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5 Record-Breaking Weather Facts of 2016

December 27, 2016
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After a brief period of heavy rain in drought-choked California, wildflowers bloomed near Caliente on March 4, 2016. Image Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

 
Thank goodness 2016 is almost over. It’s hard to come across one person who enjoyed much of what the year threw at us—and that’s true of its weather, too. Whether you were baked by extreme heat or drenched by never-ending rains, 2016 was an active, record-breaking year that left few parts of the U.S. untouched by tumult. Here’s a quick look back at how the weather treated us in 2016.

1. 2016 WAS LIKELY THE WARMEST YEAR EVER RECORDED.

The weather is more than what you see in your backyard. We only ever personally experience a small fraction of the weather events that unfold every day around the world, but we’re all impacted by large-scale trends like the record-setting warmth of 2016.

2016 will very likely go down as the warmest year ever recorded, the third such year in a row, topping 2015 as the previous holder of this dubious distinction. NOAA’s year-to-date temperature data for the world through the end of November has 2016 coming in 0.94°C warmer than normal, which almost guarantees that 2016 will come in slightly warmer than 2015’s astounding year-end anomaly of 0.89°C.

Some of this year’s record warmth is attributable to El Niño, the anomalous warming of the ocean water near the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean, but that doesn’t explain all of it. This year continued an undeniable trend that shows that our atmosphere is warming at a fairly steady pace; in fact, including this year, six of the ten warmest years recorded since 1880 have occurred since 2010. If the warming trend continues in the years ahead, it will likely result in adverse situations like more intense and prolonged droughts in some areas, more frequent flooding due to rising sea levels and heavier rainfall in others, and longer, deadlier heat waves.

2. WE HAVEN’T SEEN MANY RECORD LOWS AS A RESULT.

Arctic air descending over the United States on December 17, 2016. Image Credit: Dennis Mersereau

 
The recent cold snap that froze much of the U.S. in the middle of December felt exceptionally cold—with low temperatures dipping well below zero across many states—but it’s easy to forget that it used to get much colder than that on a pretty regular basis. As a result, this bone-chilling cold didn’t set as many record lows as one would think. That’s not an uncommon situation these days.

Climate Central recently took a look at the ratio of daily record lows to daily record highs and found that the latter significantly outnumbers the former. For every record low we’ve seen in the United States in 2016, there have been at least six record highs. Climate Central notes that the number of record highs and lows should equal out over time in a “stable climate,” but we’re in anything but a stable climate these days. 

3. THE U.S. SUFFERED FROM HISTORIC FLOODS.

On the precipitation side of things, extreme flooding events were by far the largest cause of weather disasters this year in the United States, and there were two particularly devastating flooding events in 2016. The first unfolded across Louisiana in August, the result of a storm system that stalled out over the eastern part of the state and dumped up to 30 inches of rain over a short period of time. The extreme rain led to flooding that caused more than $8.7 billion in damages, killed more than a dozen people, and forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes.

The other flooding disaster was caused by Hurricane Matthew, a powerful storm that grazed the Florida and Georgia coasts before coming ashore in the Carolinas at the beginning of October. The hurricane merged with a frontal system over North Carolina and focused one to two feet of intense rainfall on the eastern part of the state. Much as we saw in Louisiana, the floods claimed thousands of homes and resulted in multiple fatalities.

4. WHERE IT DIDN’T RAIN, IT REALLY DIDN’T RAIN.

The U.S. Drought Monitor as of December 13, 2016. Image credit: USDM

 
The split between feast and famine was stark this year. While the West Coast’s drought slowly got a bit better, much of the eastern parts of the United States slipped into a disruptive, and at times, destructive drought. The drought is particularly bad in interior parts of the southeast, where states like Georgia and Alabama have slipped into their worst drought in a decade. The dry earth has led to devastating wildfires that have claimed thousands of homes and killed numerous people. The extreme dryness will likely last through a significant portion of 2017, and affected areas may not see any noticeable relief until next summer’s hurricane season.

5. TORNADO ACTIVITY AND TORNADO DEATHS ARE NEAR RECORD LOWS.

Still, not all of the wacky weather we’ve seen in 2016 was bad. The Storm Prediction Center’s data through the end of December shows that 2016 is very close to the fewest number of tornadoes recorded in one year since 1950. The United States typically sees around a thousand confirmed tornadoes every year, but that activity has been relatively minimal for the past couple of years. Adjusted for inflation—removing false reports and duplicate reports for the same tornado—2016 has seen 897 reported tornadoes through December 19, 2016. That’s significantly lower than the previous low-point of 944.

Tornadoes can grow into violent monsters that destroy entire towns, but these beastly formations are surprisingly fragile. Tornado formation requires precise amounts of wind shear, instability, and moisture—too much or too little of one ingredient will prevent a storm from producing tornadoes. This natural limitation is why only a tiny fraction of thunderstorms ever spawn tornadoes.

The near-record lack of tornadoes so far this year has had the added benefit of resulting in one of the lowest tornado death tolls on record. On average, about 98 people die every year as a direct result of injuries sustained in tornadoes [PDF]. Only 17 people have died as a result of tornadoes so far in 2016, the second-lowest number on record since 1940. Only 1986 saw a lower tornado death toll, when just 15 people were killed.

