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5 Fresh Videos From Female Singers You Don’t Want to Miss

Mother Jones

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Lara Janssen/Wikimedia Commons; Courtesy Diana Gameros; FKA Twigs/YouTube; Wikimedia Commons; Eric Ibarra

Summer’s pulling to a close, but perk up. Here are videos of five refreshing female vocalists whose smart and uncompromising performances have dazzled me recently:

1. Frazey Ford

Fans of the quirky alt-folk band the Be Good Tanyas—of which Frazey Ford is a founding member—won’t be disappointed with this sneak-peek single off Ford’s upcoming solo album, Indian Ocean, out in mid-October. With subtle vibrato and pulsing emotion, Ford’s velvety vocals take center stage in “September Fields.” While Ford’s a country-folk singer at heart, the electric organ in the track transforms her normally aching lullaby into something funkier and full of sunshine. As I listened, I kept picturing late summer drives through peaceful farm towns, passing barns with their paint peeling, peach stands framed by dry corn stalks, little girls in their Sunday best giggling on the steps of a small church. “Are you holding, holding on so tight?” Ford croons. Yes—to the edge of my seat in anticipation for her album to land.

2. Diana Gameros

One evening in July, Mexican singer Diana Gameros boarded the historic Balclutha, a tall ship parked in the San Francisco Bay. Under violet lights in the main cabin, alongside a handful of other masterful Latin American musicians, she delivered “Canciones Del Mar (Songs of the Sea).” The group performed ocean homages plucked from all over the continent, from fishing ditties to a silly tune about an octopus to a tribute to the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni, who is said to have ended her own life by wading into the sea.

Gameros also performed her original, “Soy Tu Mar,” and released this humble video a month later. The waves washing through the ballad offer the singer an ethereal alternative rhythm, and pair well with her bright nylon-stringed Takamine guitar with a sound reminiscent of a mariachi. Gameros grew up bouncing between her hometown of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and Holland, Michigan, where she learned English and studied music. She now resides in the Bay Area and plays regularly at a tamale parlor in San Francisco’s Mission District. Her delicate first album, Eterno Retorno, showcases Gameros’ bilingual songwriting and jazzy voice. Like “Soy Tu Mar,” it’s at once full of yearning and serenity. Don’t miss the improvised bonus song in the tunnel at the end of the video.

3. Sevyn Streeter

Ignore the nails and revel in this diva’s silky and powerful voice. It baffles me that the guys lifting weights in the righthand corner of this scren were able to hold it together while Streeter just kills it.

With roots in church gospel music, Streeter started winning talent competitions at a young age, but her cousin had to convince her to upload her music to MySpace. It soon caught the eye of Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez’s producer Rich Harrison, who asked Streeter to join RichGirl, a new pop group he was forming. The band never really took off, but Streeter continued to write songs, and six of the tracks she helped pen made it onto Chris Brown’s Grammy-winning album F.A.M.E.

Now, with an EP to her name, Streeter is working on a debut album. The singles out so far are gussied up with plenty of electronic beats and echo-y harmonies. But after seeing this video, I hope she releases more stripped-down acoustic tracks that allow her pure voice full reign.

4. FKA Twigs

Move over Gaga: FKA Twigs has arrived. This satisfyingly weird artist struts her sultry vocals and mesmerizing poise in the video version of “Two Weeks.” This year saw the London-based Twigs, a former backup dancer, move into the spotlight with her album LP1. Hipster music blog Pitchfork raves about its “eerie, post-humanist, Uncanny Valley-girl aesthetic.” Indeed, Twigs plays a doll in many of the surreal videos off this album—in “Water Me,” her head bobs from side to side and her eyes are unnaturally large.

In the video above, she’s an unapproachable empress. But amid all this cold posturing, her voice is piercingly intimate. And her command of her space and skilled restraint suggest that this 26-year-old half-Jamaican artist is only getting started.

5. Irene Diaz

Okay, this video’s not brand new. But Irene Diaz is probably new to most of you. I just stumbled on her recently (h/t NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts), and I’m hooked on this playful song with its driving piano and flirtatious glances.

Based in Los Angeles, the soulful Diaz is just breaking into the national scene, playing at 2014’s SXSW and opening for Lila Downs’ on her current tour. Diaz seems like she’d be a ton of fun live—but here’s hoping she pauses from touring long enough to complete her first full-length album soon. As one blogger pointed out, Diaz sounds a bit like Fiona Apple, but her songs aren’t quite so morose. They’re muscular and catchy, with a hint of vintage spunk.

