Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wild Weather: A Look Back at 2011



Happy New Year!

OK, so I know it's actually Feb. 5, and it's been 2012 for more than a month now. But yesterday ushered in the new Year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology, and that's close enough for me.

Three days ago, on Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow in Gobbler's Knob, Penn. That reportedly means another six weeks of winter. That's OK. In fact, so far, this winter has been fairly mild for us in Dallas. Nothing like last year .....

Which brings us to 2011. I know I'm not the only one who's happy to say goodbye to 2011! Here in Texas, 2011 brought plenty of trouble: snowstorms, a heat wave, drought, wildfires and a state budget crisis.

Snowstorms: The year started off with an unusually cold winter, with several snowstorms that closed down schools throughout north Texas and kept kids home from school for days. An ice storm in early February, followed by three days of below-freezing temperatures and then a snowstorm, caused hundreds of auto accidents, forced the canceling of 300 flights to Dallas airports and caused lots of headaches for football fans trying to travel to Dallas to see the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 at Arlington's giant new Cowboys Stadium. (For more, visit this New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/us/05storm.html)

We had 100 hours below freezing, which was the longest stretch of freezing temperatures we'd had in more than 20 years. (See http://www.srh.noaa.gov/fwd/?n=feb2011) My kids were home from school for four days!!! (I hope that doesn't happen EVER again!)

Heat wave: Last year saw a horrible heat wave that turned out to be the state's worst ever recorded! (That's the worst since at least 1895.) August was the hottest month in Dallas since records began in 1898. All kinds of heat records were broken all over the Southern U.S. (See http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/2011-heat-superlatives_2011-07-15) For example, here in Dallas, we set a new record of 71 days over 100 degrees in one year! (See this article for more: http://dallas.about.com/od/neighborhoods/qt/Dfw-Weather-70-Days-And-We-Have-A-New-Record-For-Triple-Digit-Temperatures.htm)

It was so hot every day that my kids and I experimented with dashboard dining, cooking all kinds of food on our car dashboard on those hot summer days.


Drought: The hottest summer on record, paired with low rainfall totals, led to a terrible drought throughout the Southern U.S. After last summer, almost all of Texas was in a state of extreme drought. At least 13 people in Dallas died from the heat, and the overburdened state power grid, facing unprecedented demand for electricity as people ran their air conditioners constantly, was at risk of shutting down. (See more at http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2011/08/05/texas-drought-may-persist-for-another-year/)

The dry conditions caused about $5.2 billion in agricultural losses in the state's worst single-year drought on record. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/28/texas-wildfires-agriculture-losses_n_986276.html) Also affected were the state's water table and lake levels, which fell significantly.

Wildfires: The lack of rain, plus the incredible heat spell, combined to make a perfect firestorm of wildfires that burned about 4 million acres in Texas, doubling the previous record. Firefighters responded to more than 28,000 fires in Texas in the 2011 fire season. The fires burned 2,862 homes and led Gov. Rick Perry to declare a State of Disaster. The fires were so huge, they could be seen from space. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Texas_wildfires)

Budget crisis: To top it all off, the nationwide recession left is mark on Texas, forcing the state Legislature to make billions of dollars in cuts to state services, including a 6% cut to schools that forced districts across the state to lay off thousands of teachers. These cuts not only continue but increase in the 2012-2013 school year.

So in summary, most of 2011 was long, hot, dry and miserable for a lot of folks. So far, 2012 is looking up a little. A big, wet storm pushed through Dallas last week, raising area lake levels and lifting a tiny part of north Texas out of drought stage. (Read it in the Star-Telegram: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/02/02/3708618/big-rain-ends-drought-in-dallas.html)

Let's hope that last week's rains, like a breath of fresh air, herald a better year for us all in 2012, both in Dallas and wherever you are.

Happy New Year!!!

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