Tag Archives: National Weather Service

Icepocalypse now, walls of flame, billowing smoke, who’s to blame?

Icepocalypse Now

The hype started up early last Tuesday. We were in for snow, ice, asteroid strikes, blazing angels, Wal-Mart gift cards…the local meteorologists were whooping it up about this was going to be a storm for the records. By Wednesday, we all knew that something was up when we hit near-record high temperatures that afternoon and everyone started pulling out swimsuits. That didn’t keep everyone from laughing at the National Weather Service. “Oh, they say that all the time. They always predict a worse storm than what we actually get. Just watch: we’ll get a little bit of rain, and that’s it.”

Oh, we of little faith. The snowmageddon started sliding in from the northwest on Thursday afternoon, and it just kept getting worse. And worse. I have an incredible ability to wake up about thirty seconds before a power outage, and so I woke up about five minutes before the alarm clock went off, wondering “Why am I conscious right now?” when everything went dead for the next five hours. When the exemplary crews at Garland Power & Light weren’t able to get power reestablished right away, that’s when we knew this was going to be bad.

And to stop the immediate comparisons to your local weather and how “this isn’t so bad,” that’s true. Kinda. This was definitely the worst ice storm I’ve seen in Texas in the 34 years since I first moved here, exceeding the big storms of 1983, 1996, and 2011. We almost never get ice storms, much less ones of this intensity, and this one compared favorably to ones I experienced in Michigan when I was a kid. In Michigan, everyone has snow tires, heavy-duty ice scrapers and snow brushes, and other regular accessories for a typical winter up there. We don’t have snowplows, salt trucks, and tire chains because they might be used once every ten years or so. Hence, we’re caught flatfooted nearly every time. And this one? Nobody was prepared for this mess, because we simply don’t see storms like this.

Fields of ice

On a personal level, the storm and the power outage tag-teamed me. First, specialized greenhouse tape specifically purchased so it wouldn’t go brittle in the cold went brittle in the cold, and the north wind blew out a panel on the main greenhouse. Combine that with the outage cutting heat at a critical time, and all of the thermal mass I put in last October didn’t make up for the sub-freezing drafts. I’ll have to wait until things warm up, but it looks like at least a two-thirds loss of everything inside, including a new line of bonsai Capsicum peppers intended to be premiered at the next show. It may be possible to salvage, but that has to wait until temperatures rise again and I can perform a decent evaluation.

On the bright side, at least the Czarina and I weren’t insane enough to be vendors at the scheduled Fair Park Holiday show in downtown Dallas. That one was shut down early, but probably more a matter of a lack of vendors than the worries about weather. But about that later.

I’m also not complaining more, because the damage here was a lot less than that right around the area. Most of North Texas’s trees are various oaks, which generally don’t shed their leaves until spring, which meant they made wonderful nucleation sites for the incoming ice. They’re also not adapted to dealing with large amounts of ice, either, so local trees’ branches aren’t adapted to shedding or carrying huge amounts of snow or ice weight. With more flexible trees, such as crape myrtles and mesquite, they obligingly flattened to the ground and waited it out. The same thing with small oaks, such as the three-meter-tall oak that obligingly impersonated Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree when saturated with ice. Larger trees, though, and saplings from more brittle species just snapped. Expect photos shortly of the mess preventing my neighbor from being able to open his garage door for the two tons of shattered oak blocking his driveway.

Triffid Ranch Charlie Brown Christmas tree

And the temperate carnivorous plants put out for winter dormancy? That’s going to have to wait until spring. The layers of ice definitely killed off any still-living traps and phyllodia that the plants could use for photosynthesis, but most are used to worse conditions than this. The Sarracenia purpurea, for instance, should be right at home. In the meantime, while the ice lasts, I get views like this:

Iced-up Sarracenia

And one little bit of good? I’ve spent the last four years attempting to get results with growing the South African proto-carnivorous plant Roridula in Texas. One of the hardest problems is getting the seeds to germinate, and I tried everything. Scarifying the seed coat to encourage germination. Putting the potting mix in a smoker and smoking it heavily before adding seeds. Chilling the seeds before planting them. No results, and looking over the wreckage in the greenhouse made me think about just pitching them and giving up. Wouldn’t you just know that this sort of chill was exactly what Roridula dentata needed to get up and going? Now just to keep the seedlings going, as apparently decent air circulation is essential, and I don’t dare risk bringing them inside if they’re this happy just to lose them to fungus infections. And so it goes.

