Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pitter Patter on my windowsill

Not exactly! More like a constant pounding swishhhh and roar as the heavens growl and explode! Some say the skies are falling; they literally are doing just that. Last year we suffered from the lack of rain triggers, that is, no lowered pressure spikes to raise the water that is almost always present in the atmosphere here in Southeast Texas, from the Gulf of Mexico. Now the soil is saturated, and the moisture is abundant in the atmosphere, AND we are consistently getting low pressure spikes carried in by the jet stream. We clap our hands. No need for further rain dances. Take our feathers off and just enjoy, like the natives did in this place decades ago. No one has complained (yet) that I have heard. Lack of rain is scary. Folks around here would rather have their outdoor activities interrupted by these almost forgotten sounds than worry whether their plants and trees were going to die, or watching helplessly while the trees were starved by thirst. Then too, they worried about their home foundations in the worse drought ever recorded in this part of Texas. Pitter patter... swishhhhh ...boom ..... yeah for nature coming back! Goodbye drought, hello to nature.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rain Rain come again another day

A FULL Panther Creek after the rain

In The Woodlands Texas, we had some substantial rain this morning!!! Finally we have a real drencher, one to fill up the lake, to fill up the creeks and river, to replenish the ponds and reservoir and still have enough left over to filter down to underground reservoirs. Sure, we have had several one-inch rains after the scorching summer, but this one is definitively different. It is a drought breaker. Some places in Montgomery County received as much as 5 inches of rain. Such a general rain throughout the county that makes it so great! Here in The Woodlands, I recorded more than two inches and observed water runoff that I have not seen for over a year.
Typical backyard - saturated earth

Typical runoff - as designed to reach street drains

Paradox of drought quenched by huge quantity of rain in the middle of winter

Fall beauty remains at hand much later than usual after the worse drought on record. Here it is near the middle of January and we can still enjoy the beauty of the Fall, and this is like a warm fall rain, not like a cold wintry drizzle, which is the norm for this time of year. So the creek is flooding as the tree smiles in its splendor.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September Storms - first one of 2011 brewing

This is the month of hurricanes along the Texas gulf coast. So what is happening on the first of September?  A storm is brewing off of the Louisiana coast. Right now we have a low pressure disturbance that is beginning to close its circulation. There is no concensus by weather models that puts the storm in any specific area at any given time, but we do have general information about the expected behavior of this storm at this time.

Generally, the system is almost stationary off of the Louisiana coast. It is growing in size and strength as I write this article. It is slowed by upper level shear winds now, but in the next few hours, those upperlevel winds are expected to diminish and allow the storm to develop without impedances. There is some agreement with forecasters that the storm will be repelled by a developing high pressure ridge over Louisiana, forcing the storm to the west/southwest by Monday. That change is expected to drive the storm toward the lower gulf coast, but pass by our area in the process with wind and rain on the northern and eastern side of the storm.

Keep an eye out for this, because it could develop into a major storm, and the Houston area could be the recipient. We certainly need the rain, but the winds on top of the dry conditions and weakened state of our trees is not welcome. Typically, tropical weather in September breaks drought conditions on the middle gulf coast. Will we get that rain without dangerous winds ? I sure hope so.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Severe Drought in Southeast Texas

Drought conditions across Southeast Texas, including Montgomery County and The Woodlands Township, combined with dry vegetation and high winds, have increased the potential for wildfires that could spread at a rapid pace, placing lives and property in harm’s way.
Montgomery County issued a fire ban on April 11, 2011, which prohibits outdoor burning. The Woodlands Township does not allow open burning at any time without a permit, and The Woodlands fire department urges all residents to use extreme caution when using any type of open flame.
“Until conditions improve, The Woodlands Fire Department discourages any use of fire pits, charcoal grills or any other sources of ignition that could cause an accidental fire,” said The Woodlands Fire Chief Alan B. Benson.
“The prolonged lack of sufficient rainfall has led to decreased levels of moisture found in fallen limbs, trees and accumulated debris on the forest floor, which can readily ignite.”
Already, The Woodlands Fire Department has responded to a number of grass fires in The Woodlands and surrounding areas. There have been a number of wildfires in Montgomery County, one in particular in the woods.
“Please be very careful and aware of the situation, and if you should smell or suspect fire of any type, please call 9-1-1,” Chief Benson said.
For more information about the fire ban in Montgomery County, please visit:
For more information about the fire ban from the state’s perspective, please visit:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Extremes - now the cold and probably snow

