Tag Archives: weather

We Could Have Had Beto

Texas, we could have had Beto O’Rourke as U.S. Senator.  Instead, a slight majority voted to keep Ted Cruz in office in 2018.  I emphasize “slight majority” because – unlike his 2012 victory over Paul Sadler – Cruz didn’t well…cruise to a reelection win.

In the summer of 2018, O’Rourke, then a U.S. House Representative, shocked the Texas Republican Party and political observers alike when he raised several million dollars in a very short time.  It was no minor feat; accomplished by literally cold-calling people and pounding the pavement all over the state, gathering small amount donations from average citizens.  O’Rourke also did something no other Texas candidate for the U.S. Senate had done: he visited every single county in the state.  Some residents were stunned upon his arrival, as their county had no record of such a candidate stopping by.  Again, this was no minor task.  Texas boasts 267 counties in roughly 268,597 square miles (695,663 sq. km).  It’s half the size of Alaska and as big as some of Europe’s largest countries, such as Spain and France.  So, O’Rourke disturbed the evangelical conservative force that’s dominated Texas politics for generations; first as Democrats and now as Republicans.

For many Texas Hispanics – especially someone like me whose ancestry in this state goes back before there was a United States – Cruz’s win in 2012 was a distinct insult.  Cruz, a Canadian-born Cuban-Italian, was lauded as the state’s first Hispanic senator.  Cruz is to Hispanics what I am to Nigerians.

More significantly, though, Cruz is known for his antagonistic approach to political navigations once he got to Washington, as well as his failed 2016 presidential bid.  He and Donald Trump ended up battling for the final nomination.  In what I considered a case of choosing the lesser of two evils, Cruz would have been that lesser one.  But, I’ve only voted Republican once in my life and have let myself live to regret it; thus I don’t know what shenanigans rumbled through the brains of Trump acolytes.  The animosity between Cruz and Trump became even more palpable during the 2016 Republican National Convention, when the Texan gave his speech and did everything he could NOT to say the name Donald Trump, as the crowd booed and jeered.  The tension was so high that Secret Service agents removed Cruz’s wife, Heidi, from the convention floor.

By 2018, though, Cruz had done little to advance a pro-citizen agenda.  In all fairness, O’Rourke had no significant legislative achievements during his tenure either.  I guess I was mistaken in believing we elect people to such prestigious positions to actually…you know, do something.  I must be a damn fool!  But that year I eagerly jumped on the O’Rourke train, donating money and proudly voting for him.

Alas, it was for naught.  Cruz squeezed into another term, sweating and hyperventilating all the way.  It was enough to upset that right-wing force in Texas politics, but Cruz made it back to Washington anyway.

Then came the ice.  Like a herd of Central American immigrants carrying loads of bananas stuffed with cocaine (a conservative’s second worst nightmare after queer marriage), Winter Storm Uri ambushed Texas.  Meteorologists had warned state and energy industry officials about its strength.  When most Texans think of hurricanes, they conjure images of Katrina and Harvey, not a snow-laden monstrosity from the Pacific or (hah-ha) Canada.

As millions of Texans found themselves without power – and, in some cases, water – state leaders began blaming liberals and their green energy ideas for the catastrophe.  And Ted Cruz left his comfortable Houston abode to jet to Cancun because his 2 daughters wanted to go.  He was there for all of one day before the angry heat from his constituents melted his margarita and his resolve and he scurried back to Houston; hoping no one would notice.

We noticed.  We also noticed that at least 80 Texans died last week directly as a result of the ice storm.

Cruz hopscotched across the stage of excuses to explain his sudden departure and miraculous return.  Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke began raising money for Texans stranded in their darkened homes and even made calls to some of them.  He got help from one of the most demonized figures among conservatives in American politics: New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, as Texas state leaders continue blaming everyone else for the catastrophe, Ted Cruz left Texas again and headed for Orlando, Florida to attend the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC).  In summation it’s a yearly festival where right-wingers trash anyone even slightly to the left of their narrow-minded ideology.  At this year’s escapade, a gold-colored figure of Trump has taken center stage.

And so has Cruz.  Making light of his Cancun trip, he quipped: “I’ve got to say, Orlando is awesome.  It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice.”

Oh, ha-ha!  HURK!

Fuck you, Cruz.  Fuck you and your conservative philosophies.  Fuck you and the Texas Republican “leaders” who can’t admit their pro-business, anti-regulation antics over the past decades put us into this quagmire.  People suffered and people died during this mess!  One of the wealthiest states in the richest nation on Earth in the third decade of the 21st century should not have experienced such a calamity!

But I’m just venting.  Texas, we could’ve had Beto.

Image: Mike Luckovich

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The Texas state capital building in Austin

The memo was clear.  Everyone should make a concerted effort to get into the office, no matter what the weather is like.  That included winter storms.  It was the mid-1990s, and the manager of the department where I worked in a bank in downtown Dallas insisted that business was paramount.  This was seemingly light years before the Internet and telecommuting became dependable and functional.  And every time ice and snow paralyzed the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area I managed to make it into work.  One week day I awoke to sleet falling outside of my apartment bedroom window; it was about 4 in the morning.  I knew the weather would only worsen, so I shut off my alarm clock and readied for work.  Travel time from my far North Dallas abode into downtown took almost 2 hours by navigating ice-laden streets.  When I arrived just before 8 a.m., I literally had to turn on the lights in the department.

