Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winter likely to be mild

The weather forecast for Montgomery County and generally Southeast Texas by our friendly national weathermen is dismal and threatening to our forests. We should have little rain and mild temperatures, but we will receive those dry northers. All of this is caused by La Niña strengthening and holding for the winter. El Niño produces west coast rain that travels here along the lower jet stream. It will not be active, so the prediction. If it holds out, we will again be in a severe drought until next summer when La Niña (if active will affect our summer rains) again brings the rain. So look for continued warm weather with clear skies, but occasional very cold dry air, similar to what we have experienced in October. Of course, the dominating factors cannot be reliably forecast and could change at about any time, so we shall see.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Additional Fire Stations in The Woodlands - emergencies impact

Next summer, a new fire station is scheduled to open on Gosling Road near the bridge over Spring Creek. This will provide easier and quicker access to professional emergency personnel for the residents of Indian Springs, Creekside Park and Panther Creek. There are CERT members in Indian Springs and Panther Creek as well, to help in disaster situations such as a hurricane or tornado. Since I am one of them and currently represent Indian Springs, I would be an appropriate contact in Indian Springs. CERT is not to be used in lieu of the professionals working at the fire stations, but the team is trained to be first responders, so whatever is quicker in dire situations should be followed. A neighbor CERT member can be of immediate help while the professionals could be tied up helping others. Make sure you know a CERT member to contact in case of emergencies as an alternative to 911 calls.     

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hurricane Season for real - now is the peak

We are now in the time window when hurricanes are watched closely. This year we are already in the "Ï"s in naming storms by the alphabet. Low pressure disturbances come off of Africa and sometimes very quickly develop into a named storm. Storms develop anywhere in the Gulf or Atlantic. Are we ready? I have lived through many storms in my time, and have reached the conclusion that someone ought to say what people really need to do, not just parrot what some others have said in the past. I am but one person who can talk from experience.  There is a tendency to think one would be reinventing the wheel if one says anything contrary to the standard checklist and advice given. I say listen to the news media advice but make sure you also take in local experience, some of which is provided here.

I have never had to use water that I stored up - never! Well, we did need water when we evacuated once. So why have that on my list? Grant you, water can be an issue on the island or even onshore where salt water might contaminate the potable water supplies. Tell you what, I will concede that some unknown might affect my water supply, but that day is no different than any other day. So this item is not on my list to stockpile. Plastic bottles of water are wasted in my household each time we stock up for hurricanes. Let's take a peek at what might be practical. Lessons we learned ...

We live significantly far inland, not far enough to avoid storms but then again, not to take a storm surge either. We live in the trees here, so that ought to be part of our risk assessment. Generally, water is not at risk when pumped locally from water wells.  Trees can take out power lines, although our power lines are buried. We are at risk from feeder lines however, and our experience in The Woodlands is that we will lose power, possibly for 2-3 weeks in a severe storm. In Hurricane Ike, we had a direct hit. It was not a very severe storm. However, the eye went right up I-45! Our winds were about 60mph with higher gusts in some squalls. That took out power and put some trees weighing tons into homes and blocking streets. That closed gasoline stations, restaurants and food markets. It brought us all to a dead stop. Our challenge was to clear the trees and wait it out, cooking what was in our freezers, cooling off any way we could and wait.