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Portable Chargers RAVPower 16750mAh External Battery Pack 4.5A Dual USB Output External Phone Charger Battery Bank Power Bank (iSmart 2.0 Technology) for Nintendo Switch, iPhone 7, Galaxy S8 - Black for $27.99 (list price $99.99)

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CardNinja Ultra-slim Self Adhesive Credit Card Wallet for Smartphones, Black for $7.44 (list price $12.99)

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Sandwich Cutter Taidea Best Adorable Animals Pocket Bread Cutter, Hand Tools Sandwich Kit for $9.99 (list price $39.99)

Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill for $34.99 (list price $44.99)

Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $99.99 

Plater Fast Defrosting Tray - Defrost Meat or Frozen Food Quickly Without Electricity, Microwave, Hot Water or Any Other Tools for $18.90 (list price $32.90)

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Rubbermaid 17.3 Cup FreshWorks Produce Saver Food Storage Container, Large, Green for $11.24 (list price $16.99)

ISSIKI JAPAN Professional 8 Inch Chef's Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Sharp Cutlery, Ergonomic Handlefor $29.99 (list price $125.00)

OXO Good Grips Nylon Potato Masher for Non-Stick Cookware for $6.99 (list price $9.59)

Norpro Honey/Syrup Dispenser for $15.99 (list price $34.35)

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Bellemain Stainless Steel Measuring Cup Set, 6 Piece for $18.95 (list price $24.95)

Cuisinart CIL22-30HR CastLite Non-Stick Cast Iron Fry Pan with Helper, 12-Inch, Red for $49.95 (list price $62.29)

Culina Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers, Silver, Set of 3 for $7.99 (list price $12.99)

Top Rated Bellemain Cooling Rack - Baking Rack , Chef Quality 12 inch x 17 inch - Tight-Grid Design, Oven Safe, Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan for $11.95 (list price $18.95)

Baker's Secret 1061483 10-by-16-Inch Nonstick Cooling Rack, Set of 2 for $6.00 (list price $19.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Berry Keeper for $7.99 (list price $9.49)

Prepworks by Progressive Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Keeper - 1.9 Quart for $9.96 (list price $11.99)

Oster TSSTTRJBG1 Jelly Bean 2-Slice Toaster, Grey for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Lettuce Keeper - 4.7 Quart for $11.99 (list price $12.99)

Norpro Stainless Steel Commercial Potato Ricer for $27.84 (list price $43.99)

Stainless Steel Kitchen Funnel with Removable Strainer/Filter for Essential/Cooking Oils, Flask Funnel for Transferring of Liquid, Fluid, Dry Ingredients & Powder, 5- Inch,Silver - HOXHA for $9.98 (list price $23.68)

POPCO Silicone Microwave Popcorn Popper with Handles for $9.99 (list price $34.99)

VonShef 7- Egg Electric Cooker Stainless Steel with Poacher & Steamer Attachment for $19.94 (list price $34.99)

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DRAGONN Zester Grater Sharp Stainless Steel Blade with Black Handle, Safety Cover and Rubber Footings for $9.95 (list price $19.95)

Accuweight Digital Multifunction Food Meat Scale with LCD Display Perfect for Baking Kitchen Cooking, 11lb Capacity by 0.1oz, Tempered Glass surface, Black for $9.49 (list price $49.99)

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Banana Hook - Ripen Bananas Naturally with Under Cabinet Banana Hanger / Banana Holder. Self-stick and Adheres Under Cabinets. for $6.00 (list price $11.99)

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Organize It All 2-Tier Shelf with Towel Bars (1753W-1) for $14.25 (list price $30.02)

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Adjustable Heavy Duty Bed Sheet Grippers Holders Cover Suspenders (Set of 4) for $8.99 (list price $11.99)

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Gardinesca Beard Oil for $12.99 (list price $31.99)

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"Touch Me" Dry Skin Body Brush - Natural Bristle for $6.99 (list price $14.99)

ArtNaturals Aromatherapy Top 8 Essential Oils, 100% Pure of The Highest Quality, Therapeutic Grade for $16.95 (list price $20.00)

Daily Power Scrub Facial Cleanser For Men - 8 OZ - Face Wash + Energizing Toner + Exfoliating Scrub All-In-One - Natural & Certified Organic Ingredients for $24.95 (list price $39.00)

Arabica Coffee Scrub 15 oz, Anjou Body Scrub with Honey, Sea Salt, VB, VE for $8.99 (list price $35.99)

Gillette Fusion5 ProGlide Men’s Razor Blades 8 Refills - Packaging May Vary, Mens Razors / Blades for $29.97 (list price $35.71)

Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal Powder Natural for $24.99 (list price $29.99)

Bed Head Deep Waver for $19.90 (list price $27.99)

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Gillette Series 3X Action Shave Gel, Sensitive, 7 Ounce (Pack of 6) for $12.48 (list price $23.94)

Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrip Teeth Whitening Kit, Glamorous White, 14 Treatments - Packaging May Vary for $34.40 (list price $44.99)

Philips Norelco Bodygroom Series 7100, BG2040 for $59.95 (list price $69.99)

Tweezerman LTD Stainless Steel Mini Slant Tweezer (Colors May Vary) for $9.19 (list price $14.00)

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Scrub, 5 Oz for $4.78 (list price $7.69)

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge (2 sponges in each pack) for $8.24 (list price $10.99)

GNC Mega Men Energy & Metabolism Tablets, 90 Count for $9.99 (list price $22.99)

Dial Antibacterial Deodorant Bar Soap, White, 4 Ounce Bars, 10 Count (Pack of 3) for $14.64 (list price $18.93)

Nexcare Absolute Waterproof First Aid Tape, 1-Inch x 5-Yard Roll (Pack of 6) for $20.28 (list price $28.54)

BESTOPE Blackhead Remover Pimple Comedone Extractor Tool Best Acne Removal Kit for $9.99 (list price $19.99)

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MagniViz Magnifying Glass with Light and Stand - Handheld or Hands Free LED Lighted Magnifier (3x) - Bonus Cloth for $8.99 (list price $19.99)

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ALEX Toys DIY Wear So Many Headbands, 10 headbands for $13.54 (list price $29.50)

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Warner Bros., IStock
History
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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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