Autumn’s Coin

The sun shone through gold leaves and brown on Saturday afternoon. Huge tan platters, slightly curved inward, rustled and skittered down from the sweet-gum tree outside my office. It sheds bark first, then large leaves that catch the wind and rustle and dance across the yards when the wind is right.

The light has shifted, slanted and clear. Summer’s smoke and dust have faded away, leaving sunlight with an edge and a golden cast to it. Or is it the gold and yellow and tan and crimson in the leaves that tint the passing light? We’ve entered the season of weakening sun. I can go outdoors bare headed and in short sleeves and not crisp. Oh, I’ll still burn if I’m not careful, but not instantly. The light and milder heat feel good in the crisp air. The sun blesses instead of punishes. It provides energy, encourages hurry—harvest is ready, now is the time, the fields are golden and the late fruits are ripe. Gather what you can, while you can, in the fat weeks and months before winter.

Not everyone loves the falling leaves. The community tabby picks his grumpy way between the largest of fallen leaves. He cannot sneak when every step crackles and crunches. The orange cat minces, one white foot carefully placed, then the other. He steps with great care among the brown. Or he clings to windowsills, edging along above the fray until the windows run out and he is forced to return to the ground.

People are busy. Some rake leaves, others mulch them in. At RedQuarters we wait for a generous carpet, enough to make the neighbors concerned about propriety and tidiness, then run a mulching mower over everything. One neighbor is out planting late-season flowers and hauling sacks of mulch. Another replaces brackets for Christmas lights, while promising not to put the lights up until Thanksgiving. House painters work down the street, touching up trim. Dad and I will wait for the last hold out of the trees to scatter its burden before we tackle the gutters. That tree’s leaves always end up in the gutters, even if we use gutter guards. It’s a plot, Dad’s certain of it.

A few birds have moved through. Waxwings and robins, the kites, all came and went. I saw a heron the other evening. The bats seem to have migrated south as well. I await the winter owl, the goldfinches and snowbirds. We have not had many geese yet. They might be waiting, or may have diverted to better-watered routes. Last month I heard sandhill cranes pass overhead. None since then, that I know of.

The light shifts, the sun slides south, the year turns. Orion’s heralds have appeared in the east.

Five Steps from Aldo Leopold

If you are interested in national parks and wilderness areas in the US, or in land restoration, or in hunting and nature writing, you have probably heard of or read something by Aldo Leopold. If you are involved in wetland or stream restoration or remediation, you know the work of Luna Leopold, Aldo’s son, and Dave Rosgen, who studied under Luna and who devised a way to describe bodies of moving water in ways that are 1) useful and 2) universal.

I was revisiting an older post recently and started counting back. I studied under one of Rosgen’s students. That makes me four academic generations from Aldo Leopold. Closer, perhaps, because my teacher met Luna briefly at a conference when my teacher was younger. My other grad school pedigrees trace back to Francis Parkman and Frederick Jackson Turner. If you are into environmental or western US history, this is sort of cool. If you are outside of academia, you probably consider this information slightly less useful than the TV remote is to a goldfish. 🙂

I happened to be shifting books around two weeks ago, and rediscovered my copy of Luna Leopold’s textbook on hydrology. It is a bit dated in some ways, but still very useful. After all, water still flows uphill toward money, or downhill after a rain, at a rate that varies with the surface under the water and the intensity of the rainfall. Streams still erode their beds (degrading) or build them up by leaving extra sediment behind (aggrading). Hillslopes still slide downhill if conditions are just right, and take houses with them. Unless someone changes gravity’s intensity, or the physics of water flow, certain calculation methods and rules of thumb remain valid.

Luna was the son of Aldo Leopold. Aldo wrote some of the best articles about landscape, wildlife, and how we see them, that I have read. His Sand County Almanac and Other Writings is a classic among hunters, naturalists, and people who like reading about landscapes and critters. If I could write like that, and see like that . . . Sigh. He visited the Colorado River delta while it still had a goodly amount of water in it. He also acted as a predator control officer for the forest service back when all wolves and bears were to be extirpated. Then he saw the results, and became one of the strongest advocates for wilderness preservation and predator conservation. He died of a heart attack while fighting a small wildfire on his neighbor’s property in Wisconsin in 1948. All of his five children became biologists or hydrologists. His ideas about conservation, stewardship, and “land ethic” provide a balance between the “use it all up” side (now long gone in the US) and the “don’t touch, humans are bad” end of the environmental scale.

