Garbage, garbage everywhere

BEAUMONT, Texas — Having experienced two major hurricanes and the deluge-producing Tropical Storm Harvey over the past  12 years, one becomes accustomed to certain sights over time.

After hurricanes Rita and Ike, the blue tarp became the symbol for damage for many and the recovery for some. The blue covers mostly came from a U.S.. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA program called “Operation Blue Roof.” This is a free service in which damaged roofing can be covered for free for homeowners who sign a right of entry (ROE) form for contractors. The “blue” in blue roofs is so called due to the fiber-reinforced sheeting used as covers, or tarpaulins. Those tarps are blue.

I recall flying into the local airport  when returning from a trip in 2008 in Washington, D.C., and noticed an abundance of blue roofing covers still in place from the September 2005 Rita.

So, Southeast Texas is now several weeks in recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Harvey. The majority of the storm damage from the Houston to Sabine River in Texas was a result of the unprecedented flooding.

Like the blue roofs from past hurricanes, now the symbol where I live and in many other places in Southeast Texas, is trash — and lots of it.

September 4, 2017, Houston, TX – Debris on the side of the road in a Houston area neighborhood affected by Hurricane Harvey. FEMA file photo

The Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 26, 2017, on the middle Texas Gulf Coast, where it caused severe wind and storm surge damage. But Harvey wasn’t through there.

Harvey moved inland becoming a Category 1 hurricane before being downgraded to a tropical storm. The track continued until reaching an area about 55 miles southeast of San Antonio.  The storm then took a southeast turn before making a southwestern direction. And, it turned again, making a southeastern leg and eventually hugging the upper Texas coast. TS Harvey was a large-enough storm that its center never came all that near Houston even though the rain it produced was devastating.

The tropical storm made landfall for a final time on Aug. 30, 2017, near Cameron, La., about 50 miles east southeast from where I live in Beaumont.  I remember when the center of the storm was about 45 miles south of here. It had rained for, I lost count of the days, it was flooding and the tropical storm actually had some pretty good gusts of winds. While I had no weather station, I could see the trees outside bending to and fro.

Most of the folks I know from this area, and I tend to agree, could never remember it raining so hard for for so long. This entire area and extending up into the East Texas pineywoods and into Western Louisiana saw an unbelievable drenching. Some preliminary National Weather Service  reports put the rainfall around the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange Metropolitan area ranging from 36 to 60 inches over the course of the storm. Many of the unofficial  reports in my area put the rain total at 55 inches. Our area has an average annual rainfall of almost 60 inches.

I have no idea how much damage was received from the time it made its first landfall until when it landed again as a tropical storm. In the area from Houston to the east in Texas, at least 70 people died from the flooding.

Recovery from Harvey, still undergoing, will take a long time to accomplish.

One of my favorite zoos escapes major hurricane damage.

It is heartening to know the Houston Zoo fared well during Hurricane Harvey and its flooding. About 60 staff members stayed to care for the animals at the long-time Houston attraction.

The Miami zoo has also prepared for Hurricane Irma which is barrelling through the mostly peninsular state.

The giraffe exhibit at the Houston park sustained the most damage which included about eight inches of water.

Although I do not remember hearing of any human electrocutions from lightning during Harvey,  an electrocution did kill someone who stepped on a power line under water while touching a metal boat. Also, I don’t know how much lightning was experienced at the zoo. But quite a bit happened here in Beaumont during the deluge. That brought to mind something I had often wondered: Are giraffes major targets for lightning due to their height?

Apparently, lightning kills maybe two giraffes a year, according to a BBC article on the subject. An average of 55 people are killed by lightning per year in the United States says this fact sheet from Texas Tech University.  I remember interviewing a guy who was struck by lightning following Sunday church services after a sudden thunderstorm in Central Texas. The man retrieved an umbrella and decided to help some older ladies get to their cars. The umbrella acted as a lightning rod. There seems a lot of irony in this.

A beautiful Malayan tiger at the Houston Zoo. Photo thanks to Houston Zoo.

