Chris Hadfield, orbiting the earth, was asked "Which part of the world looks the coolest from space?", and answered:
Australia looks coolest – the colours and textures of the Outback are severly [sic] artistic.
As I observed in "Severely X", 2/11/2012, severely seems generally to be a negatively-evaluated intensifier:
more than 98% of the time, the following word is something generally regarded as regrettable if not downright bad.
But Kevin Conor, pointing to Hadfield's AMA response, wonders whether severely with positive connotations might be catching on.
We get a clue from Hadfield's next sentence:
The most beautiful to me are the Bahamas, the vast glowing reefs of every shade of blue that exists.
In contrast to the beauty of the Bahamas, the Australian outback is "severely artistic" — artfully composed, but austere, stark, etc. We can see the same usage a century and a half ago in Hiram Fuller, "Belle Brittan on a Tour at Newport", 1858:
Yet he is severely orthodox in his morality ; and still more severely artistic in his verse. His marble rhymes never warm, never inspire me ; but they are so perfectly chisseled, that I yield to them the same sort of cold admiration one feels for a faultless ideal statue of stone; not the glowing ardor excited by the living reality of flesh and blood.
And turning to the first two pages of recent stories in Google News, we find severely modifying obese, mentally ill, beaten, wounded, injured (4), needy, abused, burned, austistic, neglected, cheap, congested, disabled, and damaged.
So is severely taking a new, positive turn? I don't think so.