Q: What’s with the fabulous yellow flowers blooming near Lake Jesup along S.R. 417?
A: It’s Mother Nature at her best. These beauties are swamp sunflowers and they are a sight to behold this time of year on conservation tracts along the north shore of the Seminole County lake; the peak viewing period is the last week of September through mid-October. But Lake Jesup isn’t the only place to catch the colorful wildflower show: There are also beauty spots along the Beachline Expressway and State Road 50 at the Orange-Brevard county line, says Lisa Roberts, executive director of the Florida Wildflower Foundation.
The flowers thrive in an ecosystem known as floodplain marsh. Interestingly enough, they are even more plentiful (hard to imagine) if fire has swept through an area a few months before the blooming season. Yes, even though fire has its devastating side, it’s also important in clearing underbrush so that the flowers and other plants such as wiregrass can thrive, while preventing hardwood shrubs from taking over a habitat. Plus, fire helps recycle and enrich nutrients in the soil.
However, controlled burning isn’t always an easy chore, because weather conditions have to be just right and the smoke can cause problems near populated areas. That’s why the Lake Jesup areas east of the 417 haven’t been burned for quite a few years, says Pete Henn, south central land manager for the St. Johns River Water Management District. The person leasing that land from Henn’s agency mows it to control the underbrush. The areas near the Beachline and S.R. 50, on the other hand, can be burned every two to three years because they are in wide-open spaces.
A word of caution: If you are so dazzled by the displays you want to stop your car for a better look, pull well off the road; these are busy highways with high speed limits. And don’t pick the wildflowers. Roberts says that just hinders their ability to reproduce.
Q: What’s a gustnado?
A: Gustnado is the title of a disaster movie on the Syfy channel, a la Sharknado, that features a waterspout invasion of hundreds of giant schnauzers named Gus.
Oh, wait, that’s Gusnado.
Gustnadoes are weather whirlwind phenomena associated with the wind gusts from a thunderstorm. They are generally small and not observed that often because most are short-lived. Sometimes, though, there’s the perfect storm—as happened along Cocoa Beach in early August when a gustnado lasting about 30 seconds sent umbrellas and canopies flying. So how do they differ from tornadoes? Twisters originate in the clouds and rotate down to the ground, says Will Ulrich, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne. Gustnadoes, on the other hand, are a thunderstorm byproduct and form on the edge of a gust front as rain and hail reach the ground—but they’re not connected to a cloud base.
All of us have felt a gust front: It’s the wind that’s accompanied by a chilly drop in temperature just before the rain comes, Ulrich says. Most of the time, that’s as far as it goes. But if shifts in wind direction and speed occur in a relatively small space—known as wind shear—the result can be a potentially violent, albeit brief, vortex known as a gustnado.