This unusual river of ice in the desert looks like fun. But the reason it's there isn't so funny.
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Natural Resources Defense Council

What the heck is going on here?

The video appears to have first hit YouTube in early November and has been making its rounds on social media. There have been a lot of guesses as to what it is, ranging from a flowing sand dune to a river of quicksand.

The answer? Hail.

When you get enough of it, it can flow like a river, picking up loose dirt or sand along the way. It happened in Colorado a few years ago and in the Texas Panhandle in 2012.


The one slushy you don't want to drink. GIF from ABC 7 Amarillo/YouTube.

What the "hail" is going on in the desert?

Heavy winter weather has been happening to the entire region for the past few weeks. Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia — pretty much everyone's been hit. And these storms have been packing an unusually strong wallop.

For instance, in late October, Baghdad was deluged with a whole month's worth of rain in a single day, according to an Al-Jazeera report.

And that much rain means flooding. Even the driest ground can only absorb so much water at a time, making creek beds, lakes, and low-lying areas swell with excess water. And if the rain happens fast enough, it can even turn into a flash flood.

“Flash floods are the most dangerous kind of floods, because they combine the destructive power of a flood with incredible speed and unpredictability," says the National Severe Storms Laboratory. “They can happen with little or no warning."




If you're thinking you can just power through it, think again. NOAA's flood safety site reminds people that it only takes a few inches of moving water to knock someone down and only a foot to start washing away cars!

All across the Middle East, dry river beds have become torrents, streets have become rivers, and refugee camps have been turned into swamps.

A lot of people have been hurt — some have died. 12 Saudi Arabians have been killed in the last few days alone.

Scientists predict these types of storms might become the new order of things.

Climate change is expected to knock extreme weather up a notch — droughts will become droughtier, floods will become floodier, and storms will become stormier.

A 2012 study from MIT, for instance, predicted that because of climate change, what we call a "storm of the century" hurricane could start happening every three to 20 years. That could mean a Hurricane Sandy or Typhoon Haiyan once a decade instead of once a lifetime. Other studies have found the same pattern in droughts, heat waves, and winter storms as well.

This is the kind of evidence people need to see.

There's still a lot we can do right now to help limit and prepare for these kinds of changes, but it starts with people understanding that this isn't just about the thermometer. It's about people's lives too.

This petition from the NRDC urges our world leaders to take action at the upcoming Paris Climate Talks — check it out to demand action!

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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