Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

Fire season off to early start

Summer officially is about six weeks away and already fire season is upon us in the Texas Panhandle.

Oh … my … goodness.

A wildfire in Hutchinson County has left hundreds of people homeless and destroyed about 100 homes. The wind is whipping furiously; the native grass is tinder dry; burn bans are in effect all across the Panhandle.


Remember the Summer of 2011, when thousands of acres of land went up in flames? Remember the misery, the heartache, the death and destruction? We might be headed for another one of those episodes.

Most of this circumstance is beyond our control. We need two things to happen: the wind to stop blowing and for rain to come. Only the Almighty can make either event happen.

We can, however, control our own urges, such as tossing cigarette butts or stogies our the car window. We can stop outdoor grilling. We can ensure that we take every precaution possible to prevent a tragic outbreak of fire.

There also needs to be highly strict enforcement of these burn bans. Let’s leave it to counties to make double-darn sure residents are heeding the dire warnings about the fire hazards that exist all around us. And that means simply to play by the rules and not light fires in this hideous wind.

The Fritch fire well might serve as a warning to us all. It’s still mid-spring — when the region is supposed to be drenched in those unpredictable rainmaking thunderstorms. Many of us can hardly remember the last time we experienced any such “normal” weather event.

Instead, we’re enduring this stifling drought and the wind that comes with it.

If this is a harbinger of the usual fire season, we’d better get ready for a wild summer.

Oh, and let’s all keep praying for rain.

Wind velocity is relentless

This item came to me the other day from a longtime Amarillo friend.

Linda has lived in Amarillo all her life, she told me, adding that her mother grew up in southwest Kansas.

Neither of them, she told me, had seen it blow as it did on Tuesday, April 29. That event is sort of becoming our version of “Black Sunday,” which occurred during the — gulp! — Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

This is worth mentioning as we’re battling the wind and airborne dirt yet again today. It’s not as bad it was the other day, but my friend’s assessment of the severity of that wind-and-dirt event is still quite striking as we continue to pray for rain to end this merciless drought.

I should add that my friend’s mother is old enough to have some memory of the Dust Bowl. So, to learn that she believes the April 29 dirt storm was the worst she’d ever seen … well, that’s saying something.

OK, are we in the midst of Dust Bowl 2.0? Another friend, Richard, told us today at church that as bad as it has been — and as bad as that particular day had become — it was, after all, just a daylong event. This friend also is a lifelong Panhandle resident. He’s a man of the soil. Unlike me, a city slicker if there ever was one, Richard has worked the land on and off for most of his life.

Thus, I’ve heard two varying reports of the severity of what we’re enduring these days. One of them, from the latter friend, seeks to put this misery into some perspective. Yeah, it’s bad, he says, but think of having to go through these dirt storms for days, even weeks on end! That’s what occurred during the Dust Bowl and it’s a far cry — so far, I should stipulate — from what we’re going through today.

Whatever perspective you want to place around the Spring of 2014 weather, I’m still alarmed to hear others who’ve lived here a lot longer than we have say this is as bad as it’s ever been.

I’m more than ready for rain.

Dust is tough to mow

A word to the wise is in order as the Texas Panhandle recovers from this latest dirt/wind/mud-rain episode.

When you crank up the lawnmower, be sure you’re wearing some kind of mask.

I did precisely that — cranked up the mower — this morning and learned the lesson the hard way.

Every fourth pass I made with the mower across the lawn was downwind, meaning that the dirt that was embedded in the grass blew into my face. I should have known better than to try this chore without adequate protection.

I got the job done, then had to re-bathe to wash the dirt away.

All this is worth mentioning only to remind us all of how it used to be around here, many decades ago.

The Dust Bowl.

Its very name conjures up hideous memories among those old enough to recall when the sky filled with dirt from horizon to horizon. It blackened the sky. It blotted out the sun.

Those who didn’t flee to calmer locations, usually out west, stayed and fought their way through it. They were still standing when the dirt stopped flying. It took years for the weather to cycle its way back to something approaching “normal” around here. But it did.

When I think about that level of suffering, I don’t feel so bad about having to cope with a little dirt flying out of the grass as I cut it.

