Submerged car

SEVERE WEATHER: Thunderstorms continued plowing across parts of the South and Midwest over the weekend, producing high winds, flash floods, at least one major tornado, and killing several people in Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky. A category EF-3 tornado touched down in Madison County, Kentucky, on Friday, producing 136 to 165 mph winds, destroying 150 homes and killing two people. Governors declared states of emergency there and in West Virginia, where the line of storms kept dumping heavy rains that led to flooding. Thousands remain without power throughout the region and more storms are bearing down from the west. (Sources: Associated PressCNNWashington Post, National Weather Service)

FIRE BREAK: The wildfire that forced a third of Santa Barbara, Calif., to evacuate is now mostly contained, although firefighters warn that high winds could still churn it back up into another rampage. Authorities now believe the fire was started by a power tool someone was using to clear vegetation in the foothills above Santa Barbara about a week ago, and are asking anyone with more information to come forward. The Jesusita fire burned more than 8,700 acres and drove 30,000 people from their homes, fueled by high winds and unseasonably hot, dry conditions. Calmer conditions helped firefighters corral the blaze Sunday. (Source: Reuters)

WAR OF WORDS: "Cap-and-trade" is such an ugly word — "market-based" sounds so much safer. President Obama is swiftly perfecting that kind of word-mincing as he pushes for major overhauls in the energy and health-care industries, the LA Times reports today. With Republicans stepping up their linguistic twists ("light-switch tax," "socialized medicine"), Obama must keep up to keep his plans afloat. Hence possibly unsavory terms like "global warming" may become less common at White House press briefings, as will "cap-and-trade" — even as Obama races to use the latter to fight the former. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

COAL COMFORT: It may not exactly be "clean coal," but China is leaving the United States in its dust when it comes to building cleaner coal-fired power plants. The NYT examines how the world's No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases has charged ahead with coal plants that use superheated steam and has approved a gasified-coal plant, while the United States dithers about building its first one. Still, however, China hasn't become a pollution saint overnight. Many of its plants are less efficient than U.S. ones because they were built hastily in recent decades, and only half of all Chinese plants remove sulfur compounds that cause acid rain. Only 60 percent of new coal plants in China use the new technologies, and even those signify a continued, even renewed, reliance on the filthiest of fossil fuels. (Source: New York Times)

HOLY GUACAMOLE: An avocado-killing fungus is slowly spreading toward the United States' second-largest avocado-farming region in South Florida, threatening the $30 million industry as well as thousands of livelihoods. Spread by the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle, the fungus has mostly just affected residential avocado trees in northern Florida so far, but it has been detected as far south as Okeechobee, only 100 miles away from Florida's avocado heartland. "It could wipe out the entire industry," a University of Florida agricultural economist says. (Source: AP)

STUFF HAPPENS: The NYT reports this morning on the educational online video hit The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute rundown of Americans' wasteful ways designed to get kids thinking about what happens to the stuff they buy and throw out. The video has been seen 6 million times at since it was uploaded in December 2007, and millions times more on YouTube, and more than 7,000 educators have ordered a TV version. (Source: NY Times)

RULING THE ROOST: Peacocks and peahens are pariahs in many parts of Los Angeles, but they wander freely in the Victor Heights neighborhood. The LA Times reports on the odd dynamic between these flamboyant fowl and their human neighbors, who seem to respect the birds' independence — aside from feeding them cat food and peanuts. (Source: LA Times)

Russell McLendon

(Photo: A car sits in flooded Gilbert Creek on Sunday in Baisden, W.Va. Jeff Gentner/AP)

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.