The Houston Texas area has escaped, on the most part, extreme cold this year. Yes, here north of the big city, The Woodlands has experienced three freezes, but we have not had the type of freeze that bursts pipes yet. Today, it looks like that good luck has run out. Over the next few days, we can expect the wind to drive subfreezing weather into pipes and plants. We need to take precautions. I am providing one useful online article that has plenty of information from FEMA on cold weather preparedness. Basically, we must wrap pipes and cover plants. But to cover them, we have to wrap them also. The wind will likely be our enemy this time. Therefore we need to secure the covering with rope or string. Cover the root system to minimize the damage to the plants, especially the sub-tropicals. Since we are likely to have snow showers also this week, the information provided on driving is also pertinent to our situation.  I find local drivers completely ignorant of driving safety and inept in handling vehicles in snow. Should we experience snow and ice on the roads, I would quite frankly recommend everyone to just stay at home. It is dangerous on the roads, especially in areas which do not normally experience frozen precipitation.  Otherwise, enjoy the change of scenery and get out in it with the family. I like to go to the parks here when it snows.

FEMA - READY AMERICA - Winter Storms and Extreme Cold 

Friday, January 14, 2011

When it freezes in the South

Here in The Woodlands Texas, it WILL freeze in the winter. In Southeast Texas, often people ask what measures should be taken to protect property and vegetation here, especially if they have not lived here long. First, the natural native plants do not need protection. They will take zero degree weather. However, we must concern ourselves with decorative plants that are usually tropical or semitropical natively. Most can tolerate near freezing temperatures but must be protected when the thermometer drops below 32 degrees. We have several things to worry about. A frost will kill tropicals even above 32 degrees, so we must cover sensitive plants to keep the frost off of them. When the temperature dips below freezing, tropicals must be tightly protected. It is best if the soil is moist. I like to spray my garden with water on severe nights. That helps insulate the root system. Wrapping the plant in a sheet and securing it with string helps to keep warmth around the leaves and branches. However, in a hard freeze that places the temperature at or below about 25 degrees for more than about 6 hours, that often becomes an exercise in futility as well. In those cases, cover the ground and wrap the roots. You have a shot at saving the plant but it may be dead  above the ground until summer. This past year, I had almost all my plants come back in the summer after a very hard freeze last year (18 degrees and below freezing for an entire day). The plants were not even covered, because we were out of town. This year, the same plants had living leaves on them after a 25-degree freeze lasting some 9 hours. Covering and insulating make a big difference to the survival and revival of the plant in the Spring.But you do not want the plants covered for an extended period of time. They need the sun. Depriving them of light for a long time will often damage them.

Protecting the home has other considerations.For light freezes, we do nothing. If the temperature gets below 26, then we take measures to protect non-insulated pipes. Many homes have no protection for their plastic pipes in the attic here. It is best if they are insulated, then you are less likely to have any pipes burst in the case of a hard freeze (below 25 degrees and the freeze lasting for 6+ hours). For a hard freeze, your automatic outdoor watering system is most at risk, along with the more obvious watering hoses. Your watering system has a back flow valve which protects your water supply from water flowing back from they yard. This valve is usually located close to the home and is quite vulnerable to a hard freeze. In the freeze of 2009, many homes had water flowing out from their backflow pipes after the freeze. Residents had to shut off the intake valve upstream of the backflow valve until they could get a replacement part. To protect this in a hard freeze, you can wrap it in insulated material. I use a small oiled tarp and completely wrap the exposed pipe and valve, tying it down with string to keep the wind from pushing air inside the insulation.

Finally, if the temperature drops severely for an extended time, the best course of action is to cut off your water to the house and open all the valves and facets to drain all water from the devices. Don't forget the hot water heater. Turn it off as well before going out of town. If you stay at home, you need not turn it off. We had a full week in a frozen state in the 1980's when the temperature never got above freezing outside. The ground froze that year! The temperature hovered just a few degrees above zero degrees F. for two nights and in the teens and low 20's the remainder of the week. Everyone should be aware that this could suddenly happen any year during the winter months. We usually have a four day warning that a hard freeze situation is possible. Cutting off the water supply should be done if you are traveling out of town for Christmas for more than three days every year you travel, regardless of the forecast. In fact, do it when you plan to be away for a week or more between November and March. Mid-December to the end of January is usually the worst of the winter here.

For a while we had rain

In The Woodlands Texas, specifically in Indian Springs, we continue in a drought. After 9 months of somewhat acceptable amounts of rain, the heavens closed down for the remainder of the year. We had to water the trees and the plants, even in November. At one point in November, my rain gauge had not retained a single drop for 37 days! The year ended with a deficit of more than 10 inches of rain or about 21% under the average rainfall for a single year. Fortunately, we are getting some cold weather to help with the bugs in the trees, but the trees may have considerable issues in 2011 with such a water deficit to start. Of course the critical time is from about May to November, when the temperatures are highest. Several of my neighbors' Pine Trees died during the winter. Let's hope the rainfall turns around this Spring so that we do not have such a hardship on local vegetation and wildlife as we did in 2009.