Still, a mask would have been nice.

Texas's next governor will …

Wendy Davis created quite a stir by visiting the Texas Panhandle this week.

Much of it was positive. Much of it was not. The Fort Worth state senator and Democratic nominee for governor ventured into some hostile territory just by setting foot in this heavily Republican region of a heavily Republican state.

Good for her.

Let’s look ahead to the next election. Just suppose …

Davis wins. Or just suppose Republican nominee Greg Abbott wins — as most observers think will happen.

The next Texas governor will be stripped almost immediately of the kind of power that Republican Rick Perry acquired during his umpteen years as the state’s top elected official.

It’s been said zillions of times over the years that the Texas governor is a relatively weak office. The real power rests with the lieutenant governor, as he/she presides over the state Senate. The governor’s power lies in his appointments. Given that Perry has been governor seemingly forever, he’s had ample opportunity to fill all key state boards and commissions with people friendly to his policies.

He’s also been successful at using the governor’s office as a bully pulpit. Has that always worked well for him? No. Consider his purported pro-secession language that energized the tea party faction within his party. Many of the rest of us were quite turned off by the careless talk.

The next governor will lose much of the aura that Perry acquired, for better or worse.

You can bet that Abbott will show up in the Panhandle — perhaps many times — before the election occurs. Davis’s next visit isn’t yet set.

My hope is that the gubernatorial candidates don’t fall victim to what I’ve noticed over many years watching and covering Texas politics from my perch on the top end of our vast state. It is that Republicans take us for granted, given our region’s bias in their favor, while Democrats have all but given up the fight for our votes.

Y’all come back.

Sen. Davis ventures into lion's den

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis today is venturing into places where few Democrats dare to go.

She’s in the Texas Panhandle, the virtual birthplace of the modern Texas conservative political movement, the place that according to lore voted overwhelmingly for Barry Goldwater over Texan Lyndon Johnson in 1964. (In truth, only eight of 26 Panhandle counties voted for Sen. Goldwater, but I digress.)

Davis was in Dumas today to speak to the Panhandle Press Association and is set to appear at an Amarillo restaurant, Fernando’s, for another public appearance set for around 5 p.m.

This is a notable campaign stop for a key reason: It might demonstrate that the Democratic nominee for Texas governor is going to wage a 254-county campaign for the state’s top office, although I doubt she’ll actually show up in every one of the state’s counties; for that matter, I doubt Republican nominee Greg Abbott will, either.

I’m glad she’s here. I hope she returns. You can bet that Abbott will be here, although his own time might be spent better in more populated and perhaps less reliably Republican regions of the state.

As for Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat, she has a chance to woo potentially skeptical audiences here with a solid message centering on bolstering public education and seeking income equality for all Texans — which was the theme of her message today in Dumas. These are serious topics that require serious consideration by all Texans, not just those who are wedded to one political party or the other.

A friend of mine who attended the Dumas event is one of those reliable Republicans. He wanted to hear Davis’s message and he tells me he came away impressed by her demeanor, her seriousness and her ability to articulate her message clearly. He says he’s keeping an open mind during this campaign — although it would shock the daylights out of me if he actually votes for her this fall.

I’ve long been advocate for a strong two-party system in Texas. Back in the days when Democrats ran everything, they proved to be just as arrogant and unforgiving as Republicans have turned out to be once they claimed supremacy over every statewide political office. A vibrant two-party system means both parties need to stay accountable for their beliefs.

Davis’s hope, I am presuming perhaps at my own peril, is that her message will not fall on deaf ears in the part of Texas that helped lead the way for a Republican takeover of the state’s political apparatus. Will she carry the day this November in this part of the state? I strongly doubt it.

Davis at least can hope — at this stage of the still-developing campaign — to make the race competitive. If she can pique the interest of at least one Panhandle Republican who vows to keep an open mind, Davis is sure to find others who are equally interested in listening to what she plans to do if she’s elected governor.

It’s a long slog, senator. Hurry back, OK?