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5 Fresh Videos From Female Singers You Don’t Want to Miss

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These Pictures of Spring Flowers Will Melt Your Frozen Heart

Mother Jones

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Climate change might have had a hand in the exceptionally cold winter much of the country just suffered through, but on the upside, there’s new evidence that it’s sending spring in early, and giving us more time with wildflowers.

That’s the conclusion of one of the most exhaustive surveys ever conducted on flowering “phenology,” the term scientists use for the timing of seasonal events (such as the day the first migratory birds arrive in a given place or, in this case, the first day flowers open). The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From 1974 to 2012, biologist David Inouye* of the University of Maryland took a team to Colorado just as the winter frost was beginning to thaw, and spent the spring and summer documenting when 60 common plant species had their first, last, and peak (i.e., the most individual plants) flowering.

In all but one of the species, the date of first flowering moved incrementally forward each year, by more than a month in at least one case. You can see a sampling of the flowers in these photos, along with how much earlier they are flowering these days compared to 39 years ago, when the study began. Overall, said study co-author Paul CaraDonna, the ecological onset of spring advanced by about 25 days, from mid-May to late April, mostly thanks to warming temperatures (about 0.7 degrees F per decade here) that melted snow early.

“With these changes in climate, the plants are coming out a lot sooner,” CaraDonna said.

In addition, CaraDonna said, last flowerings are happening later in the fall, so that the overall flower season is now about 35 days longer than it was 39 years ago.

Scientists have known for years that climate change messes with nature’s datebook, throwing off plants (including flowers and trees), animals (from birds to plankton), and even fungi that rely on clues like temperature and weather to know when to breed, migrate, come out of hibernation, and whatever else they need to do. In fact, one of the first great phenologists was Henry David Thoreau, whose notes on the first flowering of some 500 plant species around Walden Pond were recently tapped by a pair of Boston University biologists to inform modern-day research, which found flowering times for these plants to have advanced an average of 10 days.

What makes this new research unique is not only the sheer size of the dataset, but that it tracks the flowers through the spring and summer until the frost comes back in the fall. Knowing the date of first flowering is important, CaraDonna said, but limited.

“It’s like if the cover of a book looks cool, but you don’t know what the rest of the book is about,” he said. “We’re really curious about how these patterns contribute to other patterns in the community that you can’t see if you just look at first flowering.”

In other words, flower phenology has implications beyond making nice company for hikers. The early appearance of flowers increases competition amongst them for pollinators, like bees, which can in turn get thrown off by unusual dining options, and the effects cascade up the ecological pyramid from there. In the biological marketplace, “things that used to be on sale at different times are now on sale together,” said co-author Amy Iler.

CaraDonna said the next step in the study is to look more closely at how the shifted timing of flowers can destabilize an ecosystem, but even now he’s confident the impacts are underway: “If you change this much of an ecological community, there will be consequences.”

* Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to biologist David Inouye as “Daniel Inouye.” We regret the error.

Photo credits:

Lanceleaf springbeauty: Wikimedia Commons

Glacier lily: Wikimedia Commons

Heartleaf bittercress: Wikimedia Commons

Western monkshood: Eric Hunt/Flickr

Slenderleaf collomia: Wikimedia Commons

American vetch: Wikimedia Commons

Ballhead sandwort: Wikimedia Commons

Aspen fleabane: Wikimedia Commons

Creeping mahonia: Matt Lavin/Flickr

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These Pictures of Spring Flowers Will Melt Your Frozen Heart

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All Over the World, Hurricane Records Keep Breaking

Mother Jones

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Earlier this month, Super Typhoon Haiyan stunned the meteorological community. The Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which tracked the storm, estimated its maximum 1-minute sustained wind speeds at more than 195 miles per hour based on satellite imagery. If confirmed, that would exceed the official wind speed estimates for all other hurricanes and typhoons in the modern period. (Prior to 1969 some Pacific storms were recorded as stronger, but these measurements are now considered too high).

But here’s the thing: Haiyan isn’t the globe’s only record-breaking hurricane in recent years. Even as scientists continue to study and debate whether global warming is making hurricanes worse, hurricanes have continued to set new intensity records. Indeed, a Climate Desk analysis of official hurricane records finds that many of the globe’s hurricane basins—including the Atlantic, the Northwest Pacific, the North Indian, the South Indian, and the South Pacific—have witnessed (or, in the case of Haiyan and the Northwest Pacific, arguably witnessed) some type of new hurricane intensity record since the year 2000. What’s more, a few regions that aren’t usually considered major hurricane basis have also seen mammoth storms of late.

