Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle drought

Happy Trails, Part 94: Home is where you park it

It’s not often at all that I adopt a bumper sticker slogan as a mantra for living.

But I have done that very thing. We now live according a slogan we saw on an RV: Home is where you park it.

We just returned from a two-week sojourn — all in Texas — through the South Plains, the Hill Country, the Piney Woods, the Golden Triangle and the Metroplex.

Along the way, I adopted a new manner of referring to “home.” You see, now that my wife and I are no longer tethered to property attached to the ground, we now refer to our fifth wheel as home.

So, instead of saying I’m “going home,” I find myself referring to some geographical location. Home is attached to the back of our pickup, or it’s anchored to an RV campsite temporarily — until we head for the next place.

Our return to Amarillo reminded us of one of the “charms” of living on the High Plains of Texas.

It’s the wind, man!

Holy moly, it was howling when we departed in early April. It was howling today when we pulled into our RV park/temporary residence. We had read about the wildfires that scorched lots of ranch land; this afternoon, we saw evidence of them along U.S. 287 just west of Clarendon, where we understand the fire caused closure of the highway for several hours while heroic firefighters battled the blaze.

This arrangement — an RV serving as our “home” — won’t last forever. I don’t want to give away too much, but we might have located a precise location to resettle once we depart Amarillo on a (more or less) permanent basis. I’ll have more on that later.

In the meantime, our life now is a reflection of a slogan made popular by other RVers.

It’s cool.

It’s dark, drizzly, dreary … but our spirits shine brightly!

The temperature won’t rise much above 40 degrees Fahrenheit today.

The clouds won’t lift and the sun will set somewhere on the other side of them.

It’s been dark and drizzly all day.

And the spirits of Texas Panhandle residents haven’t been this bright and cheery since, oh, I don’t know when.

It hasn’t rained much today. I don’t know what the National Weather Service rain gauge will read at the end of the day. My wife, Toby the Puppy and I are living within spittin’ distance of the NWS station next to Rick Husband-Amarillo International Airport. That means whatever the NWS reports will mirror what we will have received at our RV park.

One of the local TV weather forecasters was described by his news anchor colleague as being “giddy” about the rain that has fallen over the region. Amarillo hasn’t yet gotten much of it; more rain is forecast during the night and again Wednesday morning and into the afternoon.

The irony is weird, man! Our spirits have soared as the sky has darkened, bringing badly needed moisture to a region that has been rain- and snow-starved during the entire winter of 2017-18.

Dare we expect to make up our precipitation deficit any time soon? Umm. No. We’ll simply accept what we get with extreme gratitude.

We’ve needed some reason to smile around here. The rain has delivered it.

A national weather story is brewing right here

I’ve written before about how the national media report with added fervor on those storms that pound New York and Washington.

Why? It’s a local story to them. They are affected by the rain, the snow, the ice, the cold. In the summer, it’s the heat, man!

Local news goes national

It occurs to me, though, that we have a national story brewing out here in Flyover Country, a good distance from either coast.

We are getting seriously parched on the High Plains of Texas, of Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico. We’re about to set a record for number of consecutive days without measurable precipitation.

We’ve got farmers and ranchers in these parts who rely on rainfall and snowfall to irrigate their land. It’s not coming any time soon. What is going to happen to their crops, meaning the food they supply to the rest of the nation?

I get that we aren’t in the midst of the media conglomerates that cover the weather with intensity when it affects those regions.

However, it’s important nonetheless to the rest of the country if we don’t get some moisture. Immediately!

Here is an example of drought severity

You almost have to squint your eyes to see the water in this picture.

I snapped this shot this morning at MediPark Lake in far west Amarillo. The last time we visited this site — about four months ago — that large expanse of rocky terrain was under about six feet of water.

Not now!

I guess I wanted to share this view just to illustrate a concern I have about the lack of surface water in Amarillo. I believe we’re at the 108-day mark with zero measurable precipitation. The all-time record is approaching quickly and according to my trusty Weather Channel app on my “smart phone,” it looks we’ll break that record in less than a week.

Oh, did I mention that the dry-spell record was set in 1902? There. I just did.

It’s not fun watching the surface water disappear before our eyes. Oh, Medi Park is still full of ducks and Canada geese. Indeed, this morning we witnessed large flights of geese take off and return to what’s left of the lake. I do enjoy watching those birds take flight.

I have no particular point to make with this blog post, other than to alert my Texas Panhandle friends and fellow travelers what they already know: We need to be careful with our water use.

