Tag Archives: Panhandle drought

Spring still the best time of year, but then there’s this

AMARILLO, Texas — I do enjoy the spring season each year. It is especially glorious on the High Plains of Texas, which can be subject to winter brutality. Barren trees, biting cold wind, snow that traps even the sturdiest of motor vehicles.

Then again, there’s the fall on the High Plains, which isn’t bad, either. We came back to Amarillo for a weekend, took a stroll around Medi Park Lake with our precious Toby the Puppy. The sun was bright. The leaves are turning colors.

And the lake is full!

Indeed, the lake we saw today is as healthy — if not healthier — than any time I’ve laid eyes on it. It’s been quite a few times, given that we lived in Amarillo for 23 years. I have seen Medi Park Lake dwindle to near-puddle status. Today? It’s brimming. The Canada geese are finding their way back during their winter migration; indeed, I wonder at times which of the geese we see at this time of the year in Amarillo are returning fowl. Hey, my mind wanders on occasion.

Water is rushing along culverts into the lake and then flowing beyond it, under Ninth Avenue and to points north.

It does amaze me how cyclical certain matters can become. You cannot predict it will happen. It just does.

Not that many years ago, Amarillo residents — along with city utilities officials — were wringing their hands as the city struggled through a punishing drought. Lake Meredith, about 50 miles north in Hutchinson County, had dropped to dangerously low levels, about 26 feet; the lake’s historic high was slightly more than 100 feet, dating back to the early 1970s. Amarillo relies on water from Lake Meredith, but then it couldn’t rely on the reservoir to quench the city’s thirst.

Wells got dug. The city pumped water out of the Ogallala Aquifer. The municipal water authority stopped pumping water out of Lake Meredith because the pipes were no longer underwater!

That’s changed. Lake Meredith has rebounded. Its level is something north of 72 feet. Ute Lake authorities upriver in New Mexico released water into the Canadian River, providing flow into Lake Meredith.

On this day, we enjoyed a brisk autumn morning walk around Medi Park Lake. The very sight of a healthy body of water is enough to make me almost consider autumn to be my favorite time of the year.

I still love springtime the best, as we come out of that dark, barren winter. In the Panhandle, it can get damn cold. You know?

Words of wisdom

Water fuels the region, state economy

It’s been said for more than a century that the Spindletop oil boom in the Golden Triangle fueled the Texas economy. Pattillo Higgins’s gusher signaled a boom that knew no equal at the time.

That was then and there … way down yonder. Way up on the High Plains, water has been the fuel that runs the economic engine. On two, maybe three levels at that.

It irrigates our crops, giving farmers commodities to harvest and to feed the cattle that graze on the ranch land. It also quenches the thirst of we human beings who live here. And, yes, it provides recreational opportunities at places like, oh, Lake Meredith.

The lake’s national recreation area has recovered quite nicely from the bad ol’ days when the lake levels dropped to around 26 feet. Lake Meredith now stands at about 75 feet, attracting boaters, campers, fishermen and women, hikers, bikers, horseback riders.

Man, life is good at Lake Meredith these days.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reports: For the sixth consecutive year, the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area saw an increase in total visitor spending, job creation and economic output. There’s a direct correlation between the amount of people coming to the park and the amount of water in the lake, said Paul Jones, chief park ranger.

Last year, 1.329 million people came to the lake to boat or fish or camp, according to a new report from the National Park Service. Jones, who has worked at Lake Meredith for 20 years, said, “back in the ’80s, it was rockin’.” He said it was common for 1.5 million visitors to trek to the lake annually.

Then the drought started, water levels dropped and crowds dried up.

The water has returned. So have the crowds. This spells good fortune for the Texas Panhandle.

Where did the water originate? We had a wetter-than-normal year in 2017, despite the dryness of the fourth quarter of the year. The front of the year produced enough precipitation upriver along the Canadian River to allow release of water from Ute Lake Dam, N.M., which then flowed into Lake Meredith.

To be honest, the shocking receding of water levels in 2011 gave me pause to wonder if the lake ever could recover. Silly me. My concern was misplaced.

One more thing: The value of water to our region’s economy — from agricultural, human consumption and recreational aspects — should tell us all that we need to protect it, guard it, cherish it for future generations to enjoy … and survive.

Rain is no longer an annoyance

There once was a time when I hated the rain.

I lived in a city, Portland, Ore., where it rains constantly. I grew up there. I detested the endless drizzle.

Then I got married and moved eventually to Texas. We lived first in Beaumont, along the Gulf Coast, where it rains a lot, too. There, though, the rain comes in furious bursts. Then the sun would come out. So would the humidity. Ugghh!

After a while we moved to the Texas Panhandle, where it rains a lot less. Of late, the Panhandle has received even less than that, which is to say it’s been tinder-dry here. We’ve had one day of measurable rain since October 2017.

Today, though, we received another healthy dose of measurable precipitation. More is on the way, along with some thunder and lightning, or so we are being told by the TV weather forecasters. Hey, they got this one right. I’ll accept their projections for the next day or so.

