Killer Tornadoes in Deep South Were 'Particularly Strong' for December
Communities in the Deep South are still recovering after a series of devastating tornadoes tore through the region earlier this week. They were the first killer tornadoes since May of this year.
Though tornado activity in the U.S. this time of year is not abnormal, the extent of damage is. According to The Storm Prediction Center, there were more fatalities this week than from the last three Decembers combined.
The Associated Press reported that at least four people have died as a result of the storms, including a husband and wife whose 7-year-old son was fighting for his life but has started to recover, according to WVTM. At least two dozen suspected tornadoes were reported across the South, destroying or damaging 150 homes in their midst. Additionally, the National Weather Service issued 85 tornado warnings and logged at least 140 reports of severe weather, The Washington Post reported.
Know someone that lives in these parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama?— National Weather Service (@NWS) December 16, 2019
They are at risk to experience strong winds or tornadoes today. Give them a call or text to make sure they know what could be headed their way. You could help save a life! pic.twitter.com/FxKEhTJ60A
Injuries have been reported in several states with the majority of damage being recorded in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, according to Reuters.
"Initial reports suggest [the] first tornado was reported in Louisiana around 10:35 (a.m.) CST and first tornado fatality was somewhere around 11:18 a.m. CST," National Weather Service meteorologist Jared Guyer told the publication.
"The tornado activity across the Lower Mississippi Valley on Monday was not out of the ordinary for December, but the storms were particularly strong and long-lived for this time of year," said Rich Putnam, AccuWeather senior storm warning meteorologist.
"Typically, that region experiences a minimum in tornadoes during the summer months, and sees the majority of their late summer and early fall tornadoes occur during tropical events. However, as we get into the late fall, the jet stream begins to swing far enough south to supply the upper atmospheric ingredients necessary for organized severe weather."
One tornado traveled more than 60 miles across central Louisiana, leaving behind it a scar visible from space, reported the NWS Weather Forecast Office.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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