Weird Drought Side-Effects; Share Your Observations, Too

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From day to day throughout this now-historic south-central U.S. drought, the life and lifestyle of the average city-dweller hasn’t changed that much.  Certainly it’s more difficult for lower-income households that don’t have air-conditioning and I’m glad I no longer labor outside for a paycheck.  But for most of us, we still go about our everyday lives with the same responsibilities, goals and creature comforts without any significant changes evident.  For the most part.

There are some surprising “unintended consequences” to being a part of weather  history, stuff we might have imagined if we’d thought about it a little more ahead of time.  I crowdsourced the following but included a few of my own observations.  The list starts with the more obvious and it gets more interesting from there.

  • Ennui, malaise, cabin fever, listlessness, crankiness, more horn-honking in traffic (extremely rare in Houston) and just plain constantly worn out a little more than usual for summertime.   Gulf Coasters thrive on hot, humid stormy summers.  We are not used to torrid, radioactive gulch.
  • Everything is dingy, brown and gray.  I’ve spent almost my entire life in a verdant, lush, tropical city and now every plant, tree, lawn is suffering nearly – quite literally – to the point of expiration.

    Normally this lawn would cozy up to the curbside and spill healthy green blades over it. Instead it’s currently an inch withdrawn and two inches lower than usual (if not ever). Photo: Fred Rogers

  • Secondary to the die-off of vegetation but just as important: limb failure as the lack of water exacerbates disease and insect infestation in some of the millions of old-growth oak trees.  It’s not uncommon now to hear of parked cars being totaled by a 20-foot-long, 500-pound oak limb that simply gave up.
  • Spontaneous water fountains in the unhappy form of cracked city water mains as the parched ground all around continues to contract and sink, resulting in slow-mo mini-quakes that break the pipes.  H-town repair crews can’t keep up and the result is reduced water pressure and the worthless loss of each valuable drop at a time when we need them most.
  • Foundations cracking in buildings of all types.  Wall cracks.  Gaping spaces between lawns and their formerly adjoining curbsides, buildings, foundations, etc.  (In this corner of the galaxy, we don’t commonly have basements but instead have slab foundations that require supportive moisture so that they don’t crack.)
  • Fewer mosquitoes.  Although I’m on the fence on this one – the winged curses can’t get enough of me but the fierce lack of standing water has dramatically reduced the usual swampy swarms.  Or so my friends say.  Fewer mosquitoes means less for our birds and bats to eat and they’re definitely showing signs of suffering.  Here’s a wrenching example:  bat pups in Austin’s massive downtown bat colony are suffering because the lack of insects is making it more difficult for their mothers to nurse.
  • Harder water – less diluted means more mineral concentration.  Also, tap water that’s nearly as warm as body temp.  And pool water I measured at 93° last weekend.
  • No walking barefoot, not even on the grass.  It’s just too painful.
  • A professional naturalist friend of mine has noticed a near wipe-out of golden orb weavers, a.k.a. banana spiders.  Maybe not such a big deal, except for all the critters they eat and all the critters that eat them.  Besides, they’re incredible spiders that build gargantuan webs and they’re harmless, mostly.  On the other hand, the venerable and reviled brown recluse spider sightings in the home are on the rise, unfortunate given that fiddleback venom can cause necrosis.  (That link is safe to click but I wouldn’t research the matter any further.  Trust me.)
  • More deer in the backyard.  Honeybees in the kitchen sink.  Pharaoh ants and crazy Rasberry ants everywhere looking for water everywhere.   Snakes.  More snakes (melodrama alert for that second link).  Rabbits, armadillos and possums that aren’t afraid to cozy up to the house or pool looking for a drink.  Side note: during the drought of ’80, I remember honey bees lighting on the tops or our open soda cans even as we held them.  I haven’t noticed that behavior this year, but then I’m also not a high school sophomore that hangs out on the soccer field with my friends drinking soda any more.
  • Red sun in the morning from all the dust in the atmosphere.
  • “Drought allergy” – a heretofore unknown sinus ailment that I’m reeeaallyyyy getting tired of.
  • Less water means thirstier, more desperate rats and mice which means more kitty snack thank-you presents delivered to the back door.  (Yes, I have photos of this.  No, I won’t be posting them here today.)

Not storm damage, this is the third large branch that the drought has plucked from this same tree in the last month. Very large branch number two a few weeks ago totaled a Camry that was parked on the street. Thankfully no one was hurt. Photo: Fred Rogers

What about you?  What peculiarities have you noticed as a result of the drought?  And, even better, have you noticed anything good that’s come out of this sustained period of dry, extreme heat?  (One on the “plus side”:  I’ve only had to wash my car once since February.)

I’ve lost count of the number of times both in person and in the local media I’ve heard somebody say how much “we could really use a tropical storm or hurricane right about now.”  I appreciate that those and similar statements are made light-heartedly but as much as I hate the drought, I’m not in the send-us-a-hurricane camp.  At least not yet.  Ike was less than three years ago and the memories of Katrina and Rita will always be fresh.

An expensive, perhaps futile effort to save this decades-old oak tree: weekly soaker hose treatment. Not easy or cheap if, like most homes in the Houston area, you have half a dozen or so of these huge, beautiful trees in your yard. Photo: Fred Rogers


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