The Houston Zoo is hoping folks will visit as a means to divert them for at least a little bit from the big bummer that has been Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. That sounds like a good idea. I might visit there myself when I have a long time I can kill after my frequent trips to the Houston VA Hospital. I might have to walk awhile and rest a few minutes due to my back problems but it sounds like it would be worth the effort. It has been more than 20 years since I visited the Houston Zoo. It is second in my top two zoos I have visited in the U.S.

My favorites:

  1. San Diego Zoo — It is huge and the gold standard in American and possibly world zoos. I visited there while stationed on a ship in San Diego back in 1978. I spent all afternoon walking around this massive park and could have returned to spend several more hours. The zoo is located in the awesome Balboa Park.
  2. Houston Zoo — This is a zoological park that opened in 1922. My Dad worked there as a young man and I enjoyed hearing his story about feeding the wild animals.
  3. St. Louis Zoo — This storied park had its origins during the 1904 World’s Fair.
  4. “The Saint Louis Zoo traces its origins to the 1904 World’s Fair and in 2004 commemorated the centennial of the Fair with this dramatic new transformation of the 1904 Flight Cage.“The Smithsonian Institution commissioned the Flight Cage for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and intended to move it to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. following the Fair. But St. Louisans rallied to keep the Flight Cage intact, and the City of St. Louis soon purchased it for $3,500 (the structure had originally cost $17,500 to construct). Within a few short years, it served as the impetus for St. Louis to develop a full-fledged zoo – the first municipally supported zoo in the world.”Long before there was a “Jungle Jack” Hanna and the Animal Planet network there was “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” I loved watching this animal show hosted by Marlin Perkins. The show began during his tenure as director of the St. Louis Zoo.
  5. San Antonio Zoo — I found this to be a nice zoo during a visit around 1982 or 1983. This zoo, located in Breckenridge Park, began with some small animals, and later some buffalo and elk.. This park had the first white rhino born in the U.S. back in the early 1970s.
  6. Cameron Park Zoo in Waco — I visited there once or twice when I lived there. It was nice for a smaller zoo. I always liked the dik-dik exhibit. These are small antelope from eastern African. I always thought their names were funny. My Dad used to call me “Dick Dick” as a little boy.

Runners up:

Caldwell Zoo in Tyler — I took a small group of emotionally disturbed boys with whom I supervised to this park. I found it to be a nice, small park that was well-laid out. With this group, I also thought their education program for kids was first rate. Like most other zoos I visited, I have not been back since first visiting in 1987.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Park in Glen Rose, Texas — Although not technically a zoo it does feature a number of animals to be found on a self-guided tour. I went there to do a story about one of its conservation programs in which the then-nearly extinct grey wolves were bred and later reintroduced into the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. I was let in the cage holding the mother and pups. It was amazing.

Seeking shelter from the storm — at home


Hurricanes and other natural disasters often leave those people who are not trying to survive with little to do. Since I am off work until a week from today, I spent last night watching TV and surfing the internet. Thus, I went to bed about 1 a.m. I woke up at 7 a.m. and went back to bed until 12:30 p.m. During those times when I was awake I think I can safely say that the rain from now-Tropical Storm Harvey has not abated.

An Army National Guard soldier rescues a woman from her flooded home in Houston. Texas National Guard photo by LT Zachary West.

Beaumont, Texas, does not receive the publicity of, say, Houston. This is obviously because of a matter of scale. Houston, with a population of more than 2.3 million, is the fourth-largest city in the United States. Beaumont, with around 115,000 people, is not.

But, publicity be damned, weather does not play media favorites. Of course, that may have been difficult to fathom for some of the folks in other locations 12 years ago when Katrina inundated New Orleans and wrecked the Mississippi coast. Even now as Tropical Storm Harvey has moved into Louisiana, the national media seems fixated on New Orleans.

New Orleans suffered a significant loss in people and damage, there is no doubt about that. Houston, where thousands of refugees from Katrina sought shelter, will likely see much more damage from Harvey. Hopefully the casualties will not come even close.

It seems a lull in the heavy rain is taking place. The same for the pounding thunder and 35-40 mph wind gusts. But we likely have at least another 24 hours of tropical storm ahead of us. One only needs to look at the weather warnings from NOAA here in Jefferson County to know that:



Here is to enjoyment of a dark and stormy night

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was a dark and stormy night last, except when the lightning flashed.

