Tag Archives: Hurricane Harvey

This place is for the birds

HIGH ISLAND, Texas — I’m officially mad at myself.

My wife, sons and I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast for nearly 11 years and we never visited this place. It’s the Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island, about 40 or so miles from Beaumont.

It also is one of the premier “birding” sites on Earth. That’s right. One of the best in the world! People come from all across the world to see this place.

My wife and I visited this oasis with friends; a couple of our friends visited briefly with a visitor from Maine, who happened the know the species of a particular bird that caught our eye. She’d never been to Smith Oaks, but knew the bird’s identity.

The rookery stood in the path of Hurricane Harvey this past summer. It suffered some damage. The fresh water turned brackish because of the storm surge that swept ashore from the Gulf of Mexico.

On this day, though, it was full of birds. Herons, spoonbills, cormorants, egrets. They were everywhere. This happens to be the nesting period. Birds were building nests. Some were tending to and feeding young birds.

What a wonderful sight to see!

If you look at the picture I posted with this brief item, you’ll notice an alligator at the water’s edge. The beast looked to be about a 10-footer. He was one of two prehistoric creatures we saw lounging in the 70-degree sunshine.

The rookery is sponsored by the Houston Audoban Society. You pay a small fee to enter it. I’ll just say this right here: It is money well spent.

I need to ask myself now: Why in the world did we never visit this place when we lived just down the road?

I suppose it isn’t that uncommon to take for granted nature’s treasures that sit just beyond our doorstep. So, we had to drive here all the way from the other corner of this huge state to take in a natural wonder.

Harvey’s impact will be felt for a long time

BEAUMONT, Texas — Here’s the buzz my wife and I are getting while visiting friends in the Golden Triangle: Hurricane Harvey left a lasting — but not indelible — impact on this region.

We’re hearing that many neighborhoods remain under repair. The Northwest Forest neighborhood west of the city is “like a Third World country.” Streets are under repair. We noticed huge slash piles of brush stacked up under tall timber along Interstate 10 as we entered the city.

But the city will fight its way back.

Hurricane Harvey stormed ashore for a second blast in the late summer of 2017, dumping a record-setting 50 inches of rain in a 24-hour span of time. It deluged the city water system. Two of our friends told us of being without water for more than a week, while the electricity was restored in short order.

“Riverfront Park is destroyed,” we were told. The park used to be a site of outdoor activities next to the Civic Center along the Neches River. It’s now gone.

We all have read about huge fundraising efforts ongoing to assist the folks in Houston, about 80 miles west of the Golden Triangle on Interstate 10. Houston Texas all-pro defensive end J.J. Watt has become an iconic figure in the Bayou City for his work raising more than a quarter-billion dollars to assist in the repair of Texas’s largest city.

Yes, Houston needs help. The state and the federal government have stepped up to lend disaster assistance.

The pain stretches a good bit beyond the big city. Beaumont is feeling the pain brought by the storm’s rage.

I have no doubt that our friends in the Golden Triangle will recover. They will triumph. They will get on with their lives.

I’m betting, though, they’ll never listen again to the sound of rain with the same serenity it used to bring.

Harvey’s footprint remains huge

VILLAGE CREEK STATE PARK, Texas –– I knew it before we got here. But to see it up close still reminds me of just how powerful nature’s wrath can be.

Hurricane Harvey stormed ashore for a second time along the upper Gulf Coast in the summer of 2017. It had blown in earlier over the Coastal Bend, wiping out neighborhoods with high wind and storm surge.

The storm backed away over the Gulf of Mexico and then returned over Houston and the Golden Triangle with — shall we say — a record-setting deluge. It totaled 50 inches in a 24-hour span of time, which is the greatest single-day downpour in continental U.S. history.

Harvey’s footprint remains all over the Golden Triangle. We arrived at Village Creek State Park — just north of Beaumont — hoping to hike the trails and enjoy the sights and smells of the Big Thicket. No can do, we were told by the park staff. All the trails remained closed.

The storm inundated the park. It damaged the trails. It made them impossible to trek.

The Big Thicket National Preserve just a few miles north of us are OK, the state park staff told us.

It’s good to be back where we once lived for nearly 11 years before moving to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995.

My heart broke during Harvey’s assault on the Golden Triangle. Many of our friends suffered from the storm’s wrath, if not from actual flooding and the damage it brought to their property, but from the terror they clearly must have felt during that terrible time.

We’ll get to catch up with some of them. We might even hear their tales of struggle and triumph.

Happy Trails, Part 92

LOCKHART STATE PARK, Texas — We are glass half-full types of people. My wife and I have tried to live that way for our entire life together, which totals more than 46 years.

Thus, it is with that optimistic outlook that we ponder what could have been a catastrophe, but which turned out to be only a minor hiccup on our retirement journey.

