Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Size matters when it comes to Texas weather

Texas weather is a constant topic of conversation, especially among Texans, but recently I’ve seen some out-of-state folks wig out about it.

September saw its share of killer storms, particularly on the Texas coast, and by the way we all reacted around Fort Hood when Hurricane Ike was on its way in 2008, you would have thought we were sitting on Galveston Bay. People bought every loaf of bread at one Killeen grocery store on the night before the storm. I was toodling around there with my shopping cart looking for croissants and orange juice for Saturday morning when one woman stopped me.

“Aren’t you worried you won’t have enough food when the storm hits?” she asked with clear panic registering in her eyes.

“Ma’am, according to what I’ve seen, we’ll be lucky if we even see a storm cloud in this area,” I replied. “I would love to get some of the rain Ike’s bringing, but frankly, I don’t think we’ll get a drop.”

I’m pleased to say I was right.

Texas is a really BIG place. And when I say “big,” I mean MASSIVE. Most of Europe would fit inside our great state. So I assure you, we were in very little danger of experiencing much more than the spittle we got when Ike blew through. We’re a good 245 miles from Seawall Boulevard. That’s more than a 4-hour drive, give or take a pit stop here and there.

Having said all that, I gambled and won this time. Next time, I might not be so lucky, because, in Texas, the weather turns on a dime. Ike could have gone west as easily as it went north and then east. We stood the risk of power outages, damage and flooding, but not on the massive and frightening scale experienced by our Gulf Coast cousins.

The weather changes rapidly here and it doesn’t much care what we think of it. It is often said by Texans that if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change. And predicting it is as much hillbilly hoodoo as it is science. October is a prime time to test this theory. It’s a month that can’t decide if it wants to be summer or winter. One day will be blazing hot and the next will be a chilly 40 degrees and rainy. And March in Texas is more of the same. One day the flowers are blooming; the next day, a frost has killed them. And sometimes it happens within a 24-hour span.

We have a tornado once in awhile in the spring and flooding is a concern any time it rains. Ice storms are a big threat in the winter and the threat doesn’t stop until about the first week in April. In 2007, it snowed on Easter weekend in Texas and we have had more 75-degree Christmas Days than I care to remember. Need I say more?
If you talk “global warming” to a Texan, they are likely to look at you like you’ve got lobsters crawling out of your nose. Warming? Let’s talk global HEAT! It’s so hot that a college professor of mine once said had it not been for air conditioning, Texas never would have been civilized. I hate to admit it (he was from New York), but he probably was right.

Geography does figure in our constant climatic change. If it rains in Temple, it might not be raining here. Or we can get a frog strangler over this way, and Belton will not see a drop. It can be 98 degrees in Austin and 60 degrees in Amarillo, way up in the Panhandle of Texas on the very same day.

We’re not a tiny state like New Jersey that has fairly consistent weather from border to border and it takes about 8 hours to drive across only because the traffic is so balled up from point A to point B. Oh no sir. It’s closer to drive to Galveston than it is to Fort Bliss from here. El Paso is a good 589 miles and 9 hours drive. The distance from Chicago to Tyler only is about 168 miles further than the distance from El Paso to Tyler, so you can see why Gulf Coast weather is hardly a reason for Central Texas to so much as blink.

So how do non-Texans make sense of all this? Do what the native Texans do: get a weather rock. If the rock is wet, it’s raining. If it’s dry, it’s not. If the rock is white, it’s snowing. And if the rock is gone, it’s a tornado. You can’t get much simpler than that.

First printed in The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2008.

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