Back in 2017, record-breaking hurricanes and wildfires hammered the United States, just as they have in 2020. But the specific role of long-term global warming was a tentative part of the discussion, with scientists speaking of it cautiously, in broad strokes.
Compare that with 2020, where researchers now have far more data showing just how much climate change affects the frequency and likelihood of heat waves (and fires that follow them), ocean heat waves, droughts, and intense storms. That has risen alongside a growing public awareness of how climate change is playing out. A 2019 Pew Research poll found that 62 percent of Americans said climate change was impacting their local community. CBS News reported that a majority of Americans now believe climate change is contributing to extreme weather.
In turn, more public officials and media personalities are directly connecting climate change to some of the disasters underway. During the first 2020 presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace used this backdrop to frame his question to President Donald Trump.
“The forest fires in the west are raging now. They have burned millions of acres. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. When state officials there blamed the fires on climate change, Mr. President, you said I don’t think the science knows,” Wallace said.
“Do you believe that human pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to the global warming?” Wallace later asked.
“I think a lot of things do,” Trump responded, before launching into a meandering answer blaming California’s wildfires solely on forest management.
It is not a coincidence that 5 of the 6 largest wildfires in California history happened within the last two months. This is climate change. https://t.co/SGIHty613Z
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 23, 2020
That such a question was asked during a presidential debate is a stark shift from the 2016 campaign, where climate change barely came up at all as an issue, let alone its dangerous effects on disasters.
“I think the question has started to change from, ‘Was this event due to climate change?’ to, ‘How was this event changed because of climate change?’” said Kevin Reed, an associate professor at Stony Brook University who leads the climate extremes modeling group. “The science has definitely improved. But I think a big part of what’s improved is also the dialogue about trying to understand the nuances of what is the impact of climate change on extreme events.”
While the long-term heating of the planet resulting from humans’ greenhouse gas emissions is not the “cause” of massive wildfires and powerful hurricanes, it can be a component in their severity, frequency, or likelihood. We have more certainty about that, thanks to an emerging scientific field known as extreme-event attribution. Here, scientists construct models to evaluate the counterfactual of what would have happened in a certain event without climate change and compare it to observed results.
Scientists working in this field acknowledge that for phenomena as complicated as wildfires and hurricanes, there are many other factors at play. That includes natural variability from climate cycles like El Niño, as well as policy decisions like the suppression of naturally occurring wildfires and allowing forest fuel to accumulate.
Yet as even attribution science has become more and more important to the public understanding of climate change and extreme events, some in conservative circles dismiss it, particularly around the disasters this year.
President Trump has long been dismissive of climate change. When told about the role of climate change in wildfires during a White House briefing, he said, “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler also diminished the role of climate change in wildfires. “I do believe most of it is forest management issues,” he told Cheddar on September 22.
Some right-wing personalities have been much more blunt, claiming such events have “nothing to do with climate change.” Others promoted conspiracy theories like the one claiming wildfires are purely due to a wave of arson.
Understanding the interplay of all the variables in extreme weather isn’t just an academic discussion; the role of climate change in disasters affects how we plan for the future, how we reduce risk, and how we adapt. That’s why it’s worth highlighting how our understanding of these phenomena has improved in recent years, why it’s important to unpack how rising average temperatures are fueling destruction, and why it’s critical to address these concerns now.
Climate change is priming fuels to create massive wildfires
Just this past weekend, another round of wildfires ignited in Northern California, prompting middle-of-the-night emergency evacuation orders in places like Butte County and Sonoma County. The new blazes have killed at least three people. By Wednesday evening, the Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma Counties and the Zogg Fire in Shasta County, California, had together consumed close to 100,000 acres.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has issued a red-flag warning for wide swaths of Southern California as another heat wave and high winds are raising fire risks.
These blazes are only adding to what has already been an unprecedented wildfire season across much of the Western United States. In California, it’s now the worst fire season on record in terms of area burned. And more blazes are likely in store.
