We spent Labor Day weekend watching it rain—all weekend long.
We weren’t home. We had driven to Pensacola, Fla., to visit my in-laws and had the opportunity to appreciate the wonder of Tropical Storm Lee while we were there. We were about half way from Denton, Texas, to Pensacola on Friday afternoon when my mother-in-law called to suggest we take an alternate route. We typically drive across on I-20 until we get to Shreveport, La., and then go south on I-49 and hit I-10 at Lafayette. From there we drive across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and then it’s just a short little jog over to Pensacola. It’s usually a 12-hour jaunt, door-to-door.
But my mother-in-law suggested we head east about 150 miles farther north than usual. Lee was already pounding the Gulf Coast. Rain was constant as were wind gusts to 45 miles per hour. She, and we, figured traffic would be horrendous along the coast and that we would face the possibility of closed roads, falling trees, flooding and alligators on the Interstate.
We headed east out of Alexandria and drove to Natchez, through a lot of farm country. We saw cotton fields ranging from already harvested to not yet defoliated. It looked like pretty good cotton, and I’d guess some dryland acreage would push two bales, based on just a windshield estimate.
Farmers were combining soybean fields that also looked promising. It was an interesting detour but about 90 minutes longer than our usual route.
We stayed dry most of the way, ran into a shower or two around Natchez and then more of a constant drizzle as we got to Mobile and on into Pensacola. By Saturday morning, Lee had settled in over the Florida Panhandle and hung on until Monday morning, when we headed home. It rained on us pretty much non-stop from Pensacola to just east of Baton Rouge.
By the time we reached Shreveport late Monday afternoon, we could tell that rain had not made it that far. And when we got into Texas a short time later we began to notice the hazy horizon and the acrid odor of wildfires.
All weekend, I had watched the weather channel between football games to see if Lee would turn northwest and bring some of that rain to the Southwest. Didn’t happen. Instead, it tracked northeast and dumped more rain on areas that had already been inundated from Irene.
I thought about the difference in weather off and on during the 12-hour trek back home. The Northeast has endured horrible flooding over the past three weeks or so. Texas has witnessed devastating drought and deadly wildfires. We could use a little balance.
Recent reports indicate that more than 18,700 wildfires have burned across Texas so far this year. Fire has burned more than 3.5 million acres. Drought-related losses exceed $5 billion. Oklahoma conditions are also dire. New Mexico is suffering, too.
People died this summer from heat-related injuries, and recent wildfires have also claimed lives.
The Dallas area may break the record next week for the most 100-degree days in a year, a dubious record, at best. We were cooler this week, and I was hoping that those triple-digit days were behind us until next June.
But latest predictions indicate the dry conditions are likely to persist into the fall and next winter. Farmers and ranchers will be hard-pressed to prepare for another great drought, but they are doing so. They are a resilient lot.
We’re also keeping an eye on Nate, a hurricane slowly dragging its way northward off the east coast of Mexico. It could hit South Texas. It might not.
I don’t wish any hardships on my friends down South, but if that storm could track hard north, belay its winds and flooding a bit and just pour water on as much of the Southwest as possible for a few days—without anyone getting hurt—I’d be okay with that.