The joys of Texas meteorology

While nowhere near as bad as last summer, 2012′s weather continues its usual game of “Let’s Mess With Everyone’s Heads” in North Texas. Back in April, it was tornadoes and torrential rain, and then jack squat for a month. In our immediate area, we have a nearly incessant southerly wind that allegedly contains moisture coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. By the time it passes over San Antonio and Austin, it’s pretty much relieved of that excess. By the time it hits Waco, it’s empty. By the time it reaches Garland, the air is so dry that it could kill a silk ficus. Considering that the main focus of the Triffid Ranch is involved with raising and selling carnivores, which prefer high humidity, this little fact instigates a lot of oddball engineering.

To wit, the period between our tornado convention in April and today’s light rains was mostly dryer than Stephen Fry’s sense of humor. This naturally interfered with the laudable and reasonable intention of growing Sarracenia pitcher plants outdoors. Oh, they’d grow, but only a little, and they obviously fought between basic maintenance and growing enough traps to sustain themselves over the summer. By the beginning of May, the struggle became intense enough that I only had a few Sarracenia for Texas Frightmare Weekend that were a sellable quality. At that point, I realized that I needed to get a greenhouse, or at least some sort of wind shelter, for the Sarracenia. It was either that or moving to Galveston.

That’s when the Czarina chimed in. “You know,” she said, “the Harbor FreightTools is selling greenhouses for $300.”

I winced a little. Yes, it would get the job done for one small area, but I had plans for something just a smidgen larger. “Yeah, but I’d rather put in the money for a real one.”

She insisted. It wasn’t a bad deal as something to get me and the plants through the summer, until we could build a more permanent installation in the fall. Besides, she noted, she’d get it for me as an early birthday present. I relented, fearing her ever-sharp elbows if I kept arguing it, and we picked one up on sale. (I might note that because of confusion, I still ended up buying it myself, so this doesn’t qualify as a birthday present. This means that I get to torment her for the next three months by pricing crocodile monitor hatchlings and reminding her that she forced me to this situation. One day, she’ll actually agree to my getting a crocodile monitor, and then I’ll be stuck.)

Oh, let me tell you, putting together a kit greenhouse with only an hour or so available each day is entertaining. The instructions were complete enough, but sufficiently terse that I found myself repeatedly mumbling “If the Sontarans don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” It’s doing so while working in the worst sort of twilight, as mosquitoes large enough to have in-air refueling ports tried to steal the tools out of my hands. As things got darker, the Mediterranean geckos and more unrecognizable things came out to watch, and I’m not sure if they looked at me as sustenance or a source of mirth. I’m pretty sure I heard gecko laughter at least twice as I was trying to find locking bolts that had fallen into the grass. I know the little vermin were snickering when the Czarina came out to assist with putting up the last braces.

And then there was the plan for the glazing. The idea was to use the greenhouse frame as a framework atop the old Sarracenia growing area, and extend it about eight feet or so due north with greenhouse film. Fair and good, but installing greenhouse film requires both good weather and good light, and those days that had the light also had winds threatening to blow me, the greenhouse, and the rest of the neighborhood to Oz. A couple of gusts would have overshot Oz and gone straight for Lankhmar. By this last weekend, the framework had glazing along the base, and I figured “Oh, I’ll put in the top next week. Besides, if it rains, the Sarracenia can catch the rain so I don’t have to water.”

And talk about dodging a bullet. Yesterday not only brought torrential rains to the entire Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, to the point where the National Weather Service issued airport weather advisories and warnings about river flooding. The warnings even included the term “gusty outflow winds,” which sounds more as if it belongs in a review of a chili cookoff than a weather report. The upshot is that we had, once again, the classic North Texas view of rain coming in just short of horizontal. Wind, even a bit of hail, too. Everyone in the area went to the window, gasped a bit at the carnage, and went back to work.

I did that, too, and went out to the growing area that evening after finishing with the Day Job. One of those gusty outflow winds brapped across the area, snapped off about 200 pounds of branch off a big silverleaf maple on the property, and then dropped it right atop the greenhouse frame. THe greenhouse frame has a dent on one side, and the entire ceiling brace is bent beyond repair. However, that giant collection of branches came down right where I was growing Sarracenia a week ago, and if that frame hadn’t been there, they would have been destroyed. Flattened. Turned to Sarracenia mush and a lot of splattered growing mix. I’m now certain that the greenhouse frame gave its life so that the pitcher plants would continue.