Aldo died in 1948. Luna died in 2006. Last I heard, my teacher is still around, as is Dave Rosgen. You can buy Aldo Leopold’s books today, and I encourage you to do so. They are great writing, even if you don’t agree with all of his philosophy. He and Loren Eisley are two of my favorites, although they are very, very different. (Eisley gets . . . Odd. And metaphysical, and strange. But his poem ‘The Innocent Assassins” and some of his essays on night and darkness are fascinating.)

More Real Estate Passing Through . . .

On Tuesday, New Mexico and the Permian Basin blew in. Yesterday and today, Colorado rushed past.

Ah, ’tis the season for traveling property. Dust, tree branches, garbage cans, tumbleweeds, small children . . . When a tightly-wound low-pressure system passes to the north of the region, we get troughs and dry cold-fronts that blow in. Translated into English, a large vacuum travels west to east along the jet stream, sucking air into itself to try and balance the pressures. This pulls air (wind) across a relatively low-resistance landscape. That being my house.

Southwest wind – dust, brown haze, smells like feedlot. The sky gets a brass-like hue to it, brownish-blue with a faint sheen to it.

North wind – my pickup looks as if it is trying to hatch tumbleweeds. There were so many that I gave up trying to pull them loose and just backed veeeeery slowly, hoping to break them free before one ignited. I was successful. Oh, and my house howls. The guards on the skylights catch the wind and moan, then start howling in a north-northwesterly wind (300-320 degrees).

When the wind starts to blow, you cinch down your hat, and start considering if you need to move garbage cans. After a certain point, you chase your garbage can down the block and bring it home. Windage matters: don’t “park” a rolling can with the wheels on the upwind side. That seems to encourage departures. It’s also a good idea to collapse light-weight patio furniture, and fold the umbrella or retract the awning. When the wind gusts to forty-five miles in hour, in town, things are going to move. And billboards collapse if the gusts are just right.

Back in the days of the haboobs, before the 1970s*, you could tell wind direction by the color of the soil that came in with the wind. Now we get far, far fewer of those kinds of storms. South of here still has them, however.

The head-shaking part is when you look at the horizon and see that all the wind turbines are locked, not turning. High winds are not good for them.

We need rain, as usual. Even just to tamp down the dust that moves when the wind blows, as it does out here.

*In 2011 we had the first and last one that I could recall. The sky went red, as in blood red, and visibility dropped down to an eighth of a mile. The power went out, and so I sat by the front window and read from my e-reader. Then a thunderstorm roared through and we got an inch of rain.

Rules Written in Blood

Aviation, at least in the US, has a surprisingly short list of rules. Part 91 of the federal transportation and other things regulations applies to everyone who flies anything. And as I told students, there is a lot of implied good judgement in the rules. Legal isn’t always smart. Smart comes down to the most important rule in the book: The pilot-in-command has the final authority and responsibility for the flight. The pilot in command can deviate from any of the rules if in his judgement safety demands it. Yes, you will have to explain, especially if something gets bent or broken. But the PIC is the boss, and everything else is based on trying to keep flying things out of undue proximity to the ground and to each other.

If you can’t see the ground, and you don’t have a “fly in clouds” license, don’t fly in the clouds. If you have not recently practiced flying and landing at night, don’t fly at night. If you are going eastbound, more of less, fly at an odd thousand feet plus 500 (if you are visual flight rules). Westbound gets the even thousands, plus 500. Don’t fly so close to the ground that you fly into the ground. Don’t be stupid. Don’t fly a broken airplane unless you label the broken thing so that you don’t get fooled and start to trust it. When around an airport, look out for other planes. The slowest, least-maneuverable thing has the right of way. Emergencies have the right of way (i.e. the guy on fire can land ahead of a blimp.)

