureates in medicine.

11. Making one insulin dose once required tons of pig parts.

Insulin is relatively easy to make today. Most of what's used in injections comes from a special non-disease-producing laboratory strain of E. coli bacteria that's been genetically modified to produce insulin, but that wasn't always the case. Until about 40 years ago, 2 tons of pig pancreases were required to produce just 8 ounces of pure insulin. The pig parts were typically recycled from pork farms.

12. A quarter of diabetes patients don’t know they have it.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop for years before patients think to ask their doctor about them. These include frequent urination, unexplained thirst, numbness in the extremities, dry skin, blurry vision, fatigue, and sores that are slow to heal—signs that may not be a cause for concern on their own, but together can indicate a more serious problem. Patients with type 1 diabetes may also experience nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

While serious, the symptoms of diabetes are sometimes easy to overlook. That’s why 25 percent of people with the illness, 7.2 million in the U.S., are undiagnosed. And that number doesn’t even cover the majority of people with pre-diabetes who aren’t aware they’re on their way to becoming diabetic.

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