Tropical Storm Cindy blew ashore about 40-to-50 miles from here on the upper Texas coast. Actual landfall, which is in many cases of little significance, came about 3 a.m. It seems as if every hurricane or significant tropical storm I have experienced shows up in the middle of the night much like a drunken, old girlfriend wanting to start some s**t for something said 30 years ago.

The rain yesterday started sometime around 3 p.m. in the form of a medium-to-heavy mist with intermittent large droplets of precipitation. The area from New Orleans to the Panhandle of Florida was pounded during the day with constant rain and heavy surf.

Rain began falling in earnest, and in Beaumont as well, near dark-thirty. The liquid was heavy to a light drizzle. Heavier storm elements such as slightly increased wind along with thunder and lightning began rolling in as the evening proceeded.

As far as I know, no serious damage, with the exception of a large tree falling on a local residence with a family inside, took place here in Jefferson County, Texas. One fatality, a 10-year-old who along with his family from St. Louis was visiting the coastal areas near Mobile Bay, was killed when a huge log popped out of the surf with no notice.

An accident closer to home resulted in the death of an elderly man from a neighboring county. A body was found near or inside a burned truck that had been submerged into the sand on the beach just east of state highways 87 and 124 in Galveston. Claude Credeur, 86, of Winnie in Chambers County, was dead at the scene. His 81-year-old wife, Lena, was found alive and was recovering at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston hospital. Some reports initially reported that authorities believed the couple were there due to a suicide pact. Officials later said that did not appear to be the reason leading to the fatality. The couple’s family earlier reported the pair missing, and prompted a so-called “Silver Alert,” which is a program for missing elderly people similar to “Amber Alerts” for missing children.

The storm was the type of event I enjoy sitting at home listening to the rain and the thunder. I have been out in all kinds of weather in my past professions as a sailor, a firefighter and a newspaper reporter. But I am not reckless. I, likewise, wouldn’t “send a dog out on a night like this.”

There is something magical about weather events, specifically storms. We have no control over them. Storms claim no intellect, or any other quality one might, just might, find in a living human being. Although storms are potentially dangerous, many more such as I am drawn to its raw power.

Perhaps you might argue with me about that. Just make sure you are inside and away from your windows. That’s all I’m saying.

Tigers, foxes exchange nuptials. Those devils.

Summer just began but in Southeast Texas it hasn’t been too different from many past days this spring. The rains, which have produced flooding both in the Sabine River basin and in the Houston area, have proceeded with a pretty good clip here in Beaumont, on the upper Texas coast. But over the last few days we have had typical summer weather.

So what is typical summer weather here in Cajun Texas? Well, it means waking up to 75-degree (F) mornings and watching the temperature and humidity climb for the remainder of daylight. Typical, likewise, brings around a 20-to-30 percent chance that showers or thunderstorms will pop up from the day’s heating.

Yesterday, we had an early evening thunderstorm. Today, so far, we had a good coating of rain. Then, when the rain let up, we had what some refer to as a “sun shower.”

Just as the name infers the sun shines while the rain continues to fall. Sun showers happen when wind from a rain storm pushes raindrops into an area with little or no clouds and during which the sun still shines.

This type of weather seems to happen quite a bit on the Gulf Coast, particularly in the northern, more humid places. Or maybe that is where I have noticed such instances more.

I have long known that sun showers produced some folk wisdom as to why such an event happens. Growing up, my Mom and Dad, who were both born in East Texas during World War I, would say “The Devil is beating his wife,” whenever it rained and the sun was shining. This was, according to legend, because Satan was mad that God created a beautiful day. I suppose that is a more “spousal abuse” explanation of “Ol’ Scratch’ kicking his dog. Of course, either type of abuse has a high level of intolerance these days. And it’s about time. But some of the explanations for sun showers in other parts of the world are sometimes just plain wacky, from a westerner’s point of view. Not to say abusive on some level or the other.

Check out a few of these sayings that you may find on Wikipedia regarding sun showers:

Poland: “A witch is making butter.”

Argentina: It is said an old woman is getting married. (Huh?)

Finland: Foxes are taking a bath.

Korea: A male tiger marries a fox. (And they live … No I don’t think so.)