We ventured to San Angelo State Park a few days ago. As we approached the park, about 30 miles from our first night’s destination, we made a sharp left turn across the median on U.S. 87.

The steering wheel locked up. The brakes weren’t nearly as responsive as they should have been. We limped across the highway and onto the parking lot of a state rest area.

I noticed at that moment the water temperature gauge on the dashboard was registering “very hot.” We managed to get the truck — with our fifth wheel in tow — to a spot out of the way, next to a curb.

We spent the night in the rest area. We got the truck repaired the next day and proceeded to the state park.

Why is this good news? Because what happened to us about 30 miles from our destination could have happened in the middle of nowhere. It could have happened, say, in the middle of the Eisenhower Tunnel just west of Denver; it could have occurred on the bridge crossing Lake Pontchartrain west of New Orleans; it could have happened in the middle of the Nevada desert, or in some remote area of southern California.

That it happened at a well-lit rest area in West Texas just a few miles northwest of a significant city — San Angelo — sent us a clear message that we should count our blessings.

We do that. Every day. We are blessed with sons who make us proud; our health is good; we sold our house in a timely fashion; we are enjoying our freedom and mobility.

Our pickup difficulty only slowed us part of a single day. We have proceeded to Central Texas. We will head soon to the Golden Triangle to catch up with friends who were bedeviled by nature’s fury, which came to them this past summer in the form of Hurricane Harvey. Then we’ll head for the Metroplex to visit with our granddaughter, her brothers and her parents.

It could have gone a lot worse than it did on that first day of our latest sojourn.

We must be living right.

Texas GOP is at war with itself

I never have thought of Greg Abbott of being such an intraparty back-stabber.

But what the heck. The Texas governor is now in open political warfare with a fellow Republican, state Rep. Sarah Davis. He has been running attack ads against Davis, who in turn said she cannot commit to voting for Abbott in the upcoming March Republican primary.

Davis chairs the Texas House General Investigating and Ethics Committee. She criticized Abbott for failing to consider ethics reform in a special session this past summer. Abbott took it personally, I guess.

So he’s been campaigning against Davis, R-West University Place.

This is a rare event. Governors are not known generally as waging battle against politicians from their party. Abbott has tossed that tradition aside by endorsing Davis’s opponent in the GOP primary, Susanna Dokupil.

The anti-Davis ads accuse the incumbent lawmaker of opposing Hurricane Harvey relief and supporting late-term abortions.

This is brutal, yes?

I was out of daily journalism when Greg Abbott was first elected governor. I knew him when he was running for the Texas Supreme Court and later for state attorney general. I always found him to be a cordial gentleman.

He is showing another side of himself as he runs for re-election as governor. To be candid, it’s rather unflattering.

Always time to thank first responders

Not quite five years ago I posted an item on High Plains Blogger that thanked the first responders who helped Amarillo cope with a massive snow storm.

This year, we haven’t been through that particular form of discomfort. Our first responders haven’t been pulling motorists out of snow drifts, or worked day and night to restore electrical power.

Others, though, have been busy fighting grassfires that erupt in the wind and bone-dry conditions that have signaled the return of severe drought conditions to the Texas Panhandle.

A special word of thanks goes out today

I’ve noted before in this venue about how we should always appreciate the work of those who answer the call when times get tough.

The Texas Gulf Coast has been through an epic deluge created by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. The 2017 hurricane season also brought destruction and misery to Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. California residents — from Napa Valley to Santa Barbara — have been victimized by raging flames. Americans throughout the Upper Midwest to the East Coast this winter have been battling unspeakable cold, wind, snow and sleet. So has the Deep South, which has seen record cold.

They, too, depend on those first responders to lend aid, comfort and support.

I am absolutely certain they appreciate all the hard work that goes into their protection.

This is my way of offering yet another word of thanks to the men and women who sign on to rush toward hazard — even danger — on our behalf.

I am grateful to have been spared the monstrous snow event that we’ve witnessed during our 23 years on the Texas High Plains. Yes, I want some moisture to fall from the sky — just not in the amount that poured forth in February 2013.

Our firefighters, police officers, utility crews, emergency medical personnel deserve our thanks always. We need not wait for disaster to visit for us to express appreciation for all that they do.

NFL does well with its Man of Year selection

I don’t normally get excited about pro football awards.

This year is different. The National Football League today announced its Walter Payton Man of the Year award. It goes to someone I just knew would get it: J.J. Watt, the standout defensive end for the Houston Texans.

What did Watt do to earn this honor, named after the late Walter Payton, the Hall of Fame running back and one of the great all-round great gentlemen of all pro sports?

Watt decided to launch a fundraising effort to help victims of his adopted hometown of Houston, after the wrath it suffered from Hurricane Harvey. He set a modest goal of $250,000.