What to have ready to ride out or evacuate
  1. Food - canned and easily prepared meals. Rationing the fuel is important. It has to last one full week. So we need a food shopping list to have on our cupboards for emergencies. Assuming we have a generator, our list also would also include freezer items. Keeping the fridge cool and the freezer cold is a priority.  The ability to generate ice is really more than a luxury. Cooking supplies include gas if you have an electric oven and stove. Make sure you have enough gas for your grill. A gas grill is a life saver after a storm.
  2. Pets - dog and cat food in the pantry is important. One could allow the pets to eat human food, but that is not a great idea. Keep their diet the same if at all possible so they generate waste that is tolerable to clean up. They will likely be in the house with you for a long time during the storm.
  3. Generator - one of the best inventions of all time as part of the toolkit for an emergency, especially a hurricane. After the storm passes, you will want to cool off. The atmospheric humidity is 100% almost always! Have an electric fan for every person in the household. Even a room air conditioner should be considered. You can purchase one and have the entire family in one room with cool air, run by your generator. Some people large generators run by natural gas, always ready to turn on when power is lost. That is the best but an expensive solution. Remember, you may never have to experience a hurricane, so how much money do you put into it depends on your budget and your choice. Having a power backup is not necessary, just a convenience.People panic when a hurricane draws near and run to the stores only to find out there are no generators, no wood, no gasoline, no food on the shelves. Remember to get stocked early. Do NOT operate a generator in a closed area - garage or otherwise. Use them outdoors only to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.   
  4. Chain saws and plastic sheets- every ten or so households should own a tree saw. There will be at least one tree to fall on almost every block when the winds top 60 mph in wet soil. The soil will be saturated by heavy rains. If your home is hit, you will want to clean away the tree asap, even in the eye of the storm, should it pass over. Of course that is not a great idea but you might cover some things exposed to the elements during the eye fly-by. Covering water leaks and exposed furniture due to broken glass or the weight of a fallen tree limb is best handled with plastic or tarps. You may also want to have a water vacuum cleaner that can be powered by your emergency power generator. 
  5. Candles and flashlights are a necessity. Nothing is darker than being in a hurricane at night! There are no street lights, no home lights, no moon - nothing! Have fresh batteries and plenty of candles. Remember that during the storm, you might not be able to run your generator.   
  6. Electronics - Make sure you have every electronic thing connected to a surge protector or not connected to an outlet at all. In addition, during the storm, unplug every everything electronic except what you must use at the moment. Keep your risk of losing equipment to a minimum; you may need it after the storm. There are many electric surges and brown-outs during a storm . Have a battery operated radio on hand with a back-up battery. 
  7. Safe Places - make sure you have identified a safe fortified place such as an inside bathroom or closet in your home. Under the stairs is also usually a good fortified place to hang when you feel the winds are at their peak or perhaps a tornado is headed your way. It is a good idea to practice using the room by everyone in your household at the same time. Be prepared.
  8. Readily accessible items in the same location: emergency first aid kit, blankets, tarp in the home, table lamps in the family emergency room, flashlights in the fortified emergency room and family emergency room, rainwear including boots for one or two people, rubber gloves for handling tree limbs in the rain and floods, hard hat in case you have to go outside during the storm (this was required in Ike to clear stopped-up water drains). Have mosquito repellent for post hurricane use (two weeks supply).
  9. Evacuation readiness - Automobile with full tank of gas, ready to leave. Also have 10 gallons of extra fuel. Don't forget the fuel you will need for the generator if you stay. Have materials for sandwiches and something to drink in case you have to evacuate.  This is where the water comes in handy. Have a plan just in case you need to evacuate. I do not advise just brushing it off by saying "I am going to ride it out." Do a "what if" anyway!
  10. Normally used supplies - have enough living supplies on hand for two weeks without going to the store. Write down a shopping list. You may not get a second chance to go to the store. Don't forget diapers, wipes, and other children's necessities and conveniences.
Preparations before a storm
  • Trim tree limbs away from the house long before the storm arrives.
  • Board up windows that are most vulnerable to falling/flying debris such as high tree limbs. A friend had a piece of sheet metal fly through his window during a hurricane.  I've had a small tree limb shatter glass all over our family room. I had a friend who was driving a bus and a 2x4 flew through the radiator, disabling the bus. Protect your loved ones with plywood on the windows where they will be sitting out the storm. Quarter inch plywood usually works just fine. I keep enough in the house always ready. If you run to the store at the last minute, you will not likely find anything you need for the storm. 
  • Pick up everything loose outside - make sure you do not have things that can blow into neighbor yards and if you see a neighbor with threatening materials to your home, take care of the issue.  It is a good idea to have a neighborhood meeting to discuss what needs to be done and make contingency plans.
  • Store automobiles in the garage. 

