Drought

Texas Standard: January 15, 2021

The November elections suggested it wouldn’t be business as usual at the state house, unless of course, lawmakers changed the rules, we’ll have details. Also, when republicans lost a key seat in the Texas senate, they lost their supermajority… a tool they’ve used to keep democrats from blocking their priorities. We’ll hear what a new rule change means for the status quo ante. And snow in Texas. Fun for kids, but farmers hope a harbinger of wetter and better days as they struggle with drought conditions. And the Latino voices of the pandemic in Texas. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: July 14, 2020

New York City: once considered the national epicenter in the fight against COVID-19, now health experts fear a Texas city has taken its place. Hospitals in Houston struggling to deal with the pandemic on a scale similar to that of New York City in late spring. Our conversation with New York Times reporter Dr.Sherri Fink. Also, a warning from climatologists about a coming drought that could reshape Texas for the long term. And getting schooled by Selena: a Texas University launches a first of its kind course. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: July 23, 2019

It’s not just protesters in Puerto Rico. From Killeen to El Paso and beyond, Texans with ties to the territory join a push to get its governor to resign. We’ll have the latest. Also: El Chapo, the drug lord convicted in a U.S. court last week, ordered to forfeit a multibillion dollar fortune. But not so fast, says Mexico’s president. We’ll hear more. And a vital vein running from Midland across the great plains is running dry. What does it mean for farms and towns across west Texas and beyond? All of that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 12, 2018

This time, it’s for real: the National GOP worried that Beto O’Rourke has a real shot at tipping the balance on Capitol Hill. We’ll take a look at the details. Also, Bob Woodward’s book just out this week details chaos in the Trump Administration, but there’s nothing chaotic about the systematic dismantling of environmental regulations. What’s happening, and what it means for Texas. And Harvey dumped 127 billion tons of water on Texas last year: help from FEMA? A mere trickle so far. What’s holding things up? Plus kids at the center of a culture war over remembering the Alamo and so much more, today on the Texas Standard:

Life On Mars

Recent discoveries — and ongoing drought — inspired this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Texas Standard: August 6, 2018

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is sounding the alarm about his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke. We’ll take a look at why Cruz says the race is “too close for comfort.” Also, steer clear of the Koch Brothers! That’s the message from national Republican leaders after the Koch’s, unhappy with Trump’s trade policies, said they’d back some Democrats. And hot and dry. Weather experts say this year’s drought is bad. But how does it compare with 2011 when Texas farmers lost billions in agriculture? Plus, wind insurance rates are going up, again. We’ll explain why even Texans who live far away from the coast will feel the effects. And we look at how some Houston neighborhoods have changed since Hurricane Harvey. That and more on today’s Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: July 30, 2018

Retired Texas teachers say they feel let down by a vote that could mean lower pension checks. We’ll explore the impact and the next steps. Also a multi-million dollar settlement involving a Houston-area refinery accused of doing too much polluting. We’ll look at the legal moves that made it happen. Plus, the story of a small town principal jailed for murder and the questionable evidence that put him there. And when wildfires pop up across Texas it’s often volunteer firefighters that are there first to put out the flames. We’ll look at why many volunteer departments are struggling. And keep an eye on your cacti. The insects that could destroy your xeriscape, yuck up your yucca and obliterate your agave. All of that and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 23, 2018

Lupe Valdez is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. We’ll take a look at what she faces as she sets her sights towards the November Election, and Greg Abbott. Plus, we’ll break down the runoff results and hear from the political experts about which races surprised them and which could be clues to what could happen next Election Day. We’ll also look at the conversation from the Governor’s first roundtable on how to prevent school shootings like the one that devastated Santa Fe. And we’ll fact-check some of the claims that came out in the wake of the shooting. Also, drought conditions in Texas are causing some ranchers to take dire measures. We’ll talk to one. Those stories and so much more, today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Weather is Never Normal

When Admiral Perry arrived at the North Pole, according to legend, he said, “Must be a cold day in Amarillo!” He was referring of course to the old Texas saying that there is nothing between Amarillo and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence.