At the outset, we need an important caveat. Due to a number of well known problems with our hurricane data—including discrepancies in how different meteorological agencies estimate storm strength, as well as major technological changes over time in how storms are measured—we can’t simply leap to the conclusion that global warming is behind these records. That requires further discussion. But first, just consider the records themselves:

Hurricane Wilma on October 21, 2005. NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

The Atlantic Basin. The Atlantic region—which encompasses the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico as well as the open Atlantic north of the equator—is the best studied hurricane basin on Earth, thanks to the work of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. And here, a particularly breathtaking hurricane intensity record came during the devastating 2005 season with Hurricane Wilma, whose minimum central pressure plummeted to a stunning 882 millibars, the lowest ever measured in this basin, on October 19. Atmospheric pressure is one key way of measuring hurricane strength because air rushes inward toward regions of low pressure, meaning that lower pressures generally lead to higher wind speeds. Indeed, when Wilma hit 882 millibars, the National Climatic Data Center quickly pronounced the storm “the most intense hurricane on record in the Atlantic.”

And that’s not Wilma’s only record. On its way to Category 5 strength, Wilma also had a rate of intensification that was off the charts. As the Hurricane Center writes: “Wilma’s deepening rate over the northwestern Caribbean Sea, from late on 18 October to early on 19 October, was incredible.” The storm’s 6-hour, 12-hour, and 24-hour pressure drops were “by far the largest in the available records for these periods going back to 1851.” Basically, Wilma went from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in just 24 hours.

All of that said, Wilma didn’t set this basin’s record for wind speed. The record is shared by 1969’s Hurricane Camille and 1980’s Hurricane Allen, both of which had maximum sustained winds of 190 miles per hour.

Cyclone Monica approaching landfall in Australia on April 23, 2006. Code 1390/Wikimedia Commons

The South Pacific Basin. Cyclones, as they’re called in many parts of the world, occur in a wide stretch south of the equator from the southwestern Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa all the way to the waters surrounding the islands of the South Pacific. Accordingly, the Southern Hemisphere is often divided up into two hurricane basins, the South Indian and the South Pacific.

In the South Pacific, it’s pretty clear that the strongest storm on record has occurred since the year 2000, although there’s a virtual tie between two storms: 2002-2003’s Cyclone Zoe, which devastated the small Pacific island of Tikopia, and Cyclone Monica, which struck Australia’s Northern Territory in April 2006. Estimates vary across different forecasting agencies on the strength of these two storms (something all too common once you venture outside of the Atlantic region). But if you trust the Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), then both had maximum winds of nearly 180 miles per hour. In addition, Zoe had a minimum central pressure of 890 millibars, according to forecasters at the Fiji Meteorological Service.

Category 5 Cyclone Gonu in the Arabian Sea on June 4, 2007. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

The North Indian Basin. The North Indian basin encompasses the Indian Ocean north of the equator (including the Bay of Bengal) and the Arabian Sea. It has long been home to the deadliest cyclones on Earth: Storms like the 1970 Bhola cyclone that struck East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and killed more than 300,000 people.

When it comes to the Arabian Sea, its strongest storm on record is 2007’s Cyclone Gonu, which sported 167 mile-per-hour winds, according to the JTWC. Gonu traveled as far northwest as Oman, where its landfall caused 49 deaths and $4 billion in damage. It then made a second landfall in Iran.

What’s more ambiguous is whether Gonu is the strongest storm for the North Indian basin as a whole. According to the JTWC, it is. But according to the Indian Meteorological Department in New Delhi, the deadly 1999 Odisha Cyclone, which may have killed as many as 10,000 people when it struck the Indian state of Odisha, holds that record.

Category 5 Cyclone Gafilo on March 6, 2004, about to strike Madagascar. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

The South Indian Basin. Perhaps the most confusing basin to analyze is the South Indian, where one key intensity record was set in 2004 by Cyclone Gafilo, an extremely intense storm whose pressure was estimated at 895 millibars by forecasters in Réunion, an island east of Madagascar. That’s the lowest pressure on record for this basin reported by any forecasting agency. However, three different forecasting offices give different answers for which storm was the strongest by wind speed, leaving no clear answer. Gafilo, at any rate, was quite a monster. The storm struck Madagascar at full Category 5 strength, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless in its wake.