During the storm 
  • If you have an issue where you need help, you should have your local emergency number at hand. Keep your cell phone charged. In Ike, texting worked longer than other services. Know how to contact your neighbors or CERT (first responders). Walkie Talkies are most reliable in short distances.  In The Woodlands, CERT has a means to communicate out via TWITTER and a means to discuss issues via FACEBOOK (search Woodlands CERT). Also stay tuned to your local emergency radio broadcasting station. The Commentary will also be publishing before,during and after a storm if there are internet services available. Of course we lost those services during Ike.   
  • Stay tuned to the radio emergency channel for your area. In The Woodlands, it is KTRH 740 AM. 
  • You can expect the winds to gradually increase as the storm approaches. There will be squalls providing sudden intense wind gusts. Clouds will be moving very rapidly. If the storm is predicted to cross land south of Galveston, the Houston area will be on the "dirty" side of the storm. That means that the squalls (lines of thunderstorms) off of the gulf will be intense, bearing loads of water. The dirty side produces sudden tornadoes and down drafts that twist off the tops of trees and pushes them down. Tons of wood fall with one large green tree. The wind will change directions since the circulation of the wind is in a circle. A hurricane is an extremely low pressure cell that spins counter clockwise. So the dirty side brings the the storms directly off of the gulf. If the eye passes over The Woodlands, there will be a quiet time in the middle of the storm. It seems like the storm is over, The sun comes out and there is no wind or rain. In a few minutes, the winds will shift to the opposite direction and be as fierce or fiercer as it was before the eye. There will be sunshine and in a very short few minutes, the storm resumes. Avoid going outside during this time if you can and if you must do not go far from your home. It is dangerous. If the eye of the storm passes over land north of Galveston, we will still receive strong winds, but the rain will not be as big of a problem. You can tell where the eye is by the direction of the wind.    
    After the storm
  • Mosquitoes become a terrible nuisance. Rain continues for day(s) afterward. Take precautions against mosquitoes such as emptying accumulations of water in bird baths and other areas. The little daytime pests will stay close to their birthplace. 
  • There are few functional services to your home, but you can expect to have natural gas and water in urban areas this far from the coast. It is hunker down time for days while services are gradually restored. Children need games to play or some other entertainment. Do what you can do to restore services. Clean up outside. Cut up tree limbs and organize the vegetation waste on the street to help trash collectors who will come weeks later. Help neighbors.
  • Cook outside unless you have a gas oven and stove. Do not bring your grill inside the house to use.
  • If you need help as the storm departs the area, in The Woodlands, go to your nearest local fire station, if you are able, to get help.  An alternative is to go or communicate with your nearest CERT representative. These people are first responders. Of course if you have a functioning telephone or other services available, use the normal means of getting help. 

Hurricane Health & Safety Tips

Hurricane Health & Safety Tips Widget. Flash Player 9 is required. Hurricane Health & Safety Tips Widget. Flash Player 9 is required.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No water shortages this year

Here in The Woodlands Texas, as well as southeast Texas in general, the last couple of years have been difficult on plant life. Last year, we suffered from high temperatures and drought in the summer, resulting in the loss of many mature and young trees. Watering had to be scheduled. Water rates were adjusted to better conserve our water supply. 

This year is 20% ahead of last year in rainfall volume. Although it is 9% behind the average for this area,  we are still doing fine. We do not have to water our lawns very much. The temperatures have mostly been under 100 degrees, also alleviating some of the demand of our plants for water. Conservation remains a priority but not a day-to-day concern. Hopefully our subterranean reservoirs will be replenished. To understand that, we will have to look at rainfall in the watershed for the producing reservoirs, further to our north.

