Space & Innovation

'Hairy Panic' (a Plant) Grips Australian Town

Homes in Wangaratta are being inundated with the evocatively named plant pest, with some residents having to spend hours digging out their driveways.

Hairy panic is paralyzing parts of an Australian town - but it's not quite the existential nightmare it sounds, just a fast-growing tumbleweed.

Homes in Wangaratta are being inundated with the evocatively named plant pest, with some residents having to spend hours digging out their driveways.

Townsfolk are no stranger to the native prickly menace, usually swept in by winds during the hot and dry summer months.

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But this season has seen an unusual amount of hairy panic - known scientifically as Panicum effusum - with hundreds of thousands of the fuzzy, yellowish plants swamping the entrances of homes, driveways and backyards. Residents spend hours clearing the weeds, piles of which can reach up to the roof.

"It's a fairly significant problem," said Rod Roscholler, an administrator for Wangaratta, 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Melbourne.

"For whatever reason, the climate, the weather, the temperatures, the rains, must have combined for it to be a ‘bumper crop' this year," he said on Thursday.

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"It's physically draining and mentally more draining," Pam Twitchett told the Seven news network.

Carpenter Jordan Solimo said the "hundreds of thousands" of tumbleweed, which contains toxins that can be deadly for sheep, were so numerous he was not able to open his backyard door.

"They're covering the front of a couple of people's (houses)," Solimo said, adding that the phenomenon started around Christmas. "A lot of people's backyards get filled up with them. I tried to get out of my back door the other day but I couldn't, it (the backyard) was just full of tumbleweed."

Solimo said he would wait for winds to temporarily move the thin, wire-like grass or use a leaf-blower to clear them away, "and then it's all good before the next lot comes."

Residents of a rural Australian city are frustrated by a fast-growing tumbleweed called hairy panic that is piling up outside their houses.

The winners are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "Weather in Focus" photo contest, picked from more than 2,000 entries taken between Jan. 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015. "From rainbows and sunsets to lightning and tornadoes, the winning photos aren’t just captivating to look at, but inspire us to look at the world in different ways," said Douglas Hilderbrand, NOAA's contest judge and Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador Lead. "It was difficult to pick winners from so many good entries." In first place, from the category "Science in Action," is "Green Bank Telescope in WV" by Mike Zorger, Falls Church, Va.

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All 16 winning images will be displayed in a

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exhibit located on the NOAA campus in Silver Spring, Md., starting in July. Second place in "Science in Action" went to "Photographer captures the aurora" by Christopher Morse, Fairbanks, Alaska.

In third place: "Atmospheric Research Observatory" by Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo.

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And honorable mention also went to Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo. for "Atmospheric Research Observatory."

In the category "Weather, Water & Climate," first place went to "Snow Express" by Conrad Stenftenagel, Saint Anthony, Ind.

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In second place was "Proton arc over Lake Superior" by Ken William, Clio, Mich.

"With a Bang" by Bob Larson, Prescott, Ariz., won third place in the "Weather, Water & Climate" category.

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Honorable mention went to Alana Peterson, Maple Lake, Minn. for "Raindrops on a Leaf."

A second honorable mention was won for "Fire in the Sky over Glacier National Park" by Sashikanth Chintla, North Brunswick, N.J.

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In the category "In the Moment," first place went to "Smoky Mountains" by Elijah Burris, Canton, N.C.

Second place went to "Spring Captured: Freezing rain attempts to halt spring" by Mike Shelby, Elkridge, Md.

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And third place went to "Rolling clouds in Lake Tahoe" by Christopher LeBoa, San Leandro, Calif.

Of course the professionals had their own category. First place was won by Brad Goddard, Orion, Ill., for "Stars behind the storm."

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Brad Goddard pretty much cleaned up this category, winning second (and third) place with "A tornado churns up dust in sunset light near Traer, IA."

Third place went for "A tornado crosses the path, Reinbeck, IA" by Brad Goddard.

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“Fog rolls in from the ocean on a hot summer day, Belbar, N.J.” by Robert Raia, Toms River, N.J., won honorable mention in the pro category.

To see all of the images on NOAA's website, go here.