As Irene roared up the U.S. East Coast last weekend, bringing torrential rains and flooding, many Texans like me were almost envious. This is not to diminish, in any way, anyone’s loss or suffering in the U.S. East. As it was happening – as Irene’s fierce winds blew and rains poured last weekend – we in Texas got the news that late August and September 2011 will bring a snake infestation to suburban yards in our drought-stricken state.
The snake infestation alert was posted on the Texas Hunting Forum. It said to expect:
… an explosion of snakes in back yards, as the critters start slithering out looking for something to eat.
Central Texas snake expert Jerry Cates was further quoted as saying:
They [the snakes] are very hungry right now. The hungrier they get, the more they start ranging the fields looking for food.
He said that’s why we in Texas – a place so devastated in summer 2011 by drought and heat that rural areas of the state look like a bad dream – can expect snakes to show up in suburban yards, where they’re seldom seen. He added that the three most common types of poisonous snakes in Texas are the common rattlesnake, the Texas coral snake, and the cottonmouth. Good to know.
It has been hot and dry in Texas in the summer of 2011. As of August 31, we in Texas have had 76 days at or above 100° at Camp Mabry in central Austin, about three blocks down the road from where I sit. Here’s what August 2011 was like in our neck of the woods, according to popular local TV weatherman Mark Murray:
- August 2011 was the hottest August ever recorded in central Austin, beating the old record set in August of 2009.
The poignant map of Texas above is from a post from September 1 by Joe Romm on his website Climate Progress. It’s from the U.S. Drought Monitor, which says that 80 percent of Texas is now rated under “Exceptional Drought” (darkest red).
Romm’s post also said that the record-setting Texas drought has resulted in $5.2 billion in losses for rural farm communities, the greatest seasonal loss on record. Cattle ranchers have lost $2 billion, while the hit to the cotton industry is put at about $1.8 billion. As just one example of what’s going on here, on August 26 Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples – while announcing updates to the Hay Hotline service that connects ranchers who need hay with those who have it – said:
Right now there is no pasture, no hay and no end in sight. The need for hay is dire and getting more desperate each day.
Rivers and streams are dry here, of course, but the trees are harder to bear. There are some 170 million acres of ground in Texas, and virtually all that land in summer 2011 has a noticeable percentage of dead or dying trees. In the summer of 2009, when we were in drought conditions less severe than conditions this summer, we lost trees in the city park near my house. It was sad to see the trees quietly cut down and turned into mulch. But the sight of dying trees in a city park two years ago can’t compare with what’s happening now. Some trees are probably dormant, and some will probably revive if and when the rains begin again. But many Texas trees will die in summer 2011. More and more, we hear the word “desertification” here in Texas, but the transition from our past climate to our future one won’t be pretty. Who will cut down all the dead trees – all across the state – and haul them away? Will we have to watch for years as dead trees fall to the ground? Or will planned or unplanned fires take them?
I have heard a lot of people this summer – many native Texans – wonder whether they’ll be able to remain here if, as scientists expect, drought conditions continue. But I know I won’t leave.
If you lived in Texas this summer – and if you were 60 years old and had lived here your whole life, as I have – you might think, as I do, that what’s happening here looks like a large-scale climate change. It’s surely a climate extreme, what many scientists have been saying for years we should expect as global temperatures climb. If you were in Texas this summer, wouldn’t you consider that global warming might be real? Wouldn’t you at least entertain the notion that we seven billion humans on Earth today might be somehow contributing to the heat? You might also wonder – as virtually everyone in Texas does now – what the climate future will bring.
Joe Romm’s post – which I mentioned above – is excellent at explaining why and how this summer’s Texas drought should be seen as part of a larger climate pattern. It’s so good that you should click over immediately and read it.
But the gist of Romm’s post – for us Texans – is captured by the headline, which is based on a statement from our state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. He said:
It’s likely much of Texas will still be in severe drought next August, with worse water shortages.
Read Romm’s post. Then come back here later and tell me you sympathize with the plight of Texans and our summer of hell.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.