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A Day on a Changing Planet

Tornado damage in Massachusetts

Yesterday’s tornado that swept through Massachusetts only adds to the concern as to what’s happening to the weather and other things that affect us all at home and abroad.

A quick scan through just one newspaper, today’s New York Times, reveals a whole series of stories from around the planet. Here are a few of the items that were reported today:

A chronic drought, already ravaging northern China, is now spreading south, and the rapid growth of huge cities — Beijing is already home to 22 million people — has drained underground aquifers that took millenniums to fill. Rivers are being rerouted, but the Yellow River, considered the birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer provide drinking water. The latest plan of the Chinese government is to divert the Yangtze River – which is the equivalent of rerouting water from the Mississippi to provide water to people in Boston, New York and Washington.

The deadly strain of E. coli that has infected more than 1,500 people in Germany is a combination of two new strains that are leaving scientists baffled as to their origin. Russia has banned all fresh vegetables from coming in from the European Union. Fields of lettuce and other vegetables across Spain are being turned to compost because of unsubstantiated fears that the bacteria came from there. The deaths of 17 people have so far been confirmed to be due to the infection.

The unusually strong tornado that swept through part of Massachusetts has left at least three people dead, 40 people injured, and residents of Springfield stunned. The state gets about two tornadoes a year, but the Governor called this one “complete devastation.”

“There’s just total destruction,” said a plumbing inspector from Agawam who was driving through West Springfield after the first tornado struck. “All I can hear is ambulances.”

Swarms of mauve stingers,a kind of jellyfish, landed on beaches in Florida. Lifeguards have treated 1,800 people for jellyfish stings in the last week. The stingers, which are a reddish color and not much bigger than a golf ball, covered entire beaches in some areas.

“It was by far the most jellyfish we have ever seen; you couldn’t even walk down the beach without being stung,” said Jeff Scabarozi, 30, the ocean rescue chief here. “People came out screaming and hollering that they had been stung. We haven’t seen these jellyfish ever. We had to Google it.”

Fires are raging in southern Arizona, having burned up more than 70,000 acres of national forest. Speculation is that the original fire, which began almost a month ago, was started by people who had crossed into Arizona from Mexico and were trying to keep warm on a chilly night.

The insurance industry is being battered by the weather across southern states. Private insurance companies are likely to experience at least $10 billion in insured losses this year, mostly associated with the tornadoes and the flooding along the Mississippi, based on property damage, lost inventory, business interruption and disrupted crop plantings.

The Nile is running dry. This time, it’s not due to drought, but to a food fight, with countries far from Africa buying up land along the Nile in Sudan and Ethiopia to grow crops to feed their own people.

South Korea, for example, which imports 70 percent of its grain, has acquired 1.7 million acres in Sudan to grow wheat — an area twice the size of Rhode Island. Now the river has less and less water by the time it reaches Egypt, and only a small trickle now flows into the Mediterranean.

What do you say? Does this seem to you like there’s more of this kind of news than there used to be? What’s your reaction? Let us know in a comment below or on Facebook.