Amarillo and the Panhandle are not just famous for arctic fronts and blue northers. They are well known for wind in general. Chicago is not really the king of windy cities; Amarillo is. The Weather Channel says that Amarillo is the windiest city in America. In fact four of the top ten windiest cities in America are in Texas – Amarillo, Lubbock, Abilene and Corpus Christi. It’s tempting to add Austin for other reasons. Windy weather is why Texas is by far number one in wind energy, producing more than twice as much as number two, Iowa.

Another common saying in Texas is this: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” We are a region that can have the heater on in the morning and the air conditioner on at noon, only to turn the heater back on at night. In weather, we are bi-polar. I like the post floating around the net these days that goes like this: “Mother Nature says: You can’t squeeze all the weather in the world into one week. Texas says: Hold my beer and watch this.”

And then, it’s not uncommon to see signs in Texas during the summer that say: “Satan called. He wants his weather back.”

Here’s another Texas expression I love: “It’s hotter than a fur coat in Marfa.” See if you can’t work that one into conversation someday soon.

Despite the persistence of the claim that you can fry an egg on the sidewalk, it is never actually hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. It does get hot enough to bake cookies on the dash. I’d much rather have dashboard cookies than sidewalk eggs, anyway.

My brother Redneck Dave used to be annoyed that Freer often reported the highest summertime temperature in the state. He said “I know for a fact that they keep their town thermometer in an oil field pipe yard. That ain’t right.” He seemed to think they were unfairly winning a weather Emmy of some sort – best performance in heat.

Much of Texas is known for being dry. Dry as a bone, they often say. A West Texas rancher once told me, “God ain’t much of a rainer out here, but he was mighty generous with the stars.”

And they have sandstorms in West Texas so intense that they leave sand drifts behind. In some years they have to shovel snow in the winter and sand in the summer. I bet sometimes they get to do this on the same day.

Farmers I knew as a kid would say that south Texas was so hot and dry that the “trees were whistling for the dogs.” Gotta love farmers. Humor as dry as the land.

Eventually droughts are broken and the rain comes. Then we have “gully washers and toad stranglers.” Or old timers say, “It’s raining so hard the animals are startin’ to pair up.”  The great meteorologist Isaac Cline got it right when he said: “Texas is a land of eternal drought interrupted occasionally by Biblical floods.”

Houston is not known so much for rain or drought, but for humidity. It is a giant sauna much of the year. I doubt Houston would be the economic powerhouse it is if it weren’t for air-conditioning. In 1900, there were less than 50,000 Houstonians. Won’t be too long before there will be 7 million people in the greater Houston area. What happened in the last century? The invention and perfection of air-conditioning. Coincidence? I think not.

Somewhere in Houston they should have a big statue of Willis Carrier, 100 feet tall, right off the Gulf Freeway. Willis would reside comfortably inside a huge glass display case, which would be air-conditioned, of course.

In Texas we define ideal weather as Chamber of Commerce weather. It may not be unique to Texas, but it is a common expression here. But honestly that weather is rare. Most of the time I visit a Texas town for the first time people tell me, “the weather isn’t usually like this.” But from my experience it is. Texas weather is never actually normal.

The Time It Never Rained

The great Texas meteorologist Isaac Klein reportedly said back in the ’30s that Texas is a land of eternal drought, interrupted occasionally by biblical floods.

Here is the way one writer describe one of these twenty-year droughts: “It crept up out of Mexico touching first along the brackish Pecos River, and spreading then in all directions. A cancerous blight burning a scar on the land.”

Just another dry spell, men said at first. Ranchers watched waterholes recede into brown puddles of mud that their livestock wouldn’t touch. They watched the rank weeds shrivel as the west winds relentlessly sought them out and smothered them with its hot breath. They watch the grass slowly lose its green, then curl up and fire up like dying corn stocks. Men grumbled.