If you are an airliner, you can’t go sightseeing off the approved route. Why? Because in 1956 two airliners were doing that, over the Grand Canyon, and one descended onto the other. People died. If your airplane is not certified and equipped for flying in known icing, don’t fly into known icing. Why? Because people did, and crashed, and died. Unless you are cleared for take off, or to cross the runway, and you and the controller agree that there is no one else on the runway, don’t take off, or don’t cross the runway. Why? March 1977, KLM and Pan Am 747s collided on the main runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, killing 583 people. It also showed that better cockpit communication rules might be needed, because the KLM captain did not listen to his copilot/First Officer when the man asked about the Pan Am being clear of the runway. It wasn’t.

Engineering has its own rules. You can’t build certain things certain ways. You can’t build a 2000 foot-tall radio antenna without guy-wires and other supports. Dams need to be anchored to the bedrock beside them with a watertight seal (see Teton Dam, 1976). You have to allow for resonances in bridges where the wind blows (Tacoma Narrows). There are times where heavy structure trumps airy design.

Lots of areas of endeavor have rules written in blood. I’m not going to go into recent events in New Mexico, other than to say that I feel very, very sorry for the families of the woman who was killed and the man who was injured. Had the Four Rules of firearms handling been applied, it is possible that the accident would not have happened. 1. The firearm is always loaded. 2. Do not touch the trigger until you are ready to fire. 3. Do not point the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. 4. Remember what is behind your target. Heck, Fr. Martial smiled when he observed that when I stopped cleaning the desks in order to talk to him, I moved my finger off the “trigger” of the spray bottle and pointed the bottle at the outside wall. (Spraying one’s boss with cleaner/disinfectant is generally considered somewhat gauche.)

“Why can’t I skim the bottom of the clouds? It’s fun!” It’s fun until the clouds get lower, or someone else appears on an instrument flight plan and descends on top of you, or you don’t see a mountain in time.

“Why can’t I stay at 6500′ MSL* until it’s time to climb to get through the pass into Albuquerque?” Because there is a 7200′ ridge in the way. It loves to eat airplanes. For a while it was averaging one a year. Beware of clouds with crunchy middles.

*Mean Sea Level. Then there’s ASL, above sea level. The two are generally, but not always, the same. The most important, however, is AGL. Above ground level, where one should remain between takeoff and landing.

Peach-Colored Sunrise and Skittering Leaves

Autumn arrived on Sunday week, by way of a two-round cold front. First came a wind shift, from southwest to northeast. Then colder, wet skies full of low-hanging clouds and rain. Autumn is fully here, at last.

I woke early Sunday morning and half-napped after taking care of the cat. I’d left the windows cracked open the night before, because the high had been in the low 90s F, and the wind wasn’t supposed to get too strong overnight. The more fresh air that gets into the house, the better it is, to an extent, and I prefer to be a little cool at night. So I heard a few traffic sounds, drying leaves rustling on the northerly breeze, and the burbling trill of sandhill cranes. That caught my ear and I sat up, listening hard. Cranes? Surely if I heard anything it would be geese. No, the sound came again, passing northwest to southeast. Cranes, calling with that distinctive ancient sound as they passed overhead in the pre-dawn hours. Which suggested that the front might be stronger, and closer, than forecast. I got up, petted the cat for the third time, and hurried out to stroll.

A few tiny spitters and drips of rain blew on the rising wind. Low clouds, shredded and torn by the wind and the mixing air, hurried overhead, red-tinged in the city light. I could see glimpses of higher clouds to the west and east, with clear skies retreating to the south. As I walked, the clouds thinned and changed color. Soon they glowed the warm peach-pink and old gold of sunrise. Color swept the sky, stronger to the southeast and west than in true east or north. Peach became pink, then white grey as the first round of clouds passed. The tiny drops and hints of rain didn’t grow any stronger, at least not for a while.

