OK—the only thing higher than July’s temperatures is the price of gasoline. So why am I on a road trip? I was asked to teach a seminar for the Texas A&M University Cattle Short Course. I needed to observe the effects of the Texas drought and heatwave for myself . . . time for a road trip.
Maybe this trip qualifies as a form of insanity—but this is a historic heatwave. At least one weather station in all 50 states broke a daily high temperature record this July. A reported 2,712 stations have broken or tied their all time heat record.
But even in a roasting nation, what Texas is going through is special. Over 99% of the state is experiencing drought with over 75% suffering stage four drought; the most severe measurement possible.
July has seen some extraordinary heat this year. SOURCE: NOAA
Temperatures are soaring with Dallas enduring triple digit temperatures for 33 days in a row. Crops are shriveling; even fish are dying from heat in North Texas. Every day of the trip, I saw emergency heat warnings flashing during television shows. There’s even one lake, the OC Fisher Reservoir in San Angelo State Park, which has turned a deep opaque red.
I live in the desert – I am used to dry. But in the desert, the bare soil with craggy rocks and rugged cactus has a harsh beauty. Here in East Texas, I am seeing pasturelands covered with dead brown and gray grass and weeds. Some rivers are slopes of yellow dying weeds with a scummy trickle in the middle.
It’s enough to break your heart.
Click to Enlarge. The Texas drought. Source: US Dept. of Agriculture
It lets you know how rough things are that when I discuss the possibility of hurricanes, most Texans smile and say, “Bring it on!” They are still disappointed that last week’s Tropical Storm Don was a dud.
Yet as I drive through some of the blighted areas, people are overwhelmingly friendly. Stopping at local diners and truck stops, people are always willing to chat about the weather (as well as serving some fantastic home-made food).
So maybe I’m not crazy for going on a road trip in a heat wave. The only thing warmer than the temperatures in Texas has been the local hospitality (and some of the chili).
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.