Because of this, I’ll no longer look askance at buying anything at Harbor Freight, or at any of the Czarina’s seemingly wacky ideas. I will, however, have grand fun messing with her on the selection of birthday presents.

Ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

Always be careful of what you wish for. Always. This spring, my only concern was that we weren’t going to have a repeat of the hellish summer of 2011. Welp, that’s not a concern any more. The last two days have dumped lots and lots of rain on my little corner of North Texas, and we’re going to get more before June 1. Even now, with a nice hefty dollop of Angelspit and Ministry in the headphones, the roar of the thunderclaps intrudes, over and over.

Because of how we’re situated between southern winds coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, northern winds skirting the Rockies on their way from Canada, and the prevailing jet stream currents, this little allotment in Hell’s Half-Acre already has a propensity for terrible storms brewing up from nowhere. Watching weather radar scans, as tremendous thunderstorms emerge and disappear while you watch, has already been entertainment for three generations of Dallasites, and last night’s storms were making someone at the National Weather Service absolutely orgasmic. I have a small weather alert radio intended to warn of thunderstorms and hailstorms, and that blasted thing kept going off all night. After about the fourth alert, screaming of half-dollar-sized hail in far southern Oklahoma, and the storm that produced it heading right for the Dallas half of the Metroplex, I just started grumbling about sending a tornado out this way to give us something to panic about. I don’t even need to go to Oz: Nehwon and Melnibone are nice this time of the year, from what I understand.

And so it continues. If there’s any one good side to all of this, it’s that I’m probably the only farmer in the vicinity who’s glad of the immediate effects, much less the long-term precipitation. The rainwater tanks are full up, the sundews are nearly unrecognizable from the number of trapped mosquitoes coating them, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants think they’re back home. I may grumble about being awakened by the racket of another brutal thunderstorm, but if we get a summer more evocative of New Orleans or Tallahassee than Phoenix, I’m certainly not going to complain.

Render unto Rick Perry what is Rick Perry’s

The Christmas decorations are finally put up. The trees were hauled off during Large Trash Day two weeks ago. The grocery stores are full of Valentine’s Day candy. Dallas fluctuates between just-about-freezing north winds and warm, humid south winds that tear up the greenhouse and bring the palmetto bugs out of hiding. Yep, it’s winter, all right. Next on the agenda: tax time.

I’ll derail any arguments about taxation by stating that I don’t think anyone likes paying taxes. Even the swot in high school who swooned over getting homework over Christmas vacation doesn’t like paying taxes. That said, I understand that this is the price for having an advanced technological civilization. I also understand that most of the complaining about taxation comes down to whining about paying for things that you don’t necessarily like. Myself, I figure that if at least some of my federal income tax money goes to the National Weather Service, the National Science Foundation, and the Global Positioning System, I’m coming out ahead. When it comes to these and other government agencies and services that directly affect my life and livelihood, I just wish I had some way to give APHIS a bit more.

It’s the same situation with state sales taxes. Because of our wideranging oil and gas industry, Texas is one of the few states in the US that doesn’t charge a state income tax. To cover additional charges above and beyond the oil tax, though, we have a rather hefty sales tax, as well as state “sin taxes” on liquor, tobacco, and gasoline. Again, I could fuss about some of the silly and aggravating things on which the state spends its money, but I also figure that it’s a fair trade for decent roads, an exemplary Dallas mass transit system, public schools and libraries, and the Texas Department of Agriculture. If I have issues with how the rest of the money is spent, well, that’s why you keep an eye on your legislators.

About the only thing that I truly hate about tax time isn’t the money, or the people allocating it. It’s the actual process of filing. No matter the prior preparation, no matter how early you file, the process itself dredges up horrible memories of school essays and oral exams. Successfully defend your Ph.D thesis once, and you’re done. Tax time is that Ph.D defense every blasted year, no matter how kindly the folks at H&R Block. Sort the receipts and itemize the deductions to where even the most determined IRS auditor whistles in appreciation, and you’re still channeling your internal Dylan Moran: “‘What is your mother’s maiden name?’ What’s her first name? I just knew her as ‘Ma’! ‘Ma (Possibly Deceased)’.”

Oh, and did I mention that my sales taxes are charged quarterly? Every three months, the Czarina has grand fun shrieking “WHAT? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” at me. The scary part is that this never gets old.