Big brown leaves hissed and clattered across the street and driveways, chased by the wind. The sweet gum trees had begun shedding earlier, first their bark, then their big curved leaves. Now they shapes danced away on the wind, bouncing as they traveled. The big crescents of locust seed pods clattered down to the ground. They didn’t need the wind’s help to fall, they weighed so much, laden with seeds. The neighbors would be out that afternoon, raking them into something like a pile. At least those that the squirrels or the rising wind didn’t send to visit neighbors or into the street.

That afternoon, the light strengthened and shifted. Hard light shone down through the first brown leaves. Only the sweet-gum and locusts had begun turning, although the Bradford pears and oaks hinted at the possibility. The hawthorns, berry-heavy and crimson, glowed, leaves long gone as is their wont. Blue skies full of autumn light arced over the world. The lingering sweet-gum leaves looked almost gilded, the sunlight turning them and everything else faintly gold. The autumn sun has a quality, I’m not sure how best to describe it. Gold, almost hard-edged, but beautiful and almost gentle. Even on warm days, something is missing. Summer’s ferocious lion is tamed, mellowed with the aging of the year, softer. Clear light, free for now of smoke and dust, angled more and more from the south, bathed the afternoon, bringing out the best in the day. Even the rising north wind could not ruin the sweet moments.

Come late afternoon, dark northern skies had flowed south. Heavy clouds covered the sky, rain-laden clouds, their burden wrung loose by the twisting wind. Darkness and rain came together, heavy with a few bursts of lightening and snarls of thunder. The “equinoctial storm,” perhaps, although it came later than usual. This entire year has been off-kilter, so why not the traditional storms as well? No heavy weather here, just the token flash and grumble of a cold-front driven storm line buried in stratus, a reminder of what had come before.

Monday morning, Orion and the Seven Sisters glittered down, fresh-washed and hard in the hours before sunrise. They hovered just past the zenith, winter’s heralds. The morning smelled clean, and crisp, with a tease of smoke in the air. Come Friday, the fatty-rich perfume of piñon would arise from chimneys to proclaim the first frost’s coming.

The year turns, the stars pass in silent order. All is well.

Groundwater Users and the Future of the Ogallala

Short version – there are a lot of claims on the water under the plains, and a lot of ideas for what to do in the future. Some are more realistic than others.

Ted Turner – the Atlanta media and baseball team dude – talked about returning the High Plains (western area over the Ogallala Aquifer) to quasi-Ice Age status by seeding it with elephants, lions, and other African fauna sort of, kinda, like the Pleistocene megafauna. We will skip over the lack of ground water-fed springs and streams, the totally different precipitation patterns as compared to the last Ice Age, and a few other minor details. Let’s just say that his idea died the death it deserved. At least for now.

Another proposal, this from two professors at Rutgers, looked back to some of the New Deal programs and involved removing domestic livestock and crops from the region. Instead, a “Buffalo Commons” would allow bison to roam as they once had, and tourism and bison management would support the economy of the region, minus a lot of the current human residents. Again, the lack of surface water leaped to mind as a problem, along with the human tendency to dig in and hold when someone from Outside says, “I have a great idea. Let’s you leave and then we can . . .” There’s some value to some of the Poppers’ proposals, but also some big problems.

The Ogallala still has water. Some parts of the aquifer are getting thicker and gaining water. On average, among all the states on the Ogallala, 85% of the water taken out each year is used for irrigated agriculture. A good rule of thumb for an average year in southern Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and Texas is that one and a quarter acre-feet of water are needed per year per acre of water. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, more or less. This will cover one acre of land in one foot of water. The Oklahoma Panhandle, per the USDA (Ag department) has 230,000 acres of irrigated crop land. Those crops require, on average 290,000 a/f/y. Three-quarters of that is wheat and field corn, with another fifteen percent or so grain sorghum. In a wet year, irrigators use less. Dry year, more water, unless it is so bad that there’s no point in irrigating any longer. I’ve seen that. Even with super-efficient center-pivot systems, the blast-furnace wind evaporates the water before it touches the plants’ leaves, let alone the ground. You watch plants die before your eyes. Kiss lawns good-bye. Those years are rare, thanks be.

