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Britain is a safe place to live. There are no deadly animals, little in the way of severe weather, and any earthquakes are so teeny tiny that they’re barely worth acknowledging. America, on the other hand …
When it comes to climate, the U.S. really does have something for everyone, from blistering cold to sweltering heat and everything else in between. In fact, the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in Death Valley, California on July 10, 1913 when the thermometer registered a blistering 134.78 ºF. On the opposite end of the scale, the Alaskan tundra has seen temperatures fall as low as -80 ºF (the lowest temperature recorded in the conterminous United States was the -70 ºF recorded at Rogers Pass, Montana in January 1954).
The U.S. also boasts the rather bizarre world record for the fastest temperature change. On January 22, 1943 in a sleepy South Dakota town called Spearfish, the temperature at 7:30 a.m. was recorded at -4 ºF. A sudden Chinook wind warmed the air so dramatically that by 7:32 a.m. the temperature had risen to +45 ºF. An astonishing increase of 49 ºF in just two minutes.
The most dangerous animal I ever came across in Britain was a cantankerous cow in a Yorkshire meadow in the springtime of 1997. Some years later, during an extended stay in southern Texas, I saw, in order of how scary I found each creature: a black widow, a scorpion, wild dogs, a tarantula, and an army of red imported fire ants. Mummy!
Tornadoes, hurricanes and Nor’easters, Oh My!
Sandwiched between two oceans and situated roughly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the U.S. must contend with cold, dry Arctic air from the north and warm, moist, tropical air from the south. Because there is no east-west mountain range there is nothing to prevent these two weather patterns from slamming into each other over America. It is this cocktail of elements that fuel the massive storms that the country experiences each year.
The U.S. is particularly vulnerable to tornadoes, giving rise to the colloquial term ‘tornado alley’ for the most frequently hit areas (generally considered to be parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska). In fact, the U.S. experiences 80% to 90% of all the tornados that occur across the planet annually, causing billions of dollars worth of damage and killing scores. Hurricanes too, pose a yearly threat to America both financially and fatally, the most recent of which, Sandy, killed 72 people and caused $65 billion in property damage in October 2012.
Nor’easters are fierce winter storms that occur along the northeastern coast of the United States (the term comes from the historical spellings of the compass points and pertains to the direction in which the wind blows). They often bring coastal flooding and strong winds, and almost always dump heavy rain or snow over the land that’s unfortunate enough to be beneath them. The most severe on record is the Great Blizzard of 1888, which brought snowfalls of up to 60 inches in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut and produced snowdrifts of up to 50 feet, trapping many people in their homes for days.
America, in all its variable vastness, provides pretty much any landscape you could think of: mountain ranges spanning thousands of miles, forests with the tallest trees on Earth, lakes the size of countries, volcanoes, deserts, and so on. Britain may have buildings dating back to 3700 BC, but does it have any active stratovolcanoes? Hell no!
The U.S. experiences thousands of earthquakes every year; although most of them are too small to notice. The most destructive one in the country’s history was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which reduced the city to rubble and claimed over 3000 lives. A 2006 study of the San Andreas Fault (responsible for the 1906 quake) concluded that it had reached sufficient stress levels for another big one within the next 30 years. By contrast, the most powerful quake to hit the U.K. was the 1931 Dogger Bank earthquake, which measured 6.1 on the Richter scale. Because the epicenter of the quake was 60 miles off the coast of Yorkshire, damage was limited to a few crumbling chimneys. However, it was reported that a woman in Hull died from a heart attack caused by the quake and, somewhat less seriously, at Madame Tussauds in London the head of the waxwork of notorious wife-murderer Dr. Crippen fell off.
You would be hard pushed to find another country with more frequent and unique geological splendors than America. Two-thirds of the world’s geysers are located in Yellowstone National Park alone (where Mother Nature literally blows off steam). And then there’s the Grand Canyon, with its Martian shades of rusty red, spectacularly carved out by the Colorado River millennia ago. Not to mention Niagara Falls with its eternal cascading beauty. And when we get around to those giant redwoods, it just feels like America is starting to show off.
What’s the most beautiful part of America you’ve been to?
View all posts by Jon Langford.