Wildfires are a natural and essential part of many ecosystems, particularly in the Western United States. Periodic fires help clear decay in forest and grasslands, help plants germinate, and return vital nutrients to soils.
However, humans have been making wildfires worse in recent years, expanding their scale and their devastation. People are building closer to fire-prone regions, increasing the opportunities to ignite fires and raising the damage tolls of fires that do occur.
Paradoxically, decades of suppressing naturally occurring fires have led to vegetation in these ecosystems accumulating to high levels so that when they do dry out, there’s far more fuel to burn. In some forests, that fuel also changes the nature of fires, from low-intensity burns close to the forest floor to towering flames that torch tree canopies.
And humans are changing the climate.
There’s now a growing pool of research identifying the specific role of human-caused climate change in wildfires. A study from the World Weather Attribution research consortium examined Australia’s massive bushfires this year. It found that climate change increased the likelihood of the conditions that fueled the blazes by at least 30 percent.
Another study looking at 2017’s record-breaking fire season in British Columbia reported that climate change made the conditions behind those fires two to four times more likely and increased the burned area between seven- and elevenfold.
In Arizona and New Mexico between 1984 and 2015, a study in the journal Forest Ecology and Management found that climate change is increasing wildfires, particularly high-severity fires.
One key risk factor for wildfires is the vapor pressure deficit. This is the difference between how much moisture the air could hold and how much moisture is actually there. Air can absorb about 7 percent more water for every degree Celsius the air warms. But just because the air can hold on to more moisture doesn’t mean that it does.
A high vapor deficit means that the air is very dry, which means it can draw more moisture out of vegetation. That leaves grasses, trees, and shrubs primed to burn.
This year, California experienced some of the highest vapor pressure deficits in decades, leaving the state’s forests and its semi-arid shrub land known as chaparral parched as record-breaking heat baked the state. Scientists have found that this metric has been increasing since the 1970s due to climate change.
“Among the many processes important to California’s diverse fire regimes, warming‐driven fuel drying is the clearest link between anthropogenic climate change and increased California wildfire activity to date,” researchers wrote in a 2019 study in the journal Earth’s Future.
John Abatzoglou, one of the co-authors of the study and an associate professor of climatology at the University of California Merced, however, noted that there are also unique elements at play in every wildfire.
“The climate change argument is going to be the strongest for measures of fuel dryness, measures of vapor pressure deficits, and less so for individual weather events,” he said. “Each fire has its own story.”
One variation between wildfires is in the ecosystems where they can burn. Ponderosa pine forests burn typically burn at different times of year, frequency, and intensity compared to coastal redwood forests or chaparral across Southern California. These ecosystems all receive a distinct combination of rainfall, heat, humidity, and vegetation, so the effects of climate change don’t emerge in all these areas in the same way at the same time.
Another variable is how the fires burn. Some smolder across forest floors while others produce towering flames that tear through tree canopies. Some wildfires inch across the landscape while others driven by high winds can consume a football field’s worth of vegetation in minutes.
But there are long-term changes underway that could have an impact on all of these blazes. In a 2016 study, Abatzoglou reported that half of the increasing fuel dryness in western forests since the 1970s was attributable to climate change caused by humans.
California is also still reeling from the effects of a massive drought from 2011 until 2017 that helped kill off more than 140 million trees across the state. That drought was exacerbated by climate change, and warming has increased the likelihood of extreme drought in the region.
And it’s not just the summer heat that’s rising due to climate change. Winters are warming up too. In fact, in some parts of the country, winters are warming faster than summers. That has critical effects on fire activity and lays the foundation for major fires months in advance.
Snow accumulated in the winter in places like the Sierra Nevada acts as a battery for water. As it melts throughout the spring, it discharges much-needed moisture for plants. But with shorter winters, less snow has time to build up, leading to drier vegetation.
As winters warm up, snowpack can melt earlier in the spring, which leads to a process that causes soils to become drier, an effect that can compound over years. That reduces the amount of water available to plants. Snow also reflects sunlight back into space, and with less snow on the ground, the soil can absorb more heat and dry out further.