Flood-furrow irrigation uses the most water per acre in an average year, because it is less efficient.* It also requires a lot more attention by the farmer, and a lot fewer acres can be sloped the proper way for good flood-furrow watering. Water flows through pipes with holes in them, and flows out of the holes, down the furrows, and into a ditch or “tailwater” pit where it soaks into the ground. Each length of pipe runs for X time, and then the farmer turns off the water, moves the pipe by hand, and starts again. There’s a pretty high evaporative loss.

Center-pivot systems can be much more efficient if the newer technology is used. These are the giant sprinkler systems with nozzles that hang down below a central pipe on legs. The pipe rolls along, around and around a circle, and water sprays out. The ground doesn’t have to be as level. One farmer used 222 a/f/y on 245 acres in Kansas. When he switched to center pivot, that dropped to 155 a/f/y. You still lose water to evaporation, especially if it is windy or the nozzles are set too high in the air. A different Kanasas farmer switched from flood to sub-surface drip irrigation and went from between 10″ – 15″ of water per year to between three and a half and five inches per year. That’s a lot of water.

In some places, like western Kansas and parts of Texas, the depth to water has grown so deep that the cost of pumping it exceeds the value of the crops produced. Those acres are taken out of production for irrigated grain and turned into dry-land grain, or pasture. Yes, it uses far less water. You are also less likely to get a large grain crop, and the farms are larger, so fewer people live in the area. Small towns fade away along with the irrigated acreage. What is good for the individual is not always so good for the community.

However, irrigation tech and how people use the water are both far more efficient than they were twenty years ago. Better breeds of grain and other crops use less water, or are more salt tolerant, or both, so irrigation takes less water. Almost all the groundwater districts in all the states focus on best use for the water, and really encourage people to be as careful as possible. Ninety percent of farmers and ranchers are mindful of their water use, and try not to overdo it. Water is expensive! Fuel for pumps costs a lot, whether you use diesel or natural gas. Yes, there are people who don’t give a fig and pump as much as they can, devil take the hindmost. The water management districts have teeth (outside of Texas), and will take steps when legally possible to rein in the abuse.

Fifty years ago the Ogallala only had fifty years left at most. Today, well, it is still producing water. Water conservation is normal. Urban areas that depend on the aquifer try to encourage water conservation, although . . . It’s about as successful in some places as you’d fear. That’s one of my high-horses, so I will try to stay on the ground. Turf grass that’s not bred for your area, cities that demand lots of green and non-xeriscape plants around commercial properties, places that require close-clipped lawns (which use a lot more water in summer), swimming pools that are not covered when not in use, so evaporation goes on 24/7, all these things steal a lot more water than people think.

If people are careful, the aquifer still has a lot of life in it. If we are stupid, well, we can kiss the region’s economy bye-bye, and with it a bunch of food crops, and fiber as well.

*In some places, when done properly, flood-furrow is more efficient than center-pivot in terms of water use. A lot depends on the farmer, the humidity in the area, and what is being grown.

Sources:

This paper goes into some detail about efficiencies.

http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Oc-Po/Ogallala-Aquifer.html

This is a contrarian view, arguing that federal policies are killing the aquifer and doom awaits. It is possible, true.

Just basic info, from Oklahoma State University.

Groundwater Woes? Well, Where are You?

“The Ogallala Aquifer will be gone in fifty years!

“In twenty years!”

“The Ogallala recharges and has gained thickness over the past two years.”

Which of these is true? The answer is yes, depending on where you are, and what uses you are talking about. Because the Ogallala is very large, and exceedingly variable in thickness, surface-water access, and usage over the length and width of the formation. The climate shifts from north to south and east to west, adding further complications.

Original image from the USGS. Accessed at: https://civileats.com/2019/11/18/high-plains-farmers-race-to-save-the-ogallala-aquifer/

The Ogallala is a layer of sand and gravel that was deposited between two and six million years ago. Enormous rivers flowed off of the then-young Rocky Mountains, eroding the fast-rising peaks and dumping thick layers of sediment all over the plains to the east. this sediment remained loosely-packed and porous, even after it was covered in tens to hundreds of feet of soil and dust and sand. Because of water-resistant layers of stone underneath it, the Ogallala catches incoming surface water and acts as an aquifer. You can drill a well into it and bring up good, if somewhat mineral-laden, water that has been filtered by the sand and by time.

