Here’s what you need to know about the week’s top stories.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)
Here are the week’s top stories, and a look ahead.
1. Communities across the Midwest and the South were digging through rubble after a tornado outbreak ripped a swath from Missouri through Kentucky.
Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said that in his state alone, where several tornadoes touched down and one traveled for more than 220 ruinous miles, at least 70 people had been killed, a toll that could rise to more than 100. More than 40 tornadoes were reported across six states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. See where the tornadoes struck.
The tornado outbreak killed people who were working the Friday night shifts at a candle factory in Kentucky, where scores are believed to have died, and at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, where at least six people were killed when a roof collapsed. At least three people in Tennessee, two in Arkansas and one in Missouri died. Hundreds of thousands of families were without power. This video shows the scope of the destruction.
“This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Beshear said. “The level of devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen.”
2. The U.S. is on track to exceed 800,000 Covid deaths this week, a year after the vaccine rollout began.
More than 120,000 coronavirus cases are emerging each day, with outbreaks worsening in the Great Lakes region and in the Northeast.
Omicron looms, but how large remains to be seen. In Britain, the first real-world study of how vaccines hold up against the new variant showed a significant drop in protection, but it also indicated that boosters provided considerable defense. Still, British scientists warned that the variant could overtake Delta by mid-December.
On Tuesday, the U.S. will mark one year since it began its vaccination campaign. In that time, 200 million people have been fully vaccinated, but the pace of vaccination varies across the country — and the world. Zambia’s challenges highlight new obstacles.
3. A secret U.S. unit battered ISIS in Syria with tens of thousands of airstrikes. It repeatedly sidestepped safeguards and killed civilians, a Times investigation found.
The military billed the 2014-19 air war against the Islamic State as the most precise and humane in military history and said that strict rules and oversight by top leaders had kept civilian deaths to a minimum.
In reality, four current and former military officials say, the majority of strikes was ordered by a relatively low-ranking unit called Talon Anvil. People who worked with the strike cell say that in the rush to destroy enemies, Talon Anvil circumvented rules imposed to protect noncombatants.
4. American officials are looking closely at President Jovenel Moïse’s efforts to disrupt the drug trade in Haiti as a motive in his assassination.
In the months leading up to the attack, the president had been working on a list of powerful politicians and businesspeople involved in the country’s drug trade, with the intention of handing over the dossier to the American government, according to four senior Haitian advisers.
During interrogations, some of the captured hit men confessed that retrieving the list was a top priority, according to three senior Haitian officials. The document was part of a broader series of clashes Moïse had with powerful political and business figures. Moïse had known several of them for years, and they felt betrayed by his turn against them, aides say.
5. A movement animated by Donald Trump’s 2020 election lies is turning its attention to 2022 and beyond.
According to one poll, more than 60 percent of Republicans now believe the 2020 election was stolen. Republican candidates coming out of the Stop the Steal movement are seeking office at the state and county levels in positions that supervise the election systems that they believe robbed Trump of a second term. A number of legislative initiatives would assert more Republican control over election systems.
The Democratic secretary of state in Michigan called it “a five-alarm fire.”
In other politics news: The fight unfolding in statehouses and courthouses over abortion, most recently in the Supreme Court’s split decision on Friday over Texas’s restrictive law, is one of the most polarizing issues among lawmakers. But the public’s view of it is far more complicated than left and right.
6. The R.T.O. date is gone. It’s been replaced with “we’ll get back to you.”
January 2022 was looking like an achievable target for many employees to give up their sweatpants and return to the office. The Omicron variant had other plans, and companies are once again delaying that decision. Now office reopening plans seem more and more like wishful thinking. “The only companies being dishonest are the ones giving employees certainty,” one expert said.
If you are returning to your physical workplace, we’ve developed a handy guide to new office language. Al desko dining, anyone?
You’re probably going to need to work longer than you imagined. Here’s how to build in breaks.
7. Bryce Young became the second consecutive Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Young, a sophomore quarterback and the overall favorite, had a sensational game against Georgia last Saturday, when he passed for more than 420 yards. He has thrown 43 touchdowns, has been intercepted just four times and has led his team to the No. 1 ranking in the country.
More than 900 electronic ballots were distributed to Heisman voters. Their instructions were straightforward: Simply select the most outstanding player. And it’s been that way for decades.
8. Romans uphold a Christmas tradition: bashing the city’s tree.
In 2017, Rome’s mayor set off a maelstrom when she installed a tree so pitiful it was nicknamed Spelacchio, or Mangy. On Wednesday, it was her successor’s turn. The tree checked all of the right boxes: big, bright and bushy. Still, online grumbling ensued: Some Romans began to call it bottiglione — joking that it looked like an oversize bottle.
“We tend to be whiny about everything,” one Roman said. “Even if there’s no reason to.”
In Paris, Notre-Dame is still being restored after the devastating 2019 fire. Other churches are keeping its musical traditions alive this holiday season.
9. It’s time to start planning your festive holiday menu.
Roasting a duck like a chicken is a straightforward affair — just let Melissa Clark show you. By incorporating a few tweaks, like rendering the fat to get an extra crispy skin, it can result in a bird that is easy to cook and delicious. Or, if you’re going for a roast ham, Eric Kim’s new recipe involves root beer.
For dessert, consider Yotam Ottolenghi’s very rich, dark cake topped with caramelized hazelnuts. After (another) long year, “anyone feeling festive and celebratory this month should have whatever cake they want, eating a great big slice of it, too,” he writes.
If you’re craving cookies, these 12 easy, one-bowl recipes are for you.
10. And finally, kick back with a great read.
The soda shops taking over the Mountain West. The fragile splendor of a Norwegian archipelago. Debunking a Gen Z conspiracy theory on birds. All these and more await you in The Weekender.
Our editors also suggest new music from Tame Impala, Mitski and more, “Doom Patrol” on HBO Max and these 12 new books.
Did you follow the news this week? Test your knowledge. And here’s the front page of our Sunday paper, the Sunday Review from Opinion and today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.
Have a sweet week.
David Poller compiled photos for this briefing.
Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6:30 a.m. Eastern.
Did a friend forward you the briefing? You can sign up here.
What did you like? What do you want to see here? Let us know at email@example.com.
Browse our full range of Times newsletters here.