Officially, we started autumn nearly two weeks ago. North Texas apparently didn’t get the memo. Oh, we’re no longer skinnydipping in pools of molten concrete, but we’re still in true drought conditions. According to Weather.com, we’re officially registering at 15 percent relative humidity. Yesterday, when the official report was at 23 percent, I measured a whole 9 percent relative humidity next to the Sarracenia growing area. I’ve now given up on trying to grow carnivorous plants, and I’m switching instead to ranching sandworms.
Very seriously, I already have the official position as the Weather Oracle at the Day Job, mostly because I’ve been kindasorta accurate before. Back in April, I was warning everyone that if we didn’t get a lot of rain between then and the middle of June, we were facing one hell of a heatwave. They laughed. I didn’t blame them, seeing as how a weather reporter’s “10-day forecast” makes me see nothing but eighteen shades of red. Now, though, they listen when I tell them I’m worried about this winter. As in “Some say Texas will end in fire, some say in ice.”
For people, at least, the current weather is impeccable. The Czarina was a regular vendor at the late Jazz on the Boulevard music festival in Fort Worth during the first half of the Aughts, so we traveled out that way on Saturday night to catch its successor, the Fort Worth Music Festival. The air was the clearest I’d ever seen in Fort Worth in my entire life: no dust, no haze, no water vapor, no burning chemical factories. The moon looked clear enough to pluck right out of the sky, and I fervently wished I’d hung onto my old telescope to take advantage of the spectacular viewing conditions. Normal relative humidity for this time of the year usually ranges between 40 and 60 percent, so the drier air actually made the fest attendees even more mellow and relaxed than usual, and considering that we’re talking about Fort Worth, that’s saying something.
Everywhere else, it was the same story. If people weren’t going out to the park, or to art or music festivals, or to something outdoors, they were cracking open their garages to get some work done on the car while the weather holds. My next-door neighbor was tuning up his Harley, and my best friend was putting more miles on his. As a sudden biological imperative, just about every human in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex decided that it was time to go outside, and for most, that meant anywhere but the mall. The weather practically demanded it.
And that’s what scares me about the rest of the year. I still have very fond memories of the autumn of 1989, which was roughly the same as now as far as temperatures and humidity. My first real autumn-that-never-dies came through that year, and that October really did seem as if it would go on forever. At the time, I was working a night shift manufacturing job for Texas Instruments, so I would stay up until nearly dawn every single night and watch the stars. I was bicycling all through Dallas, so this gave me a perfect opportunity to explore. Even when the first blue norther came through in mid-month and shifted the usual steady wind from south to north, it wasn’t a hard or oppressive wind. True, I was having to water the plants on my back porch a lot more, but I could deal with that.
What I didn’t know at the time, and precious few other people suspected, was that we’d gotten a bit too dry that season. November was chilly, but not viciously so, and I remember Thanksgiving weekend as being just cold enough that when my then-girlfriend accidentally burned a batch of rolls in the open, it was a bit too cold just to open the doors and windows and vent the smoke. Even the early part of December wasn’t nasty.
And then we got what was, at that time, the worst winter storm in our history. Right in time for Christmas, too: officially, we reached a whole one degree Fahrenheit (-17.22 Celsius), which was just unheard of. The snow and ice that came down in the storm didn’t melt off because the ground was too cold, and I arrived at work just in time to be told that the plant was being shut down due to weather. Yeah, folks in Calgary can laugh about this, but it wasn’t just an inconvenience: this was cold enough that anyone skimping on antifreeze had their car radiators melt (or, if they had older vehicles where the hoses weren’t as flexible as they used to be, engine fires). Nobody down here had reason to wrap pipes against the cold, so there went water and sewer lines across the Metroplex. Me, I nearly died from a good wrist-slashing, but that was my fault: since the day was shot, I figured that this would be a perfect time to take care of my then-girlfriend’s birthday present. When picturing this young idiot trying to move a movie poster-sized piece of glass down an ice-covered hill by himself, just label that image “Fools and Horses”.
Now, I’m not saying that we’re going to get another 1989-level freeze. I’m not even going to note that our most extensive precipitation between January and April for the last two years consisted of record snowfalls, and we already had the worst sustained freeze in recorded Texas history this last February. I’ll just be stocking up on weatherstripping for the house, caulking for the greenhouse, wool socks for myself, and insulation for the water pipes in October, while the weather is nice and the supplies are cheap.