Water has returned to top of our minds

Imagine my non-surprise.

The Texas Panhandle drought has gotten us  talking out loud again about water, conserving it, looking for more environmentally sound ways to grow and harvest our crops.

We’re now into a lengthy dry spell with no measurable precipitation. The record is now just a handful of days away. It’s looking as though we’re going to break the record set in 1902. Hey, all records were meant to be broken. Frankly, I’d prefer to see this one stand.

But is Amarillo about to run dry? No. Not even close.

Some aggressive water-rights purchasing over the course of the past decade has enabled Amarillo to maintain a viable water supply. The city in conjunction with the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority — which supplies Amarillo and nearly a dozen other communities with water — acquired many years of water rights from T. Boone Pickens, the former Amarillo oil and natural gas magnate.

Many billions of gallons of water remain undeveloped. It’s under our feet, deep within the Ogallala Aquifer.

We have a serious lesson that needs to be heeded, however.

Our water is not infinite. It won’t last forever. Oh, certainly Amarillo will have water at its disposal for many generations. We can thank an aggressive water-purchasing endeavor led by a municipal management team headed by a city manager, Jarrett Atkinson, with extensive knowledge of water management issues. Atkinson has moved on; he’s now city manager in Lubbock.

The drought that has gripped the Panhandle, though, looks as though it could be worse than it was in 2011, when it got — shall we say — pretty damn severe. Lake Meredith sank to a shockingly low 26-foot depth; it has rallied considerably since then, but the region needs rain badly.

As we wait and perhaps pray for more rain, we at least can rest reasonably assured that Amarillo will stay “wet” for the foreseeable future.

We dare not get wasteful while we wait for a change in our meteorological fortunes.

Drought has returned with a vengeance

I guess we can say with supreme confidence that the Texas Panhandle drought has returned.

In a big way!

The TV weather forecasters remind us that we’ve gone 102 days without measurable precipitation. They bemoan the low humidity, the low dew points. They remind us to avoid doing anything stupid that would torch the landscape.

However, the Amarillo Fire Department today did something I consider to be a bit strange. It conducted a “prescribed burn.” Why strange? The wind was howling! It’s going to howl again — with even more vigor — on Thursday. It was the first such controlled burn in decades.

AFD warns us about the danger of lighting fires in dry conditions. The wind has this way of blowing red-hot embers to places far away. Doesn’t the wind do the same thing to fire departments, too?

Well, no harm today. The burn in southeast Amarillo went off without any serious problem.

The drought is something for us to ponder. We also need to act on it. Don’t waste water. Don’t cause any wildfires. Don’t put your family, friends and neighbors at risk.

The return of the drought demonstrates this fundamental truth: Human beings — no matter our technological advances — are powerless against the forces of nature.

Hey, wasn’t it just a few weeks ago when we completed a year with greater-than-normal precipitation? I guess what’s true in politics is true as it regards Mother Nature: A month is an eternity.

Remember our drought? It never really left

Our Texas Panhandle TV weather forecasters keep telling us the latest measureable precipitation fell on the High Plains way back in October.

That tells me something quite ominous: The drought that many folks thought was over during our wetter-than-normal summer season has reared its head. In my view, we never really had put the drought behind us.

We’re still about 6 inches above normal precipitation year to date, thanks to the drenching we received earlier this year. That’s all fine and dandy.

But here’s the hard truth: water remains at critically low levels.

I walked into City Hall just about four days ago and noticed the city’s “Every Drop Counts” daily water-use gauge over the first-floor elevators. On that day, the goal was set at 29 million gallons; the actual water use for the day totaled 40 million gallons. Let’s see, that’s an 11 million gallon water-use-goal deficit. Not good, Amarillo.

I harp on this on occasion, and I am aware I might sound like the proverbial “broken record.” Too bad. It bears repeating.

We cannot be squandering our water resource. Sure, the wet spring and summer was welcome. It helped produce bumper crops; it kept our playas full; it helped feed the cattle that fuel our agriculture-based economy.

But we all know this truth: Rainfall is a cyclical event. It flows — and, yes, it ebbs.

It is ebbing at the moment. Those weather forecasters dare not predict when we’ll get any measureable rain- or snowfall. They keep telling us that weather forecasting in the Texas Panhandle is a best-guess endeavor.

Until that day comes — and beyond — how about taking better care of our water?

Who knew Lake Meredith could come this far back?