Through August in Indian Springs, we have accumulated 28.32 inches of rain. This is not the entire story of course, because the frequency of rain has a lot to to do with the need to water our yards. My bank account is grateful for the near normal year. My plants are grateful for survival. I am grateful for not having to spend no much time tending to the plants. Creatures are thankful for a more bountiful harvest in blooms, fruits and seeds.  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tropical Storm ALEX to become hurricane

This storm after exiting Belize on Sunday is now on a more northerly course and is forecast to strike south of Brownsville. The national weather center has therefore moved its predicted landfall hundreds of miles north in only one day.  Since it remains some five days away, it is worth watching and making initial preparations for a hurricane in southeast Texas. Within the next two days, it is wise to check generators and cut remove dead limbs out of trees. Bulletins are being issues this morning to watch this storm.
One bulletin for Montgomery County

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Do you know about sun dawgs?

Here in Texas, we don't refer to something astrological as a dog. Sure, we'll accept dawg! But our special buddies are not astrological. Well, I guess the sun is sort of astrological. At least my ex-wife thought it was.  It is the opposite of moon which reflects the image of the earth. So you can do all sorts of things with that idea. Gone is the man in the moon. Replace that with all sorts of moods and pscyho things of a person. They call those signs.

What in the world are we talking about anyway? A sun dawg is more than one sun on the horizon. No kidding! A sunset might have three suns! That means three worlds to some. Anyway it has to do with weather, so I thought I'd share a bit of this trivia with you since I have to put up with it today.

Look at what someone on the other side of the world says 'bout this dawg on the horizon.

Here is a technical link from the sun doctor himself if you want the details of the ice and refractions off of it causing this phenomenon.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Drought Remains in The Woodlands

After five months into 2010, our water situation looks bleak. Remember 2009? We know that was a bad year. This year promises to be much worse. You are probably tending to your garden like I am. Spot watering in the call for most days now. For 2010, we are 29% behind our normal rainfall, even though we had almost an inch of rain here last night in Indian Springs. At this time last year, we had a deficit rainfall of 16%. Be careful with your use of water. This is the time to be very conscious of waste.

Monday, May 17, 2010


That is not an eye test. It is the name of the volcano erupting in Iceland. How do you pronounce that anyway? Phonetically, try this: "EY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul, with "ey" pronounced like the "ey" in "they". Personally, my tongue has a problem with this name. I am not sure I will ever master it.

The volcano will potentially affect the weather in the northern hemisphere. In the last few days, the ash cover has managed to reach over more eastern parts of Europe such as Amsterdam in addition to the British Isles. Airports continue to close and reopen as the ash threat to aviation comes and goes. 

Icelandic Met Office - daily updates

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Drought conditions continue

April was a poor month for rain.  Our yards are suffering from it. Worse, May has been almost totally dry. I am already losing trees in reforested areas near my home. Summer is looking very bleak. So far this year, we have received 10.47 inches here in Indian Springs, in the heart of The Woodlands. That is 3.47 inches behind the average, or a 25% deficit.

On June 1st, the Atlantic hurricane season begins. Since we have a warmer Atlantic than usual for this time of the year, we are expected to have eight hurricanes with four of them being major ( cat 3 or 111+ MPH winds) along the coast this year. Colorado State University forecasters are predicting fifteen named storms.

By the time August rolls around, we are usually in the mood to get a small storm. Rarely do we have a "freight train" run over us. It is the water we want, not the wind!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rain Almost Average So Far

After two months of cold rainy weather, we still did not achieve the average rainfall through February. Lacking almost 0.8 inches compared to the average rainfall for the area. We are doing much better than last year when were falling short 4.4 inches at this time of the year. So maybe we will have more of a normal year though this summer than last. Let's hope so!

