Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another atmospheric tease ...

In case you're unaware, Oklahoma and Texas are experiencing record-breaking heat and drought in this summer of 2011. The lack of precipitation goes back to last year. The rain mostly keeps on missing us here in central Oklahoma. It's been worse to our southwest, if that's any consolation (not! - their misery doesn't make ours any easier to take!).

Tonight, I was preoccupied in the evening and missed the development of storms to our west. They were charging at us and we actually had a chance for meaningful rainfall - but the storms headed our way fizzled, only to re-develop to our east after the line had passed through here with only light sprinkles to show for it. A similar scenario occurred last night: storms all around but none of substance here! As a meteorologist, I know that the processes that result in weather are highly nonlinear and essentially random. Eventually, I know, we'll get some significant rain. But the feelings of frustration over being teased with nearby rainfall remind me of the 4 years I spent in Longmont, CO.

In Longmont, it almost never rains in the warm season. Storms that develop over the mountains typically dissipate by the time they get close to Longmont, only to re-develop to the east. And Longmont is between the Cheyenne Ridge and the Palmer Divide, so storms might fire north or south of us on those topographic features, but rarely near enough to Longmont to help us. In the neighborhood where we lived in Longmont, every yard (including ours) had Kentucky bluegrass! The only way to maintain such a lawn is to water it most every day - it almost never rains there in the warm season, after all. I spent many an hour maintaining that damned sprinkler system some previous owner had installed and never felt good about it. What a stupid thing - to grow a water-thirsty type of grass in the semi-arid rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains! Almost as stupid as a golf course in Nevada or Arizona!! Buffalo grass (a drought-resistant native grass) would make more sense.

Here in Oklahoma, our Bermuda grass simply goes dormant when in a drought. It only takes rain to bring it back to life. But the drought has other impacts - the dry soil cracks and pulls away from concrete foundations (and our pool sides), which undermines those structures and invites damage. So even here, the drought has more consequences than a brown lawn! And I'm struggling to keep flowers, shrubs, and the vegetable garden hanging on by a thread with waterings every other day.

Life in the interior of a continent inevitably involves weather extremes. That's what continental climates are like. When there are few severe storms in Oklahoma, there's likely to be a drought. Most people don't realize that most severe storms actually are a positive thing owing to the mostly beneficial rainfall they bring. Some areas to our east have experienced flooding, as storms have frequently developed near us only to move eastward away from us, without much rain here. Interstate-35 seems to be coincidentally located on a climatological dividing line!

As I await the eventual relief (which may be "sooner" - pun intended - or later!), I have to acknowledge this alternation between feast and famine is characteristic of these plains. The weather here is almost never "normal" - normal is just the average of extremes, here (and in most places). The range of extremes on the plains make their climate a harsh one in which to live. Our lifestyles often fail to recognize that reality. Everything has a price, it seems, and when the natural balance swings toward hostility to those lifestyle elements that depend on having a benign climate, that brings home how tough it can be to live here. In a strange way, it's a big part of what appeals to me about living on the US plains. Even if you want to, it's tough to ignore the weather here for long! It'll flat reach out and remind you - in a way you just can't ignore!!

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