Uh, Watt finished with a lot more than that. He ended up raising a cool $37 million for the waterlogged residents of Houston, whose homes were destroyed by the epic rainfall.

J.J. Watt is a tremendous athlete. I am delighted to know that the NFL has recognized him for possessing a tremendous heart.

Many of us far away from the coast saw this award coming. Our hearts were broken when Harvey came ashore not once, but twice along the Texas Gulf Coast. It pounded the Coastal Bend with killer winds and storm surge, then backed away from the coast and returned as a tropical storm.

It was on its second visit to the coast that Harvey did its damage to Houston and to the Golden Triangle, just east of the big city.

J.J. Watt stepped up in a big-time way to raise money for those victims — and has richly earned the title of the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.

Well done, young man. I would bet that Walter Payton, the man they called “Sweetness,” would be proud of you, too.

Remember when Texas was awash in water?

Mother Nature is so darn fickle.

It was just a year ago when Texas was in the midst of a drenching. Rain soaked the landscape from the Panhandle to the Rolling Plains. The snowfall early in 2017 was welcome, too. The first half of the year brought ample moisture, pleasing our farmers and ranchers to no end.

Then came Hurricane Harvey’s one-two punch along the coast; it arrived as a hurricane and pounded the Coastal Bend with storm surge and heavy wind and returned a few days later as a tropical storm and inundated Houston and the Golden Triangle under 50 inches of rain.

The Texas drought was over! Or so the National Weather Service proclaimed.

Hold on a minute. What happened?

It stopped raining in the Panhandle. Around 40 percent of the state is undergoing moderate to severe drought. The Panhandle has been dry for 107 straight days and is approaching an all-time dryness record, which was set in — gulp! — 1902.

As the Texas Tribune reports: The Texas Panhandle has become ground zero in a drought that has crept into much of the state just five months after Hurricane Harvey — including areas that suffered massive flooding during the storm.

When he was governor of Texas, Rick Perry said it would be helpful if Texans would pray for rain. The 2011 drought was a punishing event and the governor sought to look toward the heavens for relief.

It came eventually. Did the prayer help? It’s equally tough to prove or deny categorically. We are left, then, only to believe.

With that, perhaps it’s time we sought help once again from the Almighty.

Climate change made Harvey wreckage worse? Who knew?

Imagine my (non)surprise to read that independent analyses have concluded that climate change likely worsened the misery that Hurricane Harvey brought this summer to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The rainfall that inundated the coast totaled 50 inches in a 24-hour period; it set a continental U.S. record for most rain to fall during a single day.

Get a load of this: Researchers say that climate change — or you can call it “global warming” — worsened the rainfall by about 15 percent.

Not that a 15-percent increase created the tragedy that brought so much suffering to Houston, the Coastal Bend and the Golden Triangle. A 40-inch rainfall would have done plenty of damage, too … correct?

According to the Texas Tribune: ” … two independent research teams, one based in The Netherlands and the other in California, reported that the deluge from Hurricane Harvey was significantly heavier than it would have been before the era of human-caused global warming. One paper put the best estimate of the increase in precipitation at 15 percent. The other said climate change increased rainfall by 19 percent at least, with a best estimate of 38 percent.”

Read the Tribune story here.

However, the federal government keeps insisting that climate change is a “hoax,” that it’s a made-up creation of “fake news” and the Chinese government, which is trying to undermine the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

It’s no hoax. We can debate its cause. I happen to believe human activity has contributed to climate change. To call it a phony story, though, puts millions of Americans in extreme peril.

Heroes are answering the call again

Here we go yet again.

Fires explode across tens of thousands of acres, driven great distances by hurricane-force winds. Homes are incinerated. People’s lives are put in extreme jeopardy. Prized possessions vanish in the extreme heat.

Who answers the call to help? The firefighters, police, emergency medical personnel. That’s who.

It’s happening yet again in southern California. Those dreaded Santa Ana winds are devastating a region and imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.

It should go without saying, but these men and women are the truest heroes imaginable. They run into the firestorm. They fight these unspeakable forces from the air and on the ground. They expose themselves to heat, flame, smoke and utter exhaustion.

And then we have neighbors helping neighbors. They, too, deserve our prayers and good wishes as they all — every one of them — battle to save what they can against forces far stronger than anything they can ever hope to control.

This has been a tough year for so many Americans. The Texas Gulf Coast and Florida are still battling to recover from the savagery of hurricane wind and rain. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands residents cannot yet get full power and potable water restored after enduring their own misery from yet another storm.

The Santa Rosa fires up north from the inferno that is engulfing southern California at this moment brought their own measure of agony to beleaguered residents and the responders who rushed to their aid.

We should salute them all. We should pray for their safety. We should hope for as speedy a recovery as is humanly possible.

Thank you, heroes. All of you make the rest of us so proud.