Mo AVG rain Avg to date 2009 to  date 2010  to   date Over/ (under) 2009 2010 Over/ (under) average
Jan 4.21 4.21 0.49 2.69 2.2 (1.52)
Feb 2.97 7.18 2.01 6.41 4.4 (0.77)



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Huntsville Snow 2010

For the entire Houston area, this was the second to the latest snowfall in our history. March 12th is the latest on the record books. 2010 ties the record for most snowfalls in any one year - three in 1973 when 1.4 inches was measured. That means it is not out of the question to have another snow in this remarkable winter.

There was significant snow in Huntsville on Tuesday. I went to Huntsville State Park to photograph what I thought was going to be three inches on the ground. That did not happen, but there was more than three inches that fell there! At first rain drop, it looked like there was going to be no snow at all.

Then the slush started. Nothing was sticking until about 3pm. Then the snow became pure and fell rigorously for about almost two hours before it slowed to flurries. Then about 530pm, the intensity again increased to a moderate+ level. It was beautiful and stuck to the ground.  

I took a hike for three hours in the falling snow there in the park, surrounded by birds and the forest. Late in the evening, I heard a couple of deer crash through the brush but never saw them. 

For the most part, I stayed dry with all the gear I was wearing. Keeping the equipment dry was a challenge in the wayward snow flakes that sometimes even traveled upward in the wind.

Although disappointed that the big snowfall did not occur, I was delighted with the beauty that the limited snowfall did provide. Snow lines cropped up in various areas of the forest, causing interesting effects.

In general, the accumulated snow acted as the icing on the cake for the forest. It dressed the forest floor up considerably, providing white where it once was brown, revealing birds that were difficult to see, adding colors to dead tree limbs and providing a variety of added color richness to the forest.

In some cases, the snow accumulated on trees, especially the Holly trees and on some of the smaller pines.

There were few cars in the park, but this one revealed to me the amount of snow that had actually fallen. The temperature was above freezing, so the snow that did stick to the ground was slowly melting.  I did see cars with more snow than this on them, coming into the park at about 6pm.

This dead tree has rusty colored lichens growing on it. Although that is colorful on its own, adding the white to the mix proved to be beautiful. I have several photos of this and will share them in other articles or via Twitter or Facebook.

A birdhouse in the park looked much better than normal with the added snow backdrop.

I would suggest looking at the photos a little closer to get the effects. Just click on them for a full sized view.

So what is the heaviest snowfall on record here? hint - it was a long time ago.

The snow line on Wednesday, indicating the remaining snow on the ground can be seen on the map at this location, courtesy of ABC13 news. Huntsville showed nothing but I bet there was remaining snow on the ground there, not visible from satellite. Huntsville reported 3 inches of snow officially.    

Monday, February 22, 2010

How to measure snow

Although the normal ratio of snow to rain for the same amount of water is 10:1, it depends on the wetness of the snow. Once inch of rain in the form of snow is likely to be less than 10 inches of snow here. So we cannot depend on measuring water to know how much snow we get. An open rain gauge can measure the mount of snow. Normally a gauge has a funnel at the top. That has to be removed to measure snowfall.

Snow accumulations are measured on a flat surface. I will put out a sheet of plywood. The color should be light to discourage melting of the snow. Put the board or flat surface material out early so that it adjusts to the temperature. Make sure it is located in a place free from obstructions and not under a tree. That removes most locations here in The Woodlands. Then measure the thickness of the accumulation with a ruler. It is that simple.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Texas Snow that could have been

This past week, we experienced a long cold day that dumped more than 1.5 inches of rain. The temperature was a little above freezing but not much.  Almost a week earlier, the weather bureau predicted we could see ice or sleet on Thursday. Upon arrival of the western-originated storm, a frigid arctic mass of air was to arrive. We weren't the only ones watching the event. This was a large Texas event and some snow was predicted for the northeast parts of Texas. We've seen these situations over and again. Two things have to be occurring simultaneously.  (1) A cold winter in the deep south, and (2) El Niño in the West. The southern jet stream carries the storms aloft, and the arctic air mass at the surface is pushed by the northern jet stream.

