Tag Archives: weather

Hunkering Down and Riding It Out

I consider myself a Houstonian. I was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and that town will always have a special place in my heart, but I was raised in the Houston area, so this is where I consider home. Having lived most of my life in this area, I have been exposed to the peculiarities of Houston weather, from the boiling hot summers where you can literally cook and egg on the sidewalk (cook it, not eat it) to the days where all four seasons compete for attention with rain, snow, and heat all within the same twelve hours. I have worked outside in the summer of the drought where we had more than 90 consecutive days of heat in excess of 100 degrees and during the few days in winter where snow actually fell and accumulated enough to build small snowmen. In all my time here, I have also had my fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms and it never fails to impress me just how stupid people get in the face of extreme weather. Just one trip to the store this week demonstrates just how little people think when faced with the unusual.

The first serious storm I can remember is hurricane Alicia back in 1983. I was 18, I think. We lost power for a few days and several branches littered the yard and the street. I don’t remember that we flooded during that time. It was a few weeks after Alicia that several tornados came through and took down a tree in our yard, laying it across the breezeway of the house. I remember a neighbor was a construction contractor and he had a work crew up on his roof during the height of the storm repairing his roof damage. During that storm, bottled water wasn’t a thing and I don’t remember my mother raiding the stores for 15 loaves of bread or 12 cases of canned goods, yet we had food to eat and plenty to drink.

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita threatened was the first time I noticed the fear mongering on the TV. Weather forecasters began crying for people to get out of town. It was the first time I saw people panicking about the weather. It was the first time I experienced people rushing the stores and gas stations. There were lines for miles to get into the gas stations. Somehow, I managed to weather the storm without ransacking the local Kroger.

During hurricane Ike in 2008, people panicked again. This is not to say there was no cause for concern. Many people ended up losing their homes in that storm and thousands were without power for weeks. This is the reason for hurricane preparedness plans, so people can have a plan for what to do in the event of a serious tropical storm. I have a plan, too, it just doesn’t involve loading multiple shopping carts. There’s nothing wrong with buying provisions, but It’s the people who clear store shelves that just bother me.

Think, people! It’s not like there will never be water or bread ever again. The stores will restock. The most serious storms have effects lasting a week or two tops. There’s no need for one person to buy every loaf of bread on the shelf. People dragging three shopping carts loaded for bear to the register is ridiculous. I try to limit my normal grocery shopping to no more than once a week. It helps with managing my budget to buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time. If I have a week’s worth, then I should be fine for any storm that comes along, since the effects will probably only last a week. I see no need to have 10 loaves of bread going stale or moldy on my counter, or having three cases of bottled water taking up space in my pantry, especially when I have filtered water in my fridge and I don’t drink much water anyway, or having so many canned goods in my pantry that I could open a food bank.

Hurricane Harvey is currently bearing down on the Texas coast and the weather prognosticators are predicting flooding as bad or worse than Allison and winds worse than Ike. The news is saying it will be the most severe storm to hit America in years. This is drumming up a panic in the population just like they did for Katrina, Rita and Ike, particularly in those who have moved into the area since Ike and who haven’t experienced such a storm. The news is about to go into 24 hour storm watch mode, preempting normal programming for the duration of the storm, or until everyone loses power. Either way, I have a week’s worth of non-perishable food, plenty of water, candles, and batteries for my flashlights. If this one turns out to be worse than Ike, I can still evacuate. My readiness plans account for that eventuality too. This comes from being a Houstonian and having survived several tropical storms and hurricanes in my day. That, and having the ability to think.

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Chilled to the Bone

Frozen evergreens in Bavaria

The temperature here is approaching record lows for the day and the media is stirring up the panic about freezing pipes and school closings and traffic snarls. Makes one miss the days when the weather report said “it’s going to snow tomorrow and temps will stay below freezing throughout the week. When we come back from the break, Joe Smith will have the latest sports scores.” Instead, we get sensationalized reports designed to evoke fear. Ah the good old days. It doesn’t help matters when the power company does rolling blackouts because they say the power drain is too great (which is a complete fabrication since Texas has the most robust power grid in the country).

I have lived in Houston since 1977 (aside from 9 years in the army and 6 years in Arkansas) and I have seen all kinds of weather from hot to hotter. I have always said that Houston has a 9-month summer, a 2-month spring, a 3-week autumn and a 5-day winter. Even in that 5-day winter, it has gotten bitter cold at times; there has even been snowfall. Usually once every seven years, about a half-inch of snow might accumulate—not enough for a snowman, but good enough for a short snowball fight.

Perhaps that is why I love travelling where snow falls. Last month, I spent four days in Philadelphia where I got to enjoy snow and, a few years ago, I was in Chicago for the first snowfall of the season and on occasion, I can manage to be in Little Rock when its annual snow fall happens. This is not to say I can’t handle the heat, quite the contrary, I have been a Houstonian long enough to acclimate to almost any climate. I went to Las Vegas in the heat of July (and it’s a dry heat that will suck the moisture out of you real quick) and I have been buried in the snow in sub-zero temperatures in Germany.

When I was in the army, I was a medic in an infantry battalion and my job was to provide medical coverage for training exercises. One time I was covering a night fire exercise in my two-and-a-half-ton (deuce-n-half) truck after installing a cab heater. Only medical trucks got to have cab heaters so our IV fluids (and our butts) wouldn’t freeze. It was scheduled to get to 20 below that night and the platoon leader had taken the necessary precautions with a warm up tent for the troops and other steps to prevent cold-weather injuries (except, of course the most obvious one which was to cancel the fool exercise and go home). After I had been sitting in the cab with the heater going and reading my book (there wasn’t much else for the medic to do if no one was hurt) someone came up to the truck. I opened the door and stepped down to the running board. In just that amount of time, the moisture in the fabric of my trousers froze so that they frosted and crackled as I stepped down to the ground. It was so cold that a cup of water thrown into the air would freeze before hitting the ground.

Another time, I was covering a field training exercise and I was in a squad tent with 6 soldiers when the snow began. As a medic, I had a thermal blanket in my medical kit that I wrapped up in inside of my sleeping bag which kept me toasty warm that night. It was so cold that night that the diesel fuel in the stove froze. The next morning, we literally had to dig our way out of the snow. Only the very tip of our tent was visible sticking out of this huge mound of white powder.

I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I would probably get tired of snow if I lived somewhere that dealt with large amounts of the stuff on a regular basis, but speaking as a Houstonian, I just love snow. Give me more snow. Bring it on! But please don’t turn off the power when it happens. It’s just cold weather. It happens every year. There is no need to panic about it so just chill out.

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