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Up First briefing: Record-breaking rain in California, Dartmouth brings back SAT, ACT

Residents stand along a flooded street in Santa Barbara, California, as a powerful atmospheric river pummels the region. The storm has caused landslides, power outages, and road and airport closures across Southern California.
Mario Tama
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Getty Images
Residents stand along a flooded street in Santa Barbara, California, as a powerful atmospheric river pummels the region. The storm has caused landslides, power outages, and road and airport closures across Southern California.

Good morning. You're reading the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Today's top stories

On a phone call with Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass, President Joe Biden promised to send aid to California as it battles through record amounts of rainfall, which has caused dangerous mudslides and power outages. So far, there have been three fatalities there.

  • On Up FirstNPR's Nathan Rott reports that the mudslides are like a "thick, destructive soup" that's causing tremendous damage to businesses and homes across the state. Over 200,000 residents have been without electricity since Monday night. A store owner tells Rott that unless flood infrastructure gets improved in this area, he doesn't think they're going to continue to be so lucky in the future.

  •  Human-driven climate change is making rain more likely. Atmospheric rivers are carrying and delivering about 5 to 15% more precipitation than a world untouched by climate change.


Former President Donald Trump won't be on the ballot at today's Nevada primaries. But he'll likely still get all of the state's delegates, even if Nikki Haley wins. That's because Nevada has two nominating contests. Republicans will hold a caucus on Thursday, where Trump is the only major candidate running. Since only the caucus awards delegates, Trump is the de facto winner. Confused? Here's everything you need to know.

  • Nevada has two contests because of a conflict between the state's Republican party — run by Trump allies — and a 2021 state law that mandates a primary must be held, NPR's Franco Ordoñez reports. Candidates participating in the caucus can't have their name on the primary, but registered Republicans can vote in both, adding to the confusion. A Republican consultant tells Ordoñez it's a "total disaster from a PR standpoint" for the state. 
  • Ahead of the primary, Nikki Haley made a surprise appearance on SNL and made jibes over Trump's age and mental competency.


Dartmouth College has announced it is reinstating SAT and ACT testing requirements for admission, beginning with the class of 2029's admission cycle. The Ivy League school made testing optional during the pandemic. A new study conducted by the college suggests that including test scores may have helped less advantaged students, including first-generation and low-income students, get in.

  • The school is working on how to better communicate what a useful test score is so students won't be scared off by the requirement, a Dartmouth economics professor tells NPR's Elissa Nadworny. A Princeton professor tells Nadworny he's concerned other schools might be influenced to make the same change without considering whether it "aligns with their admissions objectives." A Harvard professor adds that whether test scores are good or bad comes down to human judgment, and it's important application readers don't become obsessed with numbers. 

Deep Dive

President Joe Biden addresses the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol on February 1, 2024 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Getty Images
President Joe Biden addresses the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol on February 1, 2024 in Washington, DC.

What can President Biden's speeches tell us about his campaign strategy? NPR analyzed four talks across five days in Virginia, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., to find out. The results show a contrast with Trump's speeches analyzed earlier by NPR and one striking similarity – the use of the word "freedom." Here are some themes that emerged from the analysis:

  • Biden is taking on Donald Trump by name, departing from the political tradition. Trump's name came up over 40 times in the four speeches. 
  • He pushes abortion rights and holds Trump responsible for ending them.  
  • Unlike Trump, he doesn't say much about immigration. In one speech, he claimed that bipartisan legislation would allow him to "shut down" the border and "fix it," which is not true – it would only authorize him to restrict the number of asylum seekers. 
  • He doesn't mention his support for Israel, but protestors do. They repeatedly interrupted his speeches, shouting, "Genocide Joe.".  
  • "Freedom" is the theme of Biden's campaign. He used the word 15 times across four speeches. Biden uses it more than Trump, who often uses "freedom" to accuse prosecutors of trying to take it away from him amid his legal troubles.

Today's listen

At the 2024 Grammys, Tiny Desk alumnae boygenius took home best rock performance, best rock song and an best alternative music album.
Cameron Pollack / NPR
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NPR
At the 2024 Grammys, Tiny Desk alumnae boygenius took home best rock performance, best rock song and an best alternative music album.

How many Tiny Desk concerts does it take to win a Grammy? The NPR Music team noticed that many of Sunday night's winners visited a tiny desk in Washington D.C. — 36 of them, to be exact! Some, like Miley Cyrus, performed a Tiny Desk (Home) concert from a tiny bedroom during the pandemic. Whether you want to re-watch an old favorite or find a new one, catch up on them all here.

3 things to know before you go

The Purple Tomato, a genetically modified crop created by Norfolk Plant Sciences, is available to home gardeners to start from seed.
Sasa Woodruff / Boise State Public Radio
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Boise State Public Radio
The Purple Tomato, a genetically modified crop created by Norfolk Plant Sciences, is available to home gardeners to start from seed.

  1. No, the above photo isn't of a blueberry or grape. Snapdragon flower DNA gives The Purple Tomato, a new genetically modified crop, its bright purple hue and high levels of the health-promoting compound anthocyanin. 
  2. King Charles III is postponing public duties while he undergoes treatment for cancer, Buckingham Palace said yesterday. It did not specify what type of cancer.
  3. Country singer-songwriter Toby Keith has died at the age of 62 after battling stomach cancer for three years. During his thirty-year career, Keith created hits such as "Red Solo Cup" and "Beer For My Horses," a duet with Willie Nelson.

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. Anandita Bhalerao and Mansee Khurana contributed.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 7, 2024 at 8:00 PM AKST
This story has been updated to clarify that President Joe Biden called Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass to offer aid to California as it deals with record amounts of rainfall.
Suzanne Nuyen