Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Violent Spring

The mid-section of the United States is the only area in the world that regularly sees tornadoes. Each spring violent thunderstorms develop as warm, damp air rising from the Gulf of Mexico is met by strong cold fronts sweeping down from arctic regions. Atmospheric conditions are made unstable by jet stream currents, high-altitude, high-speed winds that shear the tops off clouds and twist storm cells. The result is violent thunderstorms with torrential rains, numerous lightning strikes, large hail, tornadoes, and strong winds shearing downward at high speed. A series of thunderstorms left a path of death and destruction across the South. Friends from the Birmingham, Alabama region experienced exceptionally large and powerful tornadoes. Many lives were lost in Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Hueytown, and Concord, Alabama. While communications from the affected areas of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, and Georgia have been difficult, it appears that over three hundred deaths resulted from this one series of storms, the latest in four weeks of continuous storms. I encourage anyone who would like to contribute to responsible agencies, such as the American Red Cross, to direct cash gifts to the capable relief workers assisting the affected citizens recovering from the storm damage.

Today the empress tree is in bloom. Whenever I see the large pink to violet bells of the empress tree, I remember seeing them covering Red Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama. These trees, imported from China, as ornamentals escaped into the countryside. Tiny seeds of the empress tree are blown by the winds to propagate this woody member of the important family of bee plants, the figworts. Honey bees can be seen moving about the clusters of large empress tree flowers on the limb tips high in the treetops. Today’s picture is an empress tree blooming in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The tree, purported to be a gift to Jefferson Davis’ wife, came from the Forbidden City of China. Hopefully, the seeds of empress trees will be distributed by more gently winds.

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