When I went to work for an engineering company shortly after the turn of the century, I ended up back in downtown Dallas, laboring on a contract for a government agency.  I learned quickly the federal outfit had a phobia of snow and ice.  They’d literally shut down when snow began descending upon the city.  As contractors, my colleagues and I had to vacate the premises as well.  One afternoon a monstrous rainstorm attacked, and – in a faux frenzy – I asked loudly if we had to leave the building.  Rain, I declared, was just liquid snow.  No such luck.  We had to continue laboring over our strained keyboards.  Everyone laughed.

Last weekend Winter Storm Uri catapulted into North America from the Pacific, generating ice storms that blanketed the state of Texas this week and inducing an even more paralyzing effect: our power grid shut down.  Literally millions of people have lived without power (and in some cases, without water) since this past weekend.  As of this moment, most homes have their power back.  But a lack of water is now the problem.  Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Texas related to the event has risenDallas-Fort Worth International Airport led the world in the number of flight cancellations this week.

This has been a cataclysm of unimaginable proportions.  I have experienced a slew of serious weather events and witnessed plenty of incidents of government incompetence, but I have NEVER seen anything like this!

What has occurred here in Texas this week is a prime example of the ineptness of conservative ideology and intense deregulation.  Texas is an energy island; producing its own energy and relying upon no one else.  The exception is far West Texas, where El Paso and its immediate surrounding communities experienced the same weather event, yet had no power outages.  That strong sense of independence and individual reliability looks great in political campaigns, but doesn’t always turn out well in real life.  Since the mid-1990s, Texas has had the habit of electing the biggest morons to public office.  And they’ve come to dominate state government.  Texas conservatives have done more to protect gun rights than basic human rights.

Now many of those same conservatives who always espouse the concept of personal responsibility are pointing their gnarly fingers at everyone and everything except themselves and their own disjointed attitudes.  Even though President Joe Biden approved emergency relief for Texas, some Republicans are accusing him of indifference.  They somehow missed Ted Cruz running off to Cancun, México this week because his kids wanted to go.  Governor Greg Abbott has blamed green energy and the Green New Deal for the crisis.  Green energy, however, only makes up about 10% of energy sources in Texas, and the Green New Deal hasn’t even gone into effect yet.  But they’re liberal programs, so of course, Republicans consider them demonic and will trash their mere presence whenever they get the chance.  Abbott also blames the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for mishandling the event, but still hasn’t looked in the mirror.

A ceiling fan in a Dallas apartment building sprouted icicles.

This debacle points to the vulnerability of modern societies that have come to rely upon optic fibers and wires; a weakness that would both appall and humor our hardy ancestors.  In March of 1888, a massive winter storm assaulted the Northeastern U.S., downing power lines and disabling even modest commutes in the region’s largest cities.  People in rural areas, however, lived through the storm and its effects without much trouble.  They were accustomed to such weather anyway and prepared for it.

Preparedness – the word of 2021.

Consider this irony.  Earlier on Thursday, the 18th, NASA was able to land a vehicle on Mars.  The endeavor cost millions of dollars and is an epic triumph in the name of science and technology.  But we can’t get power and water to millions of human beings here in Texas – on planet Earth – for several days.

That’s not just sad; it’s unbelievably outrageous.

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Inoculate This!

Another week of the latest reality TV show to torture the masses, ‘The Harlequins of Washington’, has thankfully ended.  The histrionic personality of Faux-President Donald Trump has yet to abate and find its happy place.  Trump is the “Typhoid Mary” of the current political arena: infected, contagious, absurdly disgusting and in obvious denial.  Where’s Louis Pasteur when you need him?!  Or maybe Jeffrey Dahmer.  Oh, Great Candelabra!  I guess I shouldn’t be so brutally honest.  But the unbridled scribe in me often takes over my brain faster than Germans at a beer festival.

Yet, every day of the week – including weekends and holidays – the U.S. and the world are treated to regular puny-worded rants from the American Putin.  Trump is quicker to name-slur his adversaries – “Crooked Hillary”, “Lying Ted”, “Little Marco” – than he is to produce his tax records.  Which, by the way, have yet to be removed from whatever subterranean vault they’re being housed in at Trump Tower.

The schizophrenic weather and temperature fluctuations that have traumatized Northeast Texas in recent months have left the Chief and many other locals swaddled in a morass of mucus, madness and melancholia.  I dragged my carcass into visit my doctor this morning, hoping for a shot of some life-altering tonic: cortisone, Vitamin B12, hydrocodone, Don Julio tequila.

Afterwards, I realized our ‘Dear Clown Leader’ could use much of the same; just inject a slew of medications into his fat ass – a process that could last for days – in a concerted effort to nourish his pickling cerebral cortex into some semblance of normality and subsequently (hopefully) save the world.