A warmer winter also means more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Rain doesn’t store as easily, so it can contribute to flooding early in the season but quickly run off into the ocean, leaving less moisture for the rest of the year.
“From a climate change perspective, we’ve been predicting lower snowpack values,” said Sarah Kapnick, deputy division leader at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at NOAA. “Observational records have been showing an earlier timing of snow melts, and those have been increasing. That’s one factor that affects fire risk, because it leads to drying.”
Climate change is also tipping the scales toward larger fires. Monica Turner, a fire researcher and a professor of integrative biology at the University of Wisconsin Madison, said in an email that climate is a big driver of megafires, those burning through an area larger than 100,000 acres.
This year, both long-term trends and seasonal variability converged, causing extreme heat and dryness, as well as some unusual ignition events, like a dry lightning storm in Northern California that sparked more than 300 fires.
Turner also noted that when weather conditions reach extremes like those across the West this year, they tend to overwhelm other wildfire factors like the amount of fuel present. “With weather like 2020, fires will burn through forests of all ages, structures and densities,” she wrote in a Q&A for the University of Wisconsin.
So while the Western wildfires in 2020 have been unusual in their severity, many of their most important ingredients will continue being amplified by climate change.
The most destructive elements of hurricanes are getting worse as temperatures rise
The Atlantic hurricane season this year has been extremely active, so active that forecasters have completely run through their list of names for storms and are now using the Greek alphabet. There have already been 23 named storms as of September 25, some of which formed before the official start of the Atlantic storm season. Earlier in September, Hurricane Beta became the ninth named storm this year to make landfall in the United States, tying a record set in 1916.
There were several unique factors this year. Researchers were able to see some of this coming in the spring when they detected warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The waters continued to heat up over the summer. That’s important because hurricanes need surface water to be at least 26°C (79°F). More warm water means more energy for hurricanes, lending them strength as they spool up.
“Our seasonal predictions back in May were that this was going to be a massive [tropical storm] season,” Kapnick said.
Another factor was that El Niño, a periodic warming and cooling pattern in the Pacific Ocean, was in its neutral phase this year, leading to more stable air over the Atlantic. Phenomena that result from unstable air like wind shear can rip apart hurricanes before they can gather strength, so calmer skies above the ocean served as ideal breeding grounds for tropical storms this year.
So those were the unique seasonal effects. Then how does climate change fit in?
One problem with finding climate change signals in tropical storms is that they are relatively infrequent events, and having the right mix of ingredients doesn’t always mean that a storm will form. There is a lot of variability in hurricane patterns, both year to year and over the course of decades. That makes it hard to suss out trends and even harder to identify signals in individual storms.
Hiroyuki Murakami, a scientist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at NOAA, likened the link between climate change and hurricanes to the link between smoking and cancer.
“When you look at the individual person, it’s really difficult to say that this person got lung cancer because they smoke a lot, because there are many people who smoke a lot but still they don’t get cancer,” Murakami said. “This is really similar. I think that probably there are some storms affected by climate change, but it’s really difficult to say that this storm is only attributable to climate change.”
That said, scientists are starting to see some trends underway. With rising average temperatures, oceans are warming. That means when hurricanes do form, they can be stronger.
“We’ve identified that global warming, climate change, can intensify storm mean intensity,” Murakami said. “In terms of storm intensity, it’s really simple: The source of energy for a tropical cyclone is warm ocean evaporation. When we get a much warmer ocean surface, it will lead to more evaporation to energize a tropical cyclone.”
According to a study last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tropical cyclones have grown more intense between 1979 and 2017. “The results should serve to increase confidence in projections of increased [tropical cyclone] intensity under continued warming,” the authors wrote.
As for the frequency of hurricanes, that’s more complicated, and it’s not clear how climate change will alter the number of major storms that do occur. “A lot of models project a decreasing tropical cyclone number, but still we don’t know yet why climate models show decreasing tropical cyclones in the future,” Murakami said.
He pointed out that even in 2020’s extremely active season, only a couple of the tropical storms turned into major hurricanes. So climate change doesn’t necessarily mean more hurricanes, but a growing proportion of those that occur will likely be more powerful.
