Area over last 60 years has seen weather of historic proportions
By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 10:22 pm
A critique I received on one of these columns years ago warned against harping too much on weather. The “desultory” (their word) column, they said, jumped from one thing to another, back and forth from weather to gardening, to distraction.
Well, today we won’t jump back and forth, but we will, yet again, reference weather. For what, after all, is more at the heart of gardening? The weather is the linchpin upon which our success either waxes or wanes.
Of recent times (here meaning the last half century or so, and particularly the last two years) waning has been the rule of the day, to the point of nauseating result.
Who would have thought we would experience 100-year droughts two years in a row? The law of averages should posit we won’t experience anything like it for 200 more years. Kids, take note.
Anyone who has lived through the second half of the 20th century and until today in Henry County has experienced a remarkable series of historic weather occurrences. And don’t forget, accurate weather records are extant without omission since at least the 1880s, or 120 years or so.
Since 1950, however, every weather extreme record has been broken, and not just barely. They have been smashed.
On Feb. 2, 1951, the thermometer sagged to 21.5 degrees below zero. Paris recorded the lowest temperature in the United States that morning, and my father was kept busy in his position as water and wastewater superintendent of the Board of Public Utilities with frozen water lines all over the city.
During the 1970s and ’80s continuing cold and snow plagued the area year after year. One year, when our No. 2 son was in high school, students returned to classes after the Christmas break only to be sent home early when heavy snow began falling. They did not go back to school until February, as snow after snow and bitter cold paralyzed the area. With children underfoot day after day, school moms were seeking counseling.
During that same period, the temperature fell to 17 below zero a couple of times, challenging, but not quite breaking, 1951’s all-time record cold.
Ornamental shrubs were decimated in most of the winters during that era. In spring, huge piles of dead hollies, azaleas and crape myrtles were being hauled to the landfills day after day.
Once the freezes finally ended (it’s been 25 years since we’ve experienced anything else like it), droughts set in. During the 1980s, long-term drought bedeviled us several years in a row, though there was short-term piddling rain enough to barely succor farm crops most of those years.
Large trees, many more than 100 years old, died here and there the first year of the drought, and as it lingered on more and more of them bit the dust, literally. Our woodland lost at least 60 old dogwoods and a number of big red oaks. When 100-year-old trees go to dying, you know you’ve seen historic weather.
Our current drought is in its second year. Last winter was wet, giving some temporary recoup from horrendous damage in the summer of 2007. The tap turned off, however, once the past summer set in. June was below normal, and July experienced rain only once, the second week of the month. Since then, rainfall as been virtually nil. From July 12 until last week — that’s three months — only three-tenths of an inch has been recorded in my gauge. We’ve been drier than Phoenix, Ariz., or southern California, experiencing true desert conditions.
Then there is heat. August 2007 was the hottest month in recorded history here, with the temperature peaking at 106, but staying above 100 for 16 days. (I believe 110 was experienced here in the 1950s.) That heat compounded drought troubles, and this year August was considerably cooler.
In fact, I don’t believe we topped 100 degrees a time this summer, but we flirted with it several times.
My “arborteum,” so to speak, a collection of trees and shrubs on a barren, dry hill west of our house, has been decimated last year and this. I am finally to the point that water hauling has done me in, and I will give up on some of it if this thing continues.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Winners don’t quit. Put me in the losers bracket.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 10.21.08