But you learn to live with dry spells if you live in west Texas. There are more dry spells than wet ones. No one expected another drought like that of ’33 and the really big dries, like 1928, came once in a lifetime. Why worry they said. It would rain this fall. It always has.

But it didn’t and many a boy would become a man before the land became green again. This is how Elmer Kelton’s superb Texas novel, “The Time It Never Rained,” begins. The 1950s drought is a major character asserting itself, maliciously and unceasingly, throughout the book.

The central character is Charlie Flag, a tough old rancher from a bygone era who refuses to take government aid to survive the drought. He says, “There was a time when we looked up to Uncle Sam. He was something to be proud of and respect, but now he has turned into some kind of muddled-brained Sugar Daddy giving out goodies right and left in hopes that everybody is going to love him.”

Flag takes you to a time when charity was thought to be an unkind word. He warns against ranchers getting too comfortable with government aid by saying, “It divides us into selfish little groups, snarlin’ and snappin’ at each other like hungry dogs, grabbing for what we can get and to hell with everybody else. We beg and fight and prostitute ourselves. We take charity and we give it a sweeter name.”

He concludes that when a rancher takes government help, as well intentioned as the government is and as deserving as the rancher might be, he’s given up something he can never get back. He has given up a little bit of self-respect and little of his pride he used to have in taking care of himself, by himself.

If you asked me to list the top ten Texas novels of all time, I could do it easily. Putting them in order, though, would be a challenge beyond me. But I can say for certain that somewhere in the Top 5 would be “The Time It Never Rained.”

Spend a few evenings with Charlie Flag and you will see the incomparable Texas spirit in its purest form. You will feel like you went out with your grandfather and checked all the fences, making sure they were horse high, pig tight and bull strong.

W.F Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell Ice Cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

Hot Peppers: Gary Nabhan (Ep. 10)

In this edition of The Secret Ingredient we talk with Gary Nabhan, author of: Chasing Chiles – Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail; Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes and Cultural Diversity; and Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey. Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, food and farming activist, and proponent of conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. He is also the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona Southwest Center, where he works to build a more just, nutritious, sustainable and climate-resilient foodshed spanning the U.S./Mexico border.

About the hosts:

Raj Patel is an award winning food writer, activist and academic. The author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and his latest, The Value of Nothing, is a New York Times best-seller.

Tom Philpott is an award winning food writer for Mother Jones, who’s ground-breaking work on almonds exposed a myriad of environmental and ethical issues around almond production in California.

Rebecca McInroy is an executive producer and host for KUT Radio in Austin, Texas. She is the co-creator, producer and host of various podcasts and shows including, Views and Brews, Two Guys on Your Head, Liner Notes, The Write Up, and The Secret Ingredient.

In each episode we chose one food to investigate, and talk with the people who’s life’s work has been to understand the complex systems of production, distribution, marketing and impact, these foods have on our lives.

Texas Standard: July 21, 2015

The dust bowl, in reverse? As parched California goes bone dry- the headline across Texas..drought is over. In the run up to 2012 Rick Perry trumped up his cowboy in chief bonafides. Today, Rick Perry’s running without the Texas swagger..and some say, he tossed his mojo too… we’ll take a look. Despite the diplomatic thaw, it could get bumpy as DFW-based American airlines tries to open gates in Cuba. We’ll hear why. Calling the next Jordan Spieth- could cost be holding back the future face of golf?

May 28, 2015

Flash flood warnings across Texas today. Evacuations in Parker County and the search for victims continues elsewhere – why are there so many homes in flood zones? We’ll speak to a reporter who says there’s a race in Texas to build in harms way. Meanwhile the rain has put a final nail in the coffin of the Texas drought but that doesn’t mean our water supplies are replenished. Plus, slashing Texas film incentives, aging out of foster care….and what’s the deal with this video streaming app PERISCOPE.. All that and more coming up on the Texas Standard: