James West

James West

Senior Producer, Mother Jones/Climate Desk

James West is senior producer for Mother Jones and its reporting project Climate Desk. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

Get my RSS |

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Check Out This Shocking Map of California's Drought

| Wed Jan. 8, 2014 3:44 PM EST

While the country's appetite for extreme weather news was filled (to the brim) this week by the polar vortex, spare a thought for sunny California, where exceptionally dry weather is provoking fears of a long, tough summer ahead.

The state is facing what could be its worst drought in four decades. The chart above, released by the National Drought Mitigation Center on Monday, shows just how dry the soil is compared to the historical average: the lighter the color, the more "normal" the current wetness of the soil; the darker the color, the rarer. You can see large swathes of California are bone dry.

Nearly 90 percent of the state is suffering from severe or extreme drought. A statewide survey shows the current snowpack hovering below 20 percent of the average for this time of year. The AP is reporting that if the current trend holds, state water managers will only be able to deliver 5 percent of the water needed for more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of farmland.

A study published in Nature Climate Change at the end of last year found that droughts will probably set in more quickly and become more intense as climate change takes hold.

Brrrr: Incredible Photos of the Polar Vortex

| Tue Jan. 7, 2014 2:51 PM EST

UPDATE 4:35pm EST: Scott Harrison gave us the nod to publish his terrific photo of throwing boiling water into minus 14 degree air in the early hours of Monday morning, in Wicker Park, Chicago. If you have polar vortex photos you want to share with us, send us a note on Twitter: @MotherJones.

The polar vortex sweeping across the country has pulled 187 million Americans into the grips of crazy cold weather, snarled travel, forced an early orange harvest, and heated up the climate debate. It is also producing some amazing photography, from professionals and amateurs alike. Here are a few that have come to our attention in the last two days.

Hank Cain, via Shawn Reynolds/Twitter.

This picture was taken by pilot Hank Cain, over a frozen Chicago, and first tweeted by his friend Shawn Reynolds from the Weather Channel. Chicago reported a low of minus 16 degrees on Monday.

Nancy Stone/MCT/ZUMA

Teresa Wooldridge has her work cut out for her, pictured here trying to clear a path on the Northwest Side of Chicago.

@ChicagosMayor, The Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The office of the Chicago Mayor tweeted this image of steaming rooftops yesterday morning. Four people reportedly died while shoveling snow in the city across the weekend.

NOAA/NASA GOES Project

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center tweeted this picture showing the extent of the weather event—"a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure"—over the US. The image was captured by satellite Monday morning.

Ernest Coleman/ZUMA

Warmer temperatures in the Ohio River than the surrounding air created this eerie mist outside downtown Cincinnati on Monday. According to the National Weather Service, the city tied its record-low temperature for that date, at minus 7, set in 1924. Desperate times call for desperate measures: maintenance crews are treating roads with beet juice, apparently, because it can help melt ice at temperatures as low as minus 25; it's also said to be better for the environment than regular deicers. Factoid of the day!

@TeriMatthewson/Twitter

"I'd rather have my frozen berries in my smoothie, then on my front lawn," is the caption to this photo taken by Teri Matthewson, from Toronto, of the fruit tree in her front lawn. In Canada, the vortex has earned the nickname "polar pig" in some quarters, for its shape on the metrological map.

And the Chicago Tribune is reporting that 500 passengers were stranded on two trains last night west of the city because of the snow and ice.

Separately, Van Jones, co-host of CNN's Crossfire, this morning tweeted this pic of what he says is inside an Amtrak train:

Fri May. 9, 2014 6:07 PM EDT
Tue Jan. 7, 2014 2:51 PM EST
Tue Nov. 19, 2013 2:11 PM EST
Tue Nov. 12, 2013 12:44 AM EST
Tue Jun. 25, 2013 10:56 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 21, 2013 2:47 PM EDT
Fri Jun. 7, 2013 5:56 AM EDT
Fri May. 10, 2013 5:01 PM EDT