The rain we’re getting through the night and into the next day won’t do a thing to break the drought we’ve endured for the past six months. It’s a bit strange to recall that a year ago at this time the Panhandle was being drenched. The playas were filling up. Farmers were grinning from ear to ear; so were the ranchers who watched their cattle fatten up with the rich harvest of grass and grain the rain produced.

Then it stopped. We finished 2017 with nary a drop of precipitation, even though the first half of the year enabled us to nearly double our annual average rate of rain and snowfall.

Here we are today. The rain is falling. It’s coming in fits and starts.

I no longer hate the rain. It brings a sense of comfort.

Weird, eh?

Praying for sun gives way to praying for rain

There once was a time — long ago! — when rain drove me nuts. It made me stir-crazy. I suffered cabin fever because it rained constantly in my hometown of Portland, Ore.

I took a couple of years away from home to serve in the U.S. Army; my hitch took me to Vietnam, where it also rains a good bit of the time.

I got married not long after I returned home. My wife, sons and I eventually moved to Texas; our first stop was in Beaumont, which also gets a good bit of rain. Then my wife and I moved to Amarillo, where, um, it doesn’t rain so much.

We are now in the midst of a drought. It’s been months on end since we had any measurable moisture.

I no longer pray for sunshine. I now pray for rain. I am doing so this evening. The weather forecasters are telling us we can expect some rain tomorrow.

I hope they’re right. Oh, brother, I want them to be correct.

I’ve written on this subject before.

This isn't the Dust Bowl, but …

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself. Still, it bears repeating. The Texas Panhandle doesn’t get a lot of rain annually, only about 20 inches — give or take. This year we’ve got to go some if we’re going to reach our annual average.

The region is quite dependent on agriculture, which quite naturally requires water. Those dry land farmers who don’t pump groundwater to irrigate their crops rely exclusively on the sky to bring rainfall to them. Five-plus months of no measurable “precip” has deprived them of their income — and their ability to produce food that ends up on our dinner tables.

My outlook about rain has changed dramatically since my boyhood. I griped so much about the rain I drove my parents — chiefly my dad — to near madness.

With all of that said, I think I’ll wait — and hope — that the Texas Panhandle gets wet.

Giving thanks once more for local heroes

I cannot say this enough, so forgive me if you have heard this before.

Our firefighters and other first responders continue to amaze me. I am grateful beyond measure for the work they do, the service they provide and the protection they provide to the community they swear to protect.

Some wildfires erupted west of Amarillo last night. The wind was merciless, relentless and unforgiving. The people who ran straight toward the potential danger kicked into high-gear action immediately.

Amarillo and Potter County fire crews were able to contain the blazes in fairly quick fashion.

It occurs to me that these folks are pretty damn good at this firefighting stuff. No, they’re real good at it.

We toss the “hero” term around a bit too loosely. We hang the label on athletes. We’ve actually called actors over many years “heroes” because they portray them on film or TV. I prefer the term “role model” to describe athletes’ public standing. I’ll leave that discussion at that.

As for actual heroes, they work for us, for you and me. They are public servants. Some of them don’t even get paid for their heroism. They are the volunteer firefighters who often serve in the rural communities surrounding Amarillo. They have day jobs but choose to respond when the fire alarm goes off — at which time they rush into harm’s way.

They do this to protect us. They shield us from the dangers that fire presents. These days that danger is heightened by the dual factors of high wind and lack of moisture. I cannot even remember the last time it rained in our community.

One more time — and it won’t be the final time — I want to extend a public thank you to the men and women who answer the call on our behalf. You are heroes. We all appreciate you.

Happy Trails, Part 84

My faith in our first responders remains strong.

They answered the call last night and fought some wildfires just west of Amarillo. The fire, fueled by howling wind and tinder-dry fuel, for a time threatened portions of the vast medical center way out yonder.

I awoke this morning and learned that the fires had been contained; no loss of life or even any injury. The wind is still brisk and the TV forecasters are telling us they’ll subside sometime this afternoon or evening.

It cannot settle down quickly enough.

Thank you, firefighters. You are heroes in every sense of the word.

***

There. That all said — with great sincerity and respect — I want to share a nasty “fantasy” I’m feeling.

The other evening, with the wind screaming just outside our RV, I had this nightmare scenario. We’re about a quarter-mile south of a high-speed freight rail line. Trains roar past us day and night. The TV weathermen and women tell us about the sparks generated by trains and the potential for starting fires.

The nightmare goes like this: We’re lying in bed. Someone knocks on our fifth wheel door. We open it. The park hosts tell us we have 10 minutes to vacate our spot and get as far away from an approaching fire that has just ignited along the rail line to our north.

Don’t laugh! Please!

I am now thinking it might be appropriate for my wife and me to come up with a 10-minute evacuation drill in case someone knocks on the door in the middle of the night.

Either that or we’ll pack it all up on our own time — and head to the next place.

The latter event is far more likely to occur than the first one.

This is what the Dust Bowl looked like?

Dust Bowl, anyone?

What you see here is a picture I snapped this evening looking west from where we are living. The wind is howling. The weather apps on my cell phone and my wife’s cell phone tell us it’ll keep howling through the night and into the next day.