But that’s not all. There are also some other regions that get hurricanes less frequently (or, aren’t supposed to get them at all) that have set eyebrow-raising records recently:

The record-breaking Hurricane and Super Typhoon Ioke on August 24, 2006. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

The Central Pacific. In the Central Pacific region near Hawaii, only a few tropical cyclones are usually seen each year, and for this reason the Central Pacific is not usually counted as an “official” hurricane basin. There are still more than enough storms for the National Weather Service to operate a Central Pacific Hurricane Center, however—and its jurisdiction, too, recently saw a dramatic new record. In 2006, Hurricane Ioke rampaged across the Central Pacific and traveled all the way into the Western North Pacific, where it was officially pronounced a typhoon (which is simply what hurricanes are called in this region). According to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, Ioke had “the lowest estimated surface pressure for any hurricane within the central Pacific” at 900 millibars, and it set another stunning record to boot. Ioke lasted at Category 4 strength, or higher, for 198 hours straight, “the longest continuous time period at that intensity observed for any tropical cyclone anywhere on earth.” If you define hurricane intensity as the total amount of time spent as a very strong storm, then Ioke beats all the rest.

Cyclone Catarina, about to strike Brazil on March 27, 2004. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

The South Atlantic. And if you think that’s striking, just wait for the next record. The region of the Atlantic south of the equator isn’t supposed to get hurricanes at all. In 2004, though, it broke all the rules and served one up.

Cyclone Catarina, which was the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane in strength, was named after the site of its landfall, the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. While Catarina constituted a major anomaly, one published scientific analysis suggested it might also be a harbinger. “Other possible future South Atlantic hurricanes could be more likely to occur under global warming conditions,” suggested the researchers.

To be sure, not every hurricane basin in the world has set a clear record in the last decade. But even here, you only have to go back a few years further to find a record:

Hurricane Linda on September 12, 1997. NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

The Northeast Pacific Basin. The US National Hurricane Center also monitors storms that occur in the tropical Pacific off the western coast of Mexico and Central America. Here, the strongest storm was 1997’s Hurricane Linda, which rapidly intensified south of the Baja California peninsula in mid-September of that year. With 184 mile per hour maximum winds and a minimum central pressure of 902 millibars, Linda was stunning, although the storm never actually hit land. For a while, though, there were concerns that Linda might travel northward far enough to threaten Southern California.

So What Does It All Mean? Such are the records, and now the question becomes, what exactly is their significance?

Before rushing to the conclusion that “it’s global warming,” there are some key caveats.

First, a “record” is, by definition, merely what has been recorded. We don’t know what hurricanes were like 1,000 years ago, or even 200 years ago, before we were carefully documenting their characteristics.

Second, some “records” are more likely to be records than others. That’s because our hurricane data just aren’t as good in other parts of the world as they are in the Atlantic. If there’s an intense hurricane off US shores, you can bet there are hurricane hunter planes in it taking direct measurements of wind speeds and pressure. Yet in other regions, storm intensities are largely estimated based on infrared satellite images, a less reliable technique. And then there’s a basin like the Northwest Pacific, where the Navy used to fly research flights into storms, but stopped back in 1987. “We’re just not measuring these storms at all well,” explains MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel.

Finally, there have also been major technological changes over time in how we observe storms. “Geostationary satellites have only been around since the late 70s,” explains Jim Kossin, a hurricane expert at the National Climatic Data Center, meaning that “if a storm is as intense as Haiyan was, it’s much more likely now for us to be able to measure that than it was 30 years ago.” This implies a bias towards stronger storm measurements over time.

So when you see lots of storm records being set recently, it is important to keep in mind that much of this may be simply due to better measurements and better observations. And yet at the same time, one recent scientific paper that explicitly controlled for these changing measurement systems found a global shift towards more category 4 and 5 storms, and fewer Category 1s and 2s, a trend correlated with climate change. If the strongest cyclones are occurring more frequently, says study author Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, then breaking records makes sense. “If there’s more of them, statistics say you’re going to break more records,” Holland says.

The science of hurricanes and global warming remains highly contested, however, and we must wait for scientists to sort it all out. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more hurricane records.

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All Over the World, Hurricane Records Keep Breaking

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