If you are up in the Nebraska Sandhills, on the northern end of the aquifer (the indigo-blue blob), rainfall and snowmelt sink into the formation, helping to recharge it. In some wet years, and some parts of the Sandhills, the aquifer will gain water and the water table rises to the surface. In dry years, when people have to pump a lot for their cattle and to irrigate fodder crops, the level drops.

Farther south, the thickness of the aquifer tapers off, and the climate is drier and warmer. Here, the use of the aquifer, especially since the invention of center-pivot irrigation in the 1950s, has dropped the level ten, fifty, hundreds of feet. Some counties in Kansas have reached a point where it is no longer cost effective to pump from the aquifer (depth to water of 600′ in a few places) and have reverted to pasture and to dryland crops. At the far tail end of the formation, near La Mesa, Texas, the aquifer was never thick to start with, and it hit close to bottom in the 1960s just from private and municipal wells.

Most of the area now has Groundwater Protection Districts that regulate consumption, either through voluntary mutual agreement, or force of law. It depends on the state, the state’s water-laws, and when the District came into being. Some Districts focus on keeping water in the ground for perpetuity, others are trying to slow draw-down so the water will run out no sooner than, oh, 2100 or so. Everyone agrees that conservation is needed, and is good, and that the more efficient use we can make of the water, the better off all of us on the aquifer are. It’s just how to do that, and what the best use of the water might be that we politely disagree over. OK, loudly disagree, with the occasional shoving match, especially when outsiders pop up and announce that they are going to drain the water and send it: downstate, out-of-the-state, or to The Big City. Nothing unifies people like a common enemy.

The main use for the water is farming. Watering crops, watering livestock, and processing livestock are major uses. A pork-packing plant was proposed for part of southwest Kansas back in the 1990s. It was denied permits because pork processing takes at least three times the water per carcass as does beef packing. Irrigation has come a long way in terms of efficiency, from the old flood-furrow system where farmers moved lengths of pipe by hand, poured water onto the soil and then moved the pipes again, to modern low-flow, low-height nozzle center-pivot systems, to in-ground drip irrigation with built in moisture meters that only release water when and where it is needed by the plants. The cost has risen with the complexity, but water use per acre has decreased markedly. The development of low-moisture hybrid wheats and other grains, plus some experimentation with arid-region grains such as teff, has further reduced the need for irrigation water per acre, at least in average to moist years.

People also drink the water, enjoy swimming in reservoirs, and complain about the flavor and what the mineral-rich water does to your teeth. (They are stronger, and slightly brown from the fluoride.) Lots of people, millions of people, who brush, and flush, and shower, and water lawns not designed for the climate, and wash cars, and build pools and . . .

Ahem. Sorry. The wandering soapbox jumped me. I have some personal beefs with open pools and blue-grass lawns in semi-arid places.

Since this is already getting long, on Friday I’ll continue and we’ll look at hard numbers, playa lakes and springs, and different thoughts about the future of the region.

(Edited to change date of part two. I wrote 5000+ words on Monday and my brain is numb.)

I Don’t Think She Noticed

A hummingbird was checking out a female Mississippi kite after the rain last Monday evening. Well, pestering and trying to intimidate looked more like it. I chuckled. The hummingbird finally settled on a not-to-near bare branch tip and kept an eye on the kite as the kite preened and dried out a little bit while waiting for the cicadas to emerge from hiding.

It was remarkably quiet out, actually. Quite nice. We’ve been getting about one good to decent rain a week, more or less, for a few weeks now. It’s not the average pattern for August, but rain is rain, and this part of the world almost always wants more. This rain came with a very strong cold front that dropped the temps into the low 60s as well as bucketing down rain. Low clouds hugged the tops of the trees. In other words, good weather for a natural redhead who wanted to take a walk before sunset.