I am astonished at what I am reading about Lake Meredith, the 52-year-old reservoir due north of Amarillo that has had its share of ups and downs over many years.

Ute Lake, which is up the Canadian River from Lake Meredith, is overflowing. Water is pouring over the dam at Ute and is on its way into Lake Meredith. Water planners don’t yet know much water will flow into Meredith, but I’m here to tell you that it’s a big deal no matter how much water Lake Meredith receives.

You see, the lake that provides water for several West Texas cities — including Amarillo and Lubbock — is in far better shape today than it was about six years ago.

The lake was down to around 23 feet. It was rated as being at virtually zero capacity. Today? The lake level is approaching 70 feet, which is down from the 100-plus-foot historic high in the 1970s, but it’s still a damn sight better than it was when we were crippled by that regional drought.

Let it flow

You can count me as a doubter who believed the lake was doomed to remain down. You also can consider me astounded that Lake Meredith is rebounding to the extent it has been able to do.

The recent rain has helped, as it has fallen directly onto the Lake Meredith watershed. Now comes news that the deluge that soaked Ute Lake, N.M., also is bringing relief to Lake Meredith.

Yes, most of the Meredith water goes toward irrigation of cropland. Some of it pumped into municipal drinking-water systems.

It’s good news to be sure. I do hope, though, that High Plains residents do not grow complacent about the need to conserve this precious resource. Our water supply is going up … today. Tomorrow could tell us a different story.

Such as been the history of Lake Meredith.

Even in abundance, water is a priceless commodity

My social media networks are telling me that the water is starting to come back ever so slowly down yonder in Beaumont, Texas.

The savage storm named Harvey deluged the Golden Triangle region so badly that Beaumont’s water treatment system was knocked out. Gone. Dead. No drinking water to be had.

Just a few days later, the system is coming back — slowly. I trust it’s also surely on its way back.

One of my friends reports his toilet tank is filling. Another of them posted this note on Facebook: Treat water like it is gold, because it is.

Boy, howdy! We know about that even this far northwest of the flood zone. We in the Texas Panhandle have been grappling with water conservation and preservation issues for about, oh, nearly forever.

It’s not that we have the abundance of water, but rather a lack of water.

My good friends in Beaumont and Houston, though, are getting yet another kind of water-conservation lesson. The Golden Triangle’s woes intensified many times when the water system collapsed under the 40-plus-inch deluge that Harvey delivered.

Those good folks aren’t anywhere close to being clear of the damage brought by Harvey. They’re inching their way toward a return to something approaching a normal life.

It’s going to take lots and lots of time to return to normal water usage — even as those valiant Texans look for ways to slosh their way through the water that surrounds them.

As one of my friends, the one with the toilet tank refilling, noted: Be frugal, Beaumont. Preserve this precious resource for everyone!

Meanwhile, many prayers continue to shower that stricken region.

Lake welcoming human company

lake

LAKE MEREDITH, Texas — A few months back, I wrote a story for NewsChannel10.com about the health of Lake Meredith and the 44,000-acre national recreation area that surrounds it.

National Park Service officials told me the lake was doing quite well these days, thanks to the rainfall and the river flow that has poured into the lake, increasing its depth to more than 65 feet, which is a good bit greater than the 26-foot depth to which it fell in 2013.

So today, some members of my family and I took a look for ourselves.

The park officials weren’t kidding.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/31176375/lake-improvements-continue-as-water-pours-in

The lake is doing very well. It’s crawling with human visitors who today flocked to the lake to get take advantage of its refreshment from the 100-degree summer days that have been baking the Texas Panhandle for what seems like forever.

We went to Fritch Fortress, which is a boat ramp/swimming hole/ fishing pier.

As the picture illustrates, we were far from alone this day.

By the time we packed up, traffic was backing up along the drive to the boat ramp as boaters were backing their craft into the lake.

We don’t go all that often to Lake Meredith. My wife and I don’t own a boat, although I understand fully that the recreation area contains a lot of amenities fit for other activities.

There once was a time when I worried about Lake Meredith and its viability as a tourist attraction. Today, I am not as concerned as I was when the Lake Meredith was threatening to become known as Puddle Meredith.

This year, the National Park Service turns 100.

Lake Meredith NRA has been a part of that network of federal parks since 1965, when the government completed work on Sanford Dam. Granted, the lake isn’t as high as once was, but it’s in a damn sight better condition than it was just a few years ago.

The sight of all that water and all the enjoyment it gives to those of us who live — and those who come here to visit — gives me hope for the lake’s future.