Perhaps the most concerning impact of climate change on tropical storms is that it is worsening the most destructive elements of these events. It’s not the wind that usually does the most damage during a hurricane, but flooding. That’s why changes in precipitation patterns can be a major concern.
“A difference between 1 to 2 inches of rainfall is the difference between whether your house gets flooded or not,” said Stony Brook’s Reed.
That flooding in the wake of hurricanes is caused primarily by rainfall and storm surges. Winds from tropical storms can push coastal water inland, creating storm surges. Melting ice and warming oceans due to climate change are causing sea levels to rise, so when storm surges do occur, they reach greater depths and further inland, causing more destruction.
As mentioned earlier, warmer air can hold onto more moisture. So when air heats up over the ocean, it mobilizes more water for rainfall. This warming has led to a rise in extreme rainfall events and increased the deluge from tropical storms.
There’s also some evidence that the movement of tropical cyclones like hurricanes is slowing down due to climate change. That means they are spending more time in a given area, dispatching more rainfall over a smaller space and increasing flood risks.
Another climate signal emerging in recent hurricanes is rapid intensification, which NOAA defines as a gain of 35 mph or more in wind speed over 24 hours. Such storms spool up quickly and can catch forecasters off-guard, making it hard to plan evacuations. A 2019 study in the journal Nature Communications found that the number of Atlantic tropical storms that have rapidly intensified increased significantly between 1982 and 2009, in part due to warming caused by humans. Climate models show that this pattern of rapid intensification will increase as average temperatures rise.
Some of these effects were visible in recent storms like 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which drenched Houston in more than 50 inches of rain as it slowed down over the city. Hurricane Laura this year also rapidly surged from Category 2 strength to Category 4 strength as it blasted the Gulf Coast with winds topping 140 mph.
“The rapid intensification was very clear in Hurricane Laura, but still weather forecast models could not predict the timing of the intensification,” Murakami said.
Scientists have also begun to tease out the specific ways that climate change worsened recent storms, constructing counterfactuals to compare effects with and without climate change. Reed’s research group at Stony Brook University estimated that Laura dispatched about 10 percent more rainfall due to climate change.
His team conducted a similar assessment for Hurricane Florence, which struck North Carolina in 2018. Scientists estimated that climate change increased the storm’s rainfall by 50 percent. Another team of researchers found that sea-level rise since 1970 caused Florence to flood an additional 11,000 homes than would have been inundated with constant ocean levels.
But there are other factors that can change tropical storm patterns over time. Air pollution, dust clouds, the stability of the upper atmosphere, and the relative warmth of the Atlantic Ocean compared to the Indian and Pacific Oceans can all influence the intensity and frequency of hurricanes. Climate change is certainly a growing factor in hurricane trends, but it’s important to account for other variables, too.
We’re still not doing enough to reduce the looming disaster risks
The fact that so many human elements are driving the growing risk of these disasters means that humans can alter these variables to reduce ongoing and potential destruction.
That will require a concerted suite of strategies, from cutting greenhouse gases, to more resilient infrastructure, to controlled burns of forests, to retreating from high-risk fire and flood zones. It will take time. And it will also take a more sophisticated understanding of rising average temperatures and their myriad ripple effects. Otherwise the disasters of 2020 will become more common and more dangerous.
“All of these things are coming together to make an extreme year, and we need to better understand the factors and how each of them affected it,” Kapnick said. “The question we need to be asking is, what is the climate risk? What is it today? What was it in the past? And what is it in the future?”
Yet at the same time, greenhouse gas emissions show little sign of reversing course. Roughly 40 percent of the US population lives in a coastal county and people are continuing to build in coastal areas facing inundation from rising seas. Homes are still being planned and built in fire-prone regions as residents get priced out of safer areas. Based on recent trends, California will have 645,000 homes in “very high” fire risk areas by the middle of the century.
Even as the dangers of climate change become more vivid, humanity continues to lurch toward them.
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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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