As I returned from my stroll, I saw the hawk first. She was hard to miss, perched on the tip of a bare branch on the top of one of the tallest trees on the block, black against the slivery-grey sky like a bird-book illustration. The kites like this branch, so she wasn’t a surprise. I stopped, waiting for a car to creep through the intersection, and saw a dot of motion. The dot stopped and hung in mid-air, then backed away at the same elevation, advanced again, and darted around to the other side of the kite. She started working on one wing. The dot returned to its earlier spot in the middle of the air, then settled onto a lower branch tip.

The dot, a hummingbird, lifted off two or three more times as I watched, then settled in to stare at the kite, or do whatever he was doing. I smiled, laughed a little at the show, and finished my walk.

Cool and Early: The Grey Norther Arrives?

The blocking ridge of high pressure drifted back to the west on Friday and Saturday, shifting the flow of moisture and wind as it moved. Instead of southwest winds and mid-90s, the forecast called for the 80s and northeasterly breezes. And 80% chance of rain, which means 0%. It’s a regional rule of thumb that the higher the forecasters’ confidence, the lower the actual odds.

It sounded like the typical cool front that has been visiting the region for the past month, more or less, in other words. The High to the west steers Canadian air down and allows Gulf of Mexico moisture to come up. The combination means not as warm as average, and not as dry as average. We’re actually east of the true drought region, for a change. [taps wood]

Saturday was warm and muggy. You know, mid 90sF and dewpoints in the 60s. Not Houston or Mobile humid, but plenty sticky for this part of the world. Red spots began appearing on the radar in late afternoon, and the wind seemed to be switching from south to north-ish. The front was oozing through. The sky grew overcast, and sort of grey looking, but nothing really to write home about. And then the rain started around seven thirty that night.

It pounded, bucketed, gooshed, and drenched everything. The usual places had high water, as they usually do. I suspect the ball game got called a wee bit early, but I didn’t check. The storms had some thunder and lightning, but not as much as the spring monsters did. One or two went severe, then weakened to “frog strangler.” The house ended up getting 1.4″. The airport, which is the official reporting site for statistical purposes, got half an inch. A quick survey the next morning showed that it ranged from a two inch rain (drops two inches apart) to .58″ to 1.9″. If you were under a storm, you got a rain, in other words. That’s how this summer has been in general. We have not gotten a lot of the huge rain-shields that cover tens or hundreds of square miles. Instead we got smaller, mostly stationary storms that dumped water over a limited area. Or we got “trains,” long chains of storms that covered the same area as they moved through, sort of like the path of the tornado outbreak in the early spring.

Sunday the sky got brighter but never really cleared. A very misty tropical rain started just after one, as I sat on the floor in the front room, surrounded by papers, shoeboxes, a garbage bag, and other evidence of sorting in progress. No wind moved the rain or the trees. That ended after an hour or so and left almost another .10″ in the rain gauge. The midnight temperature on Sunday was 73F, and had dropped to 71 by 0700. After the rain, a strong northeast wind began blowing, and the temperature continued to fall to 64F by 1600. I went walking and greatly enjoyed the refreshing change.

Sunday-Monday the low dropped to 62F with the north wind, so I aired out the house for the first time in weeks. The dewpoint also dropped. On Tuesday, I woke at 0530 to light westerly winds, a dewpoint of 40, and a temperature of 60. Wheeeeee! That’s the driest this area has been since May. You bet I was out and about enjoying the pre-dawn chill. I also opened all the windows and screen-doors to let as much cool, dry into the place as possible.

Heat will return, and humidity. But this is the warning shot across summer’s bow. Slowly, more and stronger cold fronts will race down from Canada, then from Siberia. The days grow shorter, the sycamore trees are dropping bark, the sun moves south. Summer is not over, no. But it is starting to stagger and weaken. Orion dominates the pre-dawn sky. We’re entering the fat season, harvest and canning season.

High Pressure Low Pressure

You’ve been researching an area’s weather and climate too long . . . when you can reconstruct the weather systems (highs, lows, frontal passage) by reading the complaints about wind and lack there of in ranch records from the late 1800s early 1900s.

High pressure, low presure, or fixin' to blow up a storm. Photo by Michael Lapoint.

High pressure, low pressure, or fixin’ to blow up a storm. Photo by Michael Lapoint.

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