Getting Soaked in Texas
Hurricane Harvey Makes it to America
My family and I spent much of the summer in Texas. It was our first visit to the state as well as our very first experience with a Tropical Hurricane. We stayed in Austin for a few months, and it just so happened to coincide with hurricane season. It had been a few years since any major one had made landfall on the continental USA, but it looked as though Mother Nature was attempting to make up for it with this one.
Hurricane Harvey, which arrived at the end of August, was a Category 5 storm, and ended up dumping on the state something in the range of 33 trillion gallons of water (click here if you also have difficulty trying to picture how much water that is). Fortunately for us, the hurricane itself did not make it all the way up to Austin, but it did make for a very wet and enlightening experience.
Lots and Lots of Water
The storm brought with it an immense quantity of water. We’re talking copious amounts of water over a very short interval, which ultimately resulted in considerable danger and devastation. In the US, many had just witnessed on tv what Hurricane Irma had done to the Caribbean, and there was certainly a sense of urgency and preparation.
Those who could get out of the storm’s impending path did, but the vast majority stayed where they lived and prepared as best they could. The shelves at our local big box stores were heavily stocked with water and emergency supplies, and yours truly and company did what we could to ensure we had what we needed.
Basically it rained for several days straight, with strong winds battering down buildings and knocking around vehicles and structures. The rain carried away what it could, as the rivers in the surrounding areas reached record highs. Once again, the direct correlation with climate change was clearly evident.
We know from simple thermodynamics, that as temperatures increase, this will put forth more water into the atmosphere. Scientists have surmised that for every one degree (C) increase in temperature, there is a corresponding 7 percent increase in the amount of water. Super-storms like Harvey are precisely what the climate scientists have been warning us about.
Visiting the State Capital
Despite the warnings, political action has been tepid at best. At least at a state level. However, cities in Texas have been stepping up to adopt renewables (see Georgetown example). There are also some brilliant organizations that I had the opportunity to discover while there, including: Public Citizen Texas, the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Environment Texas, and the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS).
Texas is absolutely gorgeous, and its no wonder there are plenty of dedicated people out there trying to conserve its natural beauty and protect it from unsustainable policies and poor political leadership. It is however a hard fight, as battle lines in the states are increasing drawn between Red/Blue, Republican & Democrat, regardless of the fact that climate change is scientifically objective and should be a non-partisan issue (see A Fierce Green Fire).
Keeping It Weird
Before all the heavy rains at the end of our stay, my son and I did a lot of exploring. What we discovered together was that most people we met were really quite sweet and reflective of the southern hospitality we so often heard about. Of course, there are certain apprehensions as a Canadian visiting the US, particularly Texas, when it comes to the proliferation of firearms. Thankfully guns are strongly regulated in Canada, so it’s certainly surprising to see some walking around openly carrying a firearm to go to the grocery store. And yes, there were a number of shootings across the state in the short time we were there, but we didn’t see too many gun-toting citizens out in Austin.
Indeed, Austin is a special case. It was seen as a kind of hippie town, different from the rest of the state. There were still some cowboys to be sure, but more of the liberal pot-smoking kind. Over time, as a result of it’s uniqueness within Texas, more and more people decided to move there, transforming it into the fastest growing city in the US for years now. Its proximity to nature and amenities offer up attractive qualities, and its growing tech sector is dubbed the Silicon Hills. There are those that refer to it as a little slice of California in Texas, but it is unmistakable Texan.
Waterloo or River City
Part of what makes Austin and the surrounding countryside so desirable is the abundance of water. The city itself borders the eastern region of an area know as the Texas Hill Country, a luscious geographical zone known for it’s granite and limestone hills, and its multitude of flowing streams. Indeed, there is so much water flowing nearby that Austin was originally called Waterloo. It wasn’t until the city was purchased by the Republic of Texas that is was renamed Austin, after Stephen F. Austin, aka the “Father of Texas.”
In short, the city’s history is closely intertwined with it’s relationship to water. I personally think it still is. The water provides Austin and the surrounding area with a generous supply with which to source its many delicious craft beers (Austin is considered a craft beer powerhouse), as well as offering plenty of spots to cool off or paddle-board (its a popular activity there). It being Texas, summers do get scorching hot, so nearby water system of lakes and and rivers grant a welcome respite as well as fun family activities. Yet another way of getting soaked during a Texan summer.
Soak It In For Yourself
My family and I were fortunate in our experience, and charmed by our discoveries. Austin is remarkable for it’s food, abundance of live music, wonderful craft beers, and gorgeous countryside. Ultimately though, my wife and I agreed that it was the people there that constituted the best part of our stay. I realize how cheesy that may sound as I write it, but it’s sincere. We were pleasantly surprised by how friendly and hospitable every one was, and it totally enhanced our stay.
Although our summer ended with one of the most massive storms ever recorded, it did not dampen our impressions. We had a really nice time there, and hope that more people will recognize the need for sustainable practices and work to protect the natural beauty and social treasures that make up the Texas state. I would encourage you to visit if and when you can. Keep in mind that hurricane season kicks off in June and Texas is known to flood (as described by local icon Stevie Ray Vaughan below). In time, hopefully we can come together before climate disasters strike and work to reduce our impact on climate change’s fearsome acceleration.