by Elizabeth Kolbert June 13, 2011
The New Yorker
When President Barack Obama arrived in Joplin, Missouri, on May 29th, the sun was shining. He toured one of the neighborhoods that the previous week’s tornado had destroyed, then spoke at a memorial service for the dead. (By late last week, the official toll was a hundred and thirty-eight people.) At the service, the President’s tone turned brooding. “The question that weighs on us at a time like this is: Why?” he said. “Why our town? Why our home? Why my son, or husband, or wife, or sister, or friend? Why?” Such questions, the President went on, cannot be answered, as “these things are beyond our power to control.”
Obama’s visit to Joplin was the third that he had made in a month to the site of a weather-related disaster. In mid-May, the President met with Memphis residents who had been left homeless by the flooding of the Mississippi River, and, not long before that, he toured sections of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that had also been flattened by a tornado. Meanwhile, even as the President was consoling the bereaved in Joplin, residents in Vermont were bailing out from record-high water levels around Lake Champlain; Texas was suffering from a near-record drought that could cost the state more than four billion dollars in agricultural losses; and officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were forecasting that the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, which formally began on June 1st, would once again be “above normal.” (The 2010 season was tied for the third most active on record.) The news from abroad was, if anything, more worrisome.