This picture frightens me a bit.

I am not going to equate what we’re seeing here in 2018 to what Texas Panhandle witnessed in the 1930s, when hideously ignorant farming practices coupled with a severe drought created the nation’s worst-ever man-made environmental disaster.

Ken Burns’s documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” told that story in a gripping series that aired on Panhandle PBS a couple years ago. Elderly residents who lived through the Dust Bowl as children recalled watching their siblings and young friends die of “dust pneumonia.” They talked about how they either fled the High Plains or remained to rebuild their lives destroyed by Mother Nature’s merciless wrath.

Are we heading for another catastrophe? No. I don’t intend to suggest such a thing.

The picture I have posted with this blog item, though, intends to illustrate that we are getting a touch — perhaps only a smidgen — of what this region’s ancestors endured during a much darker time.

We all are ready for some rain.

Stay safe, firefighters … and thank you

I’ve already posted a recent blog item that talks a bit about the value of prayer as the Texas Panhandle battles through this latest punishing drought.

I feel the need now to offer a word of support, thanks and good wishes for some men and women, many of whom are volunteering their time to protect us from raging flames.

We’re under an extreme fire alert today and likely for the next couple of days — at least — because of high winds and the intense drought.

My wife and I can see plumes of smoke to our north and west at this very moment. They are fires that have erupted in this hideous wind storm. But dozens — maybe hundreds — of firefighters have donned their gear and have taken on the flames.

You know — if you read this blog regularly — about my admiration for emergency responders. Police, firefighters and medical personnel are at the top of my list of heroic individuals who — and I believe this firmly — do not get enough demonstrations of love and respect from those of us they protect.

Here’s something else to ponder: Many of those firefighters and emergency medical personnel are volunteers. They have day jobs for which they get paid so they can put beans on the table. When the fire alarms go off in their rural communities, they rush into action.

This by no means diminishes the value we should place on the professional responders who answer the call as well. They, too, are among the few of us who when danger erupts run toward it, not away from it.

Many of them are hard at work as I write these few words. My wife, puppy and I are comfortable in our home on wheels, the RV that is parked at a campground near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

For that I am thankful and grateful for the men and women who are doing their damndest to keep us all safe from the flames.

Nature: Mother of all that is fickle

Can there possibly be another force that is more fickle than Mother Nature?

Consider what has transpired in just the past six months.

We began 2017 enduring a virtual deluge of rain and, yes, some snow. The Texas Panhandle set records for moisture accumulation during the first half of the year. Amarillo reached its annual precipitation level before the summer had expired.

The playas were full. The grass was green and lush. Our livestock were well fed. Dryland farmers were beside themselves.

Life was good, man. Remember?

Then came October. Or thereabouts. It all stopped. Virtually nothing has fallen from the sky since.

The playas aren’t so full these days. The grass that goes dormant in the winter isn’t likely to bounce back with its traditional gusto. Those dryland farmers, the folks who depend on Mother Nature to irrigate their land, enabling them to grow their crops, providing harvests that fill our pantries with food and their pockets with cash? They’re still beside themselves — but for vastly different reasons.

The weather forecasters now are sounding borderline panicky as they report on the extreme fire danger that exists. The wind that usually arrives in these parts in March are howling. The grass that should be somewhat moist from those spring thundershowers are susceptible to being torched by the tiniest of sparks.

What are our remedies? We cannot tell Mother Nature to do our bidding. She doesn’t jump when we tell her to jump.

When he was governor of Texas, Rick Perry took some ridicule when he suggested Texans pray for rain in the middle of an earlier drought. His view was that if we sought divine help, then perhaps we could rely on our collective faith that our fortunes would turn for the better.

They did. The rain came. We were left to wonder whether our prayers made the difference. Who can say categorically that they didn’t?

That time is at hand once again. Mother Nature’s fickleness is causing plenty of angst across our parched landscape. Given that we cannot force her to adhere to our demands, maybe we can go over her head and talk directly to God.

We need help from wherever it’s available.

Hey, the drought has returned!

Eighty-three days and counting …

It’s been that long since Amarillo has experienced any measurable precipitation. You and I know what that means. The drought has returned to the Texas Panhandle.

Weather forecasters are spending a good bit of time talking about the threat of wildfire. They are right, of course. The grass is plentiful from rain that fell through much of the summer of 2017. It’s now bond dry. It has become prime fuel to ignite killer fires.

It goes without saying: Take great care to avoid torching the land; don’t toss cigarette butts out of your car; avoid dragging metal chains under your vehicle; no outdoor grilling, particularly in the ever-present Panhandle wind.

There’s another concern that troubles yours truly: water waste.

Do not waste water. We have no need to wash our motor vehicles. Check for leaky faucets and sprinkler heads. Indeed, reduce lawn-watering during the winter months when local grass goes dormant.

I remember when we were cheering the rainfall in 2017, which finished with a rain-average surplus over normal. But we’ve gone nearly three months now without any measurable rain or snowfall.

It’s a potentially dangerous period out there. Let’s be so very careful. Shall we?