When USA TODAY began reporting on how climate change affects precipitation, it found a stunning shift in the way rain falls across much of America.
East of the Rockies, more rain is falling and it’s coming in more intense bursts. In the West, people are waiting longer to see any rain at all. Some areas are seeing more dramatic swings between both extremes – whipsawing from rainfall and drought to rainfall again.
Although impact of this shift is felt nationwide, some states are getting an extra wallop, USA TODAY found. These states include Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas and Iowa.
Read the full investigation: How a summer of extreme weather reveals a stunning shift in the way rain falls in America.
To help explain the impact of those precipitation changes, USA TODAY turned to Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. Faculty members at the music and recording school agreed to compose original music for each state based on more than a century of precipitation data.
Each composer used different musicalities to bring their pieces to life, but all used real rain sounds in their work.
Listen to the pieces, see the data and learn more about the artists and how they chose their approach below:
Timothy Stulman, a composer and department chair of music composition, used a melodic line to represent peak rainfall and peak dry years for the state of Pennsylvania.
Stulman scaled the highest and lowest rainfall amounts to musical parameters in his software.
Using sounds from the flute and the cello, he matched the highest rainfall year to the highest, loudest flute lines he could get and the lowest rainfall amount is represented by the loudest, lowest cello line.
He gathered recorded sounds of wind, thunder and rain, then combined those with flute and cello melodies.
Higher peak years are represented by higher, louder flute lines, while the driest years are represented by three cellos playing descending melodies. The density and volume directly correlate to the annual rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895 forward.
“I wanted to create my own virtual storm so that I would have more granular control over its intensity. So rather than using a single recording of a storm, I used individual sounds of rain, wind, and thunder,” he said. “If there was a really high rainfall year, I would choose recordings of intense rainfall, strong winds, and mix them with loud thunderclaps. So it’s not a single recording of a storm, but rather various storm elements blended together based on the rainfall data.”
Each year is represented by two seconds of music and sound.
Thomas Owen visited Tennessee with his family over the Christmas holidays last winter and had fresh memories of snow blanketing the ground. That piqued his interest in the state’s precipitation, and he found the annual data had “an interesting shape to it.”
“You see these huge spikes of heavy rainfall,” said Owen, department chair for recording arts and associate course director of interactive audio. “Sonifying that it’s really easy to hear and be able to tell the difference in climate.”
For this project, rather than a music composition with theoretical elements, he decided to try to create a soundscape of the weather within Tennessee, with actual sounds of rain and wind. He used a series of actual recordings of rain and wind from the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
Through much of the 1900s, the data was fairly similar from year to year, so a listener will hear consistency in the first half of the piece, he said. In the second half, especially during the last 30 years, “you’re going to hear the volatility of having an extreme amount of rain.”
Five of Tennessee’s 10 wettest years out of 105 years of data have come in the last 10 years.
Every second in his music represents one year of time.
From the moment Marc Pinsky heard the proposal to create musical pieces from the data that reveal the precipitation shifts, he was excited.
“My thought was this is the exact project that I’ve been waiting for. It hits upon so many of my passions,” said Pinsky, a course director in audio production. His goal was to make the pieces aesthetically pleasing to someone listening to it as music.
Pinsky was too enthused to choose just one state, so he wrote pieces for five: Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. (We share three of them here) In the pieces looking at the top 10 driest and wettest years, a steady tick occurs for every year, the top 10 driest are represented by low pitched plucked strings, while the top 10 wettest are represented by high pitched plucked strings.
He ranked each decade on a scale between 1 and 13, and used those numbers to represent notes in the C minor scale, played by a violin.
This served as “sheet music,” resulting in a melody which allows the listener to hear how rainfall amounts increase and decrease over time, he said. As the rainfall increases, the pitch of the violin increases, and as the rainfall decreases, the pitch decreases. He also layered a recording of rain in the background, which also increases and decreases over time.
He chose a violin melody for pieces conveying annual precipitation per decade, because that sound, with the higher notes of a violin, reminded him of the sound of a raindrop.
A single note on a violin can be “such a haunting sound and when it’s played in the fashion that it was played here,” he said. “It just really, in my opinion, penetrates the soul and that melody line just didn’t sound right on any other instrument.”
For the yearly rainfall pieces, he rounded the data to a whole number, then assigned it to a note in the C minor scale, creating a melody that rises and falls in pitch with the changing rainfall amounts.
To more clearly identify the driest years, the note values trigger the sounds of low-pitched instruments including double bass, bassoon, contrabassoon, and synthesized guitar. The wettest years are represented by high pitched instruments such as piccolo, flute, oboe, and clarinet as well as the bell-like sound of a glockenspiel.
The musical representation speaks to someone in a way that words couldn’t, he said. “I hope it just kind of hits them from an emotional standpoint.”