Northern Red Oak and the Derecho

The Dyer Observatory grounds enjoy a large number and variety of trees, but we still hate to see one go.

On May 3, 2020, a derecho struck the Nashville area and snapped off this unfortunate northern red oak.While it was being cleaned up on the property, Dyer Observatory Superintendent Nathan Griffin paused to count the trunk’s rings to determine its age.The amazing number was approximately sixty-six, matching the age of the observatory. Fortunately, Dyer fared better with only a temporary loss of power.

Northern red oaks are noted for their fairly fast growth of two feet per year, yielding acorns of up to one inch across, tolerating pollution and compacted soil well, and offering impressive shade below their dense crowns. Portions of a derecho produce tornado-force winds, but in a wide, straight line rather than a compact cyclone. This tree’s location on the west side on a high ridge made it vulnerable to the approaching winds, and its dense crown likely sealed its fate to fall.

The Washington Post on May 4 reported that the intense storms of May 3 caused damage along a 600 mile-long path with winds up to 71 mph. Local reports cited the death of one hiker, destruction to a dizzying number of trees and property, and the knocking out of power to over 300,000 Nashville Electric customers.

Photos by Dr. Billy Teets

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Tucked up among the wooded hilltops of northern Brentwood, Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is considered by many to be a hidden treasure of the area. Visitors to our satellite campus not only learn about some of the cutting-edge discoveries and science in astronomy but they also get a dose of nature, history, and many other things while here. Over the years, we at Dyer Observatory have made the preservation of our facility and grounds a key mission. Preservation not only entails things such as maintaining our telescopes — it also includes keeping a record of days passed. Since 1953, we have amassed a number of interesting images, pieces of equipment, and ephemera. Every day tends to bring new surprises. In continuing our tradition of public education and outreach, Stellar Finds regularly provides an image and description of the diverse paraphernalia associated with Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory and the history of astronomy at Vanderbilt University.

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