September 25th, 2010

A Year In Texas

It has recently come to my attention that some of you fellow Northern-Hemisphere punks are ALREADY HAVING FALL. At the end of September? What are you thinking?

Then I realized that not everyone has spent a full year in Texas, and that most of you probably think it's normal to stop getting sunburns in August. So I'm gonna walk you through a year of Texas weather-- at least the parts of Texas I know. (That excludes the Panhandle and West Texas, which as I understand have worse winters and crazier storms, respectively.)

For reference: Dallas/Fort Worth is the metroplex in North Texas, below which extends Central Texas. Northeast Texas differs from Southeast Texas in only two ways: it's slightly further north and it doesn't have Houston. Houston is an oil & port city with a reputation for humid, trashy, smelly unpleasantness.


Texans would call this "bitter cold." Fort Worth is dipping under 20 F (-6 C) at night. Northeast Texas is getting a lot of sticky sleet. Mostly, the ground is muddy. Clay parts of Texas are having high incidence of stuck Jeeps. Southeast Texans and Houstonians start to see attrition in the neverending cloud of foliage; what they can see, with the gradual wasting of leaves, is mainly trash and discarded trailer homes. It's about 22-28 F most days in the SE, with occasional three-day jaunts above freezing.


Everyone is sick. Temperatures are holding steady in the mid-twenties in Fort Worth, with low cottony skies. Last snow of the year may hit in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; all of Texas to the south shakes their heads at their northern neighbors' terrible "blizzard." SE Texas reaches its all-time low in Green Stuff as a few rainstorms rip the last brown tatters from the sweetgum trees. (Don't worry, they're still buried under pines and have no idea what the sky looks like.) Spring starts to look pretty good.


First tendrils of warmth start to root in the mucky cold toward the end of the month. Most people in DFW are bitching heartily about the weather; I am standing with my face plastered to whatever window's closest in my chosen prison (work, school), wishing I could go outside. Houston starts to recover its mugginess, and the natives (who have been asphyxiating with less than 95% humidity) celebrate. Southeast Texas sees the first buds on its deciduous trees in the first week of this month. Gators are active again. Temperatures are well above freezing, but don't get out of the forties (4-9 C).


SPRING HAPPENS. Don't blink or get sick, you'll miss it. The first week of April is miserable and dreary in a way that gets to even me, and then in a two-week period the temperature jumps into the sixties (15ish C) and everything puts out all of its leaves. By the end of the month the mercury's pushing 70 (21). Southeast Texas is in full foliage and everything capable of sexual reproduction is doing it as much as possible. North/Central Texas get a few rain-storms. Worth noting: very few things are actually blooming at this point. Houston begins to stink as the temperature rises. Summer begins.


Summer is cruising along. There's a week of riotous flowering. It's in the seventies most of the time (21-26), with occasional peaks above 80. I get my first sunburn. Most of the women in North/Central Texas now have tans. Southeast Texans find that the riot of reproduction has left tiny pine trees growing in their gutters and on top of their cars. Clouds waste away into anemic puffs that stagger across from horizon to horizon, trying to escape the sun (except in Houston, where smog begins to replace the atmosphere entirely). Southeast Texas reaches the peak of its green, and the pine trees cover everything with a thick layer of yellow-green pollen. I start taking daily Benadryl.


It's sickeningly hot. The first homeless people die of heat exhaustion in the big cities. Houston smells pervasively of body odor and rotten shrimp. In Southeast Texas, all parties adjourn to the lakes, and churches collect box fans to relieve the heat for the poor. Temple-Inland and other timber corporations stop controlled burnings in SE Texas (which control underbrush) and begin fire watches. The temperature is at least 90 (32) during all daylight hours. Cicadas deliver ear-blasting monotones all day and all night. Grass dies. The mesquite trees, gnarled from years of this madness, release their pollen, which nearly kills me.


The heat is so intense, cresting easily over 100 (37) and never dropping below the high 80s (29-31) even at night, that people begin scheduling their days to avoid sunlight. I get sick headaches after ten minutes outside. There is absolutely no wind. Elderly people are urged to move in with relatives for the duration of the heat; in Houston, it drizzles every day from sheer humidity, with no relief from the temperature. At least one high school football player drops dead from heatstroke. The outdoors is unrelentingly brown, except in Southeast Texas, where the grass is dead but the pine trees never change.


DFW residents see mountain-like storms on the western horizon, most of which will never get past Abilene, over a hundred miles away. Daytime temperatures reach 100 by 11 am and hover between 106 (41) in North/Central and 110 (43) in SE Texas. The very far southeast will have a few spikes that top 114 (45). Cicadas die in this heat. Places afflicted with lots of pavement get so hot that soccer moms vomit in parking lots. Toward the end of the month, the first storm teases North/Central with about fifteen minutes of blessed rain.


Hurricane season (a legitimate season, like autumn or winter) is underway. Storms drift over vast swathes of Texas, pounding the scorched earth and flooding everything. It's still hot, but it's only in the nineties now (32-37), and when it rains it can be as low as 80 (26). The second growth of grass begins in Southeast Texas, in which the eternal pine green is held up by rain-dark pillars of bark and the sky is tormented. Everyone in Southeast Texas gets drunk and barbecues for this season's Big Hurricane, which may or may not hit them but who cares, gotta empty the freezer & you can't evacuate with booze. Huge schools of migrating birds swirl and perch and poop everywhere on their way to Mexico.


For the lucky DFW Texans, the first cold snap hits in the middle of this month. It's a blessed 60 (15) for at least a week, and everything that can turn colors does. Northeastern Texas, with its abundance of deciduous and non-spiny trees, turns into a rainwashed kaleidoscope of gold and red. Somewhere in the past, Kevin and I meet for the first time, and hold hands in a barn under a storm. Southeast Texas gets its first cool weather right about Halloween, but it doesn't stick. After the first chill, Indian Summer spikes the heat for a week or two, but everyone persists in wearing scarves and jackets, holding out for winter.


Most of us will call this "Fall," but the colors are over. It rains, fogs, and (in Houston, which has been a sweatpile of filth all summer) leaches mists into the air. The thermometer hovers between 50 and 65, and I reach the high point of my yearly cycle: Thanksgiving. I am happy, excited, and paradoxically desperate beyond all reason to get out of Texas. In SE Texas, everything that wasn't tricked into losing its leaves last month is still violently green, and may flower again just for the hell of it. Zucchini season, God be praised, is over. (If you call them 'courgettes', you probably don't live where people leave them on your doorstep uninvited.)


It's Christmas! (There are lots of other holidays here, but I'm far from an expert on them.) North/Central Texans hunker down for increasingly wintery weather; DFW will probably get snow, or at least ice. I go on high-speed sweater rotation, trying to make sure all my warmest garb gets at least one day in the open air. Houston freezes twice, and the occupants panic as their hygrometers show air-humidity levels that wouldn't suffocate a real human. In Southeast Texas, a few sub-freezing spells kill off the deciduous leaves, which cling wetly to their hosts. There might be a warm day just before Christmas, when SE Texans will take their kids swimming at the lake. Everyone is either Baptist or drunken at all times. I revel in the cold and complete my kin-keeping plans, dragging family from all parts of the world to verbally abuse and overfeed each other.

And now you've enjoyed an entire year of Texas weather.