Indeed in this "winter of winters", Texas got a surprise. All snowfall records known to modern day weather forecasters were broken. In Tyler Texas, several inches of snow accumulated when they thought they may see some ice and flurries. In Dallas, more than 12 inches of snow fell, bringing the city to a standstill for a while. An interesting phenomena occurred there. The snow caused the roads to be safer. What might have been an ice storm turned into a a melting snow scene on the streets. Weather forecasters were off the mark on this one - significantly off the mark! For a more detailed view investigation for the reason why, I suggest you read the Dallas Morning article:  Forecasters tell how they miscalled Snowstorm of the Century

This could have been us. All the ingredients have the potential to collide here instead of Dallas. I wonder what we would do with twelve inches of snow. It could even be worse. The speed of the storm was slow but from our past experiences, we know a storm can just squat here and dump and dump. This winter could be the first of a series like this.  My trees are budding, but winter is not over. Migratory birds are passing through, but it remains winter.  Berries are ripening and falling off of the Yaupon, but it is near freezing.  Two more weeks of winter is still predicted.

And if you wonder how cold this winter really is, Lake Eerie is frozen over for the first time in 14 years. A full article on that subject can be found on the Go Eerie website. Also see:   Map of the Great Lakes and frozen status as of Feb 9th. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Winter of winters

Our furry little weather forecaster probably got it right this year. Six more weeks of winter, in the north, that is... not to say however that we Southerners are out of the woods, so to speak. We can expect to be right in the middle of it. This weekend, after a full week of dismal weather, but wet, which we know we still need, our neck of the woods will be enjoying some sunshine. That will not last long, as another rain pulse accompanied by cold weather will be upon us quickly next week. Some folks are predicting that we will see snow in Houston again before Spring, even in the middle of next week! That is a far reach, but Old Man Winter has been reaching beyond our expectations for most of this season. As my backyard plants would tell you if they could talk, "it's been horrible out here".

Let's keep an eye on what Washington D.C is expecting tonight and tomorrow. A winter storm warning tonight and then an outright blizzard warning until late tomorrow night will be the talk of the nation tomorrow. I will be watching the news being published from Washington. Unlike the great snowstorm of our forefathers and the anguish that our army suffered to free our nation, we have fast electronics and warm houses to observe possible record breaking snowfall in our nation's capital. There could be more than 30 inches of snow falling in some areas around that city.

ABC news of Washington D.C can be found at this site.  

Monday, January 25, 2010

Needed - precipitation recorders

If you have looked through this part of The Commentary, you recognize that I am a member of a group who records precipitation. I do that because more data is needed to understand the weather in Southeast Texas. The National Weather Bureau put me onto this as he explained the limitations of weather forecasters in predicting or even giving notice of tornadoes and severe weather. There is one radar system for the entire area located near Galveston bay. Due to the curvature of the earth, it is able to "see" only the highest of clouds, missing activities below a certain altitude. To compensate for that, human weather spotters are trained and encouraged to identify cloud threats and to report hail and intense winds.

Additionally, there is insufficient data to study for detailed analysis. A number of agencies and organizations correlate radar and other data with actual precipitation. A few locations in Montgomery County report rainfall, snow and hail, but not many. A more dense set of information is needed to understand the intensity of the weather in any given event. Also, estimates are not good for scientific studies. Currently, based on satellite and radar, estimates of rainfall are often used, along with any data observed on the ground.

Therefore, if you can, please participate in this program  by purchasing the required rain gauge which measures rainfall to the nearest .01 inch (about $30).  Then take the free electronic course that the website offers and enter the data into the database every day (including zero precipitation). You will also be asked to report the size of hail and accumulations of snow, although that rarely occurs.

Website for data reporting and related infoirmation