Why is Texas Burning?

This post is for my friends who don't live in Texas. The fact is, the fires here this year have been extraordinary, simply the most damaging wildfire season on record for our state. 3.6 million acres have burned this season in Texas. How big is that you ask? Well, to put it another way, 5,625 square miles have burned this year -- the state of Connecticut, by comparison, is 5,543 square miles.

The most recent large, destructive fires have been in the Bastrop area, and the Tri-county fire just west of Houston. In Bastrop, more than 40,000 acres burned; in the Tri-county fire, more than 20,000 acres. More than 1,500 homes have been destroyed.

So what is going on? Why is Texas burning?

Start with the heat. It is hot this year - I know, Texas is always hot, right? No, this is an unbelievably hot year even for Texas. This graphic from the National Weather service shows the number of days over 100 degrees for a few key spots around us. For example, College Station (about 45 minutes north of me) has 12 triple digit days in an average year. In 1917, a record was set of 58 days of 100 or better. So far this year, 64 days over 100, and we are still going. Today is forecasted to reach 105.

So it's hot - wicked hot - in Texas this year. That alone is cause for concern. But it is not only hot, it is also dry. And again, we aren't talking just a little bit dry. We are talking about people who have had ranches for generation selling their livestock because not only is there no hay to feed them, but there is also no water in the ponds to give them. The graphic below (National Weather Service) shows our rainfall deficit in the area.

Maybe this will show it a little better. This is the "tank" (as in a pond used as a water tank for livestock) down the road for me. This picture was taken August 1 - it is actually even lower than this now, as it hasn't seen a drop of rain since then. Click through to the larger version. See the dock on the left, about 20 yards from the water line? Yup, the water is supposed to reach it. See the berm on the right, with the cattle walking on top of it? This particular tank often overflows that boundary, and flows out into the field below it.

It is record breaking hot. It is record breaking dry. Oh, and even the air is dry. In Brenham, we are really still Southeast Texas. That means that we are used to summer being like a swamp - we are used to practically needing a snorkel to go outside and get the mail. But this summer, there has been very little humidity. Lately, we have had humidity levels between 10-25% during the day. That means that as the dry winds blow (we've hardly had a day in the last month without at least 10mph winds, often much more) what little water is in the ponds and in the soil, gets sucked right out. It's sort of like a blow dryer has been being used on Texas for more than a month straight.

All of these conditions - the lack of rain, the extraordinary heat, and the dry air - have combined in a perfect storm to produce one result: The state of Texas is kindling. The trees without enough water are shedding all of their leaves and needles, leaving the ground covered with dry leaves piled up against dry trees and houses. The fields are all brown and dead. There is no water in the ponds or streams. It is all kindling.

Here at the church we water (a) to keep our grass from dying off every summer, and more importantly (b) because without water this ground shifts, causing damage to foundations of the buildings. And even with water, large chunks of our grass has died off, and the grounds are covered with the dried leaves falling off of our dying trees.

Notice the little bit of yellowish grass around that huge crack in the ground? That is near a tree that we are watering and trying to keep a alive.

So there you go. Why is Texas burning? Because the state of Texas is kindling.

Oh, and what does the near future look like for us? More of the same.