LBJ could play hardball with the best of ’em

Ezra Klein is too young to remember President Lyndon Johnson, which doesn’t diminish one bit the young man’s brilliance.

His recent in Bloomberg View compares LBJ’s legendary bullying with what’s being alleged against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s still trying to put the “Bridgegate” hoo-ha behind him. Good luck with that, governor.


Klein refers to Robert Caro’s biography of the 36th president:

“In the fourth volume of Caro’s biography, he tells the story of Margaret Mayer, a Dallas Times Herald reporter who was investigating the television station LBJ owned. Johnson had his aides call Mayer’s bosses and let slip that if Mayer kept investigating Johnson’s business, Johnson might sic the Federal Communications Commission on the Dallas Times Herald’s businesses — which included TV and radio stations. Mayer’s bosses got the message. Her investigation was quickly terminated.

“That, however, was an example of LBJ’s lighter touch. According to another story Caro recounts, Johnson had long been irritated by the coverage of Bascom Timmons, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s chief Washington correspondent. So he called the paper’s owner, Amon Carter Jr., and told him that it’d be a shame — just a shame — if the Fort Worth Army Depot ended up getting closed. Even worse, what if the Carswell Air Force Base were shuttered, too? Then there was the Trinity River Navigation Project, which would make the river navigable from its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. All these projects meant jobs, development, and, ultimately, readers and advertisers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.”

That should remind long-time Amarillo residents of a darker time in the Texas Panhandle, when the Pentagon closed the Amarillo Air Force Base reportedly in retaliation for the political support Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater showed in this part of the state in the 1964 presidential election. Legend has it that LBJ — who allegedly hated the Panhandle — just shut the base down in a fit of pique. His friends here — and he had a few of them — deny any such motivation.

Whatever the president’s motives, he acted decisively. Amarillo took a huge punch in the gut, but has survived and has flourished in the decades since.

Old Lyndon, though, knew how to play tough.

Weather changes part of life in Panhandle

We have a saying in the Texas Panhandle: If you don’t like the weather, wait 20 minutes; it’ll change.

I hear now that the forecast for Thursday is supposed to be in the teens with biting northerly wind. It will return to a “balmy” 50 degrees or so with winds shifting in the other direction.

The weather today was actually quite pleasant. The temp hit 50-something with light winds.

I’ve learned over 19 years of living here to expect the unexpected. Nothing surprises me. Cold today, warm tomorrow, cold the day after that.

Actually, I got my baptism to ever-changing Texas weather along the Gulf Coast, where the temperature doesn’t change much — especially during the summer — but where rain arrives suddenly, and in torrents to boot!

Many times during our stay in Beaumont from 1984 until 1995 we would watch storm clouds boil up out of nowhere during the heat of the summer, drop about 6 inches of rain in about an hour, maybe two, then the sky would clear, the sun would return, steam would rise from the ground, the mosquitos would descend on human victims by the millions and the temperature would climb back to its customary 90-plus degrees.

Then the cycle would repeat itself the next day. And the day after that.

Here, the temps change dramatically, particularly during the winter.

It does get cold in Amarillo. As in biting, face-numbing cold. Our older son moved here after graduating from Sam Houston State University in December 1995. We went to his commencement, loaded up a rented truck with his gear and drove from Huntsville to Amarillo. It was 80 degrees when we left Huntsville; it was about 10 degrees when we arrived in Amarillo.

I recall him telling me a day or two after arriving here that he couldn’t “feel my face.”

Poor guy.

It changes rapidly. We’ve all learned that reality and have become as accustomed the rapid change here as we got used to the incessant heat and humidity on the Gulf Coast.

Besides, what in the world can we do about it? Not a single thing.

We’ve learned to just roll with it — and wait 20 minutes.

Banish non-scientific ‘polls’

I detest those instant “polls” that seek — ostensibly, at least — to gauge public opinion on contemporary issues.

The Amarillo Globe-News today posted one such “poll” question on one of its opinion pages. It asks readers whether they agree with Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s view that the House of Representatives should impeach President Obama.

OK. Let’s see. The Texas Panhandle in two presidential elections has given the president about 20 percent of the vote. Eighty percent of the vote went for Republicans John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. The tea party wing of the GOP — the party’s most strident voice at the moment — is entrenched firmly in this part of an extremely Republican state.

I’ll take a wild guess that when the results of this “poll” are tabulated, we’ll get roughly a 90 percent approval rating for Dewhurst’s call for a presidential impeachment.

This is just one example. The media do this kind of thing all the time. They ask for immediate responses to pressing national issues. TV networks do it. The one that just slays me comes from a liberal TV talk show host, Ed Shultz, whose MSNBC program “The Ed Show” asks viewers to send in their answers to questions relating to the topic of the evening.

A question might go something like this: Do you agree that the Republican Party is looking after the best interest of rich people while ignoring the needs of poor folks? The answers usually come back about 95 to 5 percent “yes.”

OK, I embellished that question … but not by very much.

These “polls” merely feed into people’s anger, their frustration and they serve no useful purpose other than to gin up responses on websites.

They provide not a bit of useful information.

I just wish the media would stop playing these games.

Flooding produces some benefit

I truly do not wish bad things to happen to my fellow Americans in nearby states.

However, I noticed something the other morning on a local TV news broadcast that suggests that the Texas Panhandle has received some benefit from the misery inflicted on our neighbors northwest of us in Colorado.

The deluge that destroyed so much property and took those lives north of Boulder a few weeks ago has produced a dramatic rise in the levels of Lake Meredith, about 50 miles north of Amarillo. KAMR-TV, the local NBC affiliate, runs a weather crawl when it broadcasts local news in the morning. Until the flooding inundated Colorado, the Lake Meredith water level as shown on the crawl had bottomed out at something just below 27 feet.

Monday morning, the lake level registered on the crawl put the water at 33-plus feet. That’s a nearly 7-foot increase in the water at Lake Meredith.

OK, it’s not much of an increase, given the lake’s historic high of 100-plus feet in the early 1970s.

It’s a start — perhaps — to a change in fortune at the manmade reservoir.

The water has rushed down the Front Range of the Rockies, onto the High Plains, into the Canadian River, which feeds Lake Meredith. Perhaps even better news would be that whatever water hasn’t flowed into the lake has seeped into the Ogallala Aquifer, which also has been depleted over many years.

I just wish now that the Almighty would grant us some more moisture — without inflicting such pain upstream.

I think I’ll pray some more.

‘Energy independence’ gets a little closer

Let’s look back about, oh, two years.

Gasoline prices were rocketing skyward. The U.S. government was under fire for failing to do more to encourage domestic oil exploration and production. Republicans across the land were lampooning the Democratic president for his abject failure to draw us closer to the day when we wouldn’t have to depend on foreign sources to run our industries and fuel our vehicles.

Now comes word that the Gross Domestic Product grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, which is greater than what economists predicted. The cause of that spike in GDP growth? Domestic oil production.


Interesting, don’t you think?

Domestic oil production is at a 17-year high, according to White House economists. Are they being objective? Well, no neutral observer has questioned the numbers.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence in West Texas to make the point. The Permian Basin boasts the lowest jobless rate in the state. The reason? The huge demand for oil-related jobs.

I’ve been talking to friends and acquaintances with business interests in the Midland-Odessa area and they all say the same thing: You can’t get housing there; hotel rooms are booked up; those high-rise Midland skyscrapers, the ones built in the 1970s that went vacant when the oil industry crashed in the mid-1980s, have filled up again with tenants.

But don’t rely on that kind of chatter. There appears to be plenty of hard evidence of a turnaround.

All of this bodes pretty well for the United States as Americans watch with intense interest in developments in the Middle East. Egypt looked on the verge of exploding once again. Syria remains a serious question mark for the United States. No one can predict with any certainty what will happen in a region of the world from which we still get a lot of our oil.

Meanwhile, the pump jacks are still working hard here at home. North Dakota is becoming the next “Texas” and/or “Alaska.” Reports indicate an oil field discovery there that will dwarf the reserves known to lie under the Saudi sand.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the “alternative energy” sources being developed, such as the Panhandle wind farms.

Why are the critics so quiet these days?