Tag Archives: drought

Flash Floods in the Texas Hill Country

Only a few weeks ago I wrote a blog piece on the terrible drought and now we have floods! Such is the weather in Texas. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, just wait a few minutes!”

For the last two days we’ve been largely stranded on our hill outside of Fredericksburg. Several times I’ve gone down the hill only to have the flooding of Live Oak Creek prevent my from leaving the ranch. This happened after the ground had been thoroughly saturated and then another 10 inches or so of rain fell. The thin soil  can’t absorb that much water, so it runs off into the streams at a rapid clip. On a positive note my stock tanks are now full. It’s been a long time since I could say that. See below

It is surprising how strong the current can be, as its been known to wash out fences and sweep away cars and trucks. Trudy and I have gained a healthy respect for flash floods and try not to tempt fate. Our schedules are not that precious. See debris line below, showing earlier extent of the flood and white water other side of low water crossing.

Our dogs have reacted in different ways. The dark, rainy days suggest Jack’s favorite past-time- napping. See below. Jack likes his creature comforts, especially snoozing on a pillow top mattress on our bed with his little head on a feather pillow.

Jack: Rainy days make me sleepy. For that matter sunny days do too.

 

Our senior Border collie, Buddy on the other hand becomes anxious during storms. As always he is goal directed animal if there ever was one. He begins to look s for a job to perform. Below you will see what the flash flood caused with Buddy. As you can see he has prepared for a still worse flood, waiting in his pool float, umbrella overhead, and goggles at the ready. Buddy always has a plan.

“Let that water rise, I’m ready for it!”

Dread of Drought

I peer into the northwest sky from where the elusive rain is said to come. The grass beneath my feet crunches as if walking on popcorn. The leaves on trees sag like the craggy faces of older people. Despite a  brave and collective denial of reality, an early drought has set in. The weatherman maintains hope by elevating rain predictions only at the last minute to reduce our chances.

Several years ago Central Texas suffered a drought of historical proportion. Our fields browned out, crops withered, and dust rode the winds like powder before a fan. Ranchers lost crops and failed to produce hay. Stocks of expensive hay had to be trucked in to maintain herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. Some ranchers along with their crops withered under the assault.

This year I maintain two barns full of hay, enough easily to tide me through an average winter. I am capable of one trial learning. Yesterday during one of our typically wettest months, I had to put out hay for my cows. I fear what lays ahead.

Creeks flow slowly or not at all. Stock tanks recede and algae spreads like kudzu. Bluebonnets appear slaked. Our hopeful Spring has given way to a dusty desperation.  We’ve taken to shaking rain sticks, a Caribbean superstition thought to summon rain. Why not engage in superstitions when all else has failed?

The rains may still come and rescue our land from early drought. I obsessively check weather reports. How fickle and cruel is Mother Nature. We remain hopeful as time exists for the skies to open forth with crop restoring, creek flushing, and pond filling rains. Time will tell. We wait.

 

One Day Later: It rained! Just after writing the piece above, the skies opened and half an inch of rain fell- hardly enough to break our drought but might it be the beginning of a much needed rainy season.

Already the fields have begun to green up. Amazing how fast the turnaround can be and how quickly the spirits of ranchers can improve.

Like Walking On Toast

A saying exists among Texas Hill Country ranchers that we live in a permanent drought only interrupted by periodic flash floods. Well if so, then bring on the flash floods! To no surprise for those in the region, we are suffering one of the worst droughts of all time. The 2011 drought that actually began during the last quarter of 2010 remains severe and shows no sign of abating. Many ranchers by now have sold off their herds.  In will take a couple of growing seasons for the grass to reestablish enough to support grazing. Others have maintained their cattle and hold onto them with the tenacity of a koala to a Eucalyptus tree.

Recently I heard an experienced rancher describe what it’s like when he walks across his parched pasture as, “like walking on toast.” As bad as this is, it’s even worse when walking silently over only dessicated dirt.

I made the decision two years ago to thin my cattle herd but to keep most. I had a herd of really good, young heifers and like a crazed gambler in Las Vegas, I felt my luck was sure to change any day. Two years later, I fear my doubling down was a sucker’s bet. The drought requires feeding hay–hay hard to impossible to grow and expensive to buy. The choice becomes really how one loses money; sell your herd and buy it back high, or keep your herd and buy costly hay. It’s a Hobsen’s choice to be sure.

Needless to say, I obsessively fret over my not very enticing options. I pride myself on being a good steward of the land, but when push comes to shove, I will look after my livestock first. My real choice at this point is whether to sell off the herd and wait for the land to recover, or fight on with the grass I have bought and stored in the barn.

We are now into September, around these parts the second heaviest rain month of the year. Nevertheless, the average September rainfall is a bit below 2.5 inches, hardly enough to impact this fierce drought. With wanting eyes, we ranchers look to the Gulf for a tropical storm to head our direction and rain heavily down upon us. The earlier predicted robust hurricane season has already flopped. Now our chances for a tropical storm diminish by the day like a chocolate cake at a convention of sumo wrestlers. But Hill Country denizens remain steadfastly hopeful, perhaps how the Comanche desperately hoped for a miracle to turn back the relentless western expansion of the white man.DSC_1196

Periodic thunderstorms head our way. To date they are like a stripteaser and only tempt us. Mostly the rains that come are limited and not the long, drenching rains that are much needed to replenish our tanks, streams, and  wells.

As I longingly search the sky, I despair not knowing what to do with my herd. I only know that I need to make a decision in the near future. Will my attachment for the herd prevail, or will my desire for good stewardship for the land win out- I know not. I am sad and conflicted. Tune in…