Alas, dreams are always a good thing.  Never give up on them!  Now, I’ll steer my haggard self from national news broadcasts, partake of some Don Julio, and embed myself into another reality TV show; one with considerably more plausibility – “Ancient Aliens”.

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Worst Quote of the Week – November 1, 2019

“According to NASA, one hurricane is the equivalent of 10,000 nuclear weapons.  One volcano is 10,000 atomic weapons.  So every year, we have got like two million atomic and nuclear weapons going off and the planet still seems to be in pretty good shape, so what is it we think we are going to do to damage the planet?”

David Barton, evangelical Christian political activist, founder of WallBuilders, and pseudo-historian, dismissing concerns about what climate change could mean for the future of the planet.

I’m not a biblical scholar, but I recall this passage from Luke 23:34

“When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on His right and the other on His left.  Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’  And they divided up His garments by casting lots.  The people stood watching, and the rulers sneered at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’”

The Chief’s translation: never mind him; he’s a dumbass who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

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The Very Storms

As Hurricane Dorian continues its slow trek up the eastern coastline of the U.S. (the bastard just won’t die!), I think of the storm-related terminology people keep using to describe these systems.  Most every description includes the word “very”.  It’s the same verbiage recycled again and again – the way companies recycle workers during economic downturns and politicians recycle promises with each campaign.  But it’s also somewhat laughable in that, each time, meteorologists, law enforcement officials and reporters (you know, the dumbasses who stand in the middle of a rain-torn street or an inundated beach, as if we’re too stupid to understand how bad it is out that way) utter these same words with just about every hurricane.  More specifically, though, the tones of their voices and the inflections they apply to these characterizations insinuate that said terminology has never been used before.

The word “very” is an adverb meaning, ‘In a high degree, extremely, or exceedingly.’

I had a high school English teacher who grew weary of students constantly using the word “very” to emphasize certain conditions.  “They’re not very poor,” she groused, highlighting one example.  “They’re just poor!”

Okay, boss-lady, got it!  Sending “very” into a dark place from where it will not emerge until after I graduate.

With all of that rigmarole behind us now, I have compiled a short list of frequently used – and overused – terms that meteorologists, law enforcement and those dumbass reporters utilize to describe tropical storm systems.  Keep in mind the adverb “very” is almost always the precursor.

This storm is very…

Dangerous – this is the 2nd most used term to describe tropical storms; apparently, there are such things as safe hurricanes, but I don’t believe one has developed in a while.

Fluid – this generally refers to the actual travel speed of the storm and not the water, which in case you failed Science 101, is one of the most common fluids available.

Intense – this most often indicates the severity of the sustained winds (those closest to the eye) and wind gusts (those furthest from the eye that fluctuate wildly as their speed increases).  This can also describe the persona of those reporters trying to make a name for themselves on the beach, as well as residents and visitors who decide they’re going to tough it out because, after all, what could possibly go wrong amidst 150 mph (241 kph) winds and rain falling sideways?

Powerful – this one competes with “dangerous” as a common description for hurricanes and simply refers to the overall magnitude of the storm.  Considering that an average hurricane can generate 6.0 x 10^14 Watts or 5.2 x 10^19 Joules/day (equivalent to about 200 times Earth’s total electrical generating capacity), it’s tough to imagine a tropical storm system as being weak.  In fact, though, the word “weak” has been used to describe some hurricanes, which means – from a meteorological perspective – it’s all relative.  Think of it as comparing Donald Trump’s intellectual capacity to that of Barack Obama.  Obama would a Category 5 hurricane, while Trump would barely make it out of tropical disturbance status.

Unpredictable – this is undoubtedly the most commonly used term to describe hurricanes.  Understand that these tempests have been bombarding the coastlines of the world since the beginning of time; yet, we modern humans keep trying to predict exactly where one such storm will go.  However, contemporary meteorology has advanced to the point where such estimations are accurate.  But coastal residents and visitors still want weather prognosticators to determine precisely where a storm will make landfall, so they won’t have to ruin their vacations or run to Home Depot at the last minutes to buy generators, batteries, plywood and wine.  Stupid humans!

Wet – this word isn’t utilized too often amidst hurricane descriptions, but every once in a while, it gets tossed into the mix.  Because tropical storm systems develop over large bodies of warm water, I don’t believe “dry” would be an appropriate term.  But that’s just my opinion!  What do you folks think?

Windy – this is actually the most curious description for a hurricane.  Realizing that tropical storm systems are gauged and ranked according to their wind speed, it’s difficult to imagine that even a Category 1 hurricane could pass by without knocking a few trash cans over.  Again, I’m just speculating.

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Lightning Angel

This was a poem I wrote in July of 1986, when I was on a poetry kick.  My inspiration was – would you believe? – lightning in the night sky.  My father induced respect and admiration for lightning in me when I was little.  Like most small children, I was terrified of lightning and thunder.  But my father picked me up one night and carried me to a window.  He pulled open the drapes and yanked up the blinds – and told me not to be scared.  Lightning and thunder were just part of nature and nothing to be feared.  Respected, yes, but not feared.  They were born from the hands of the Great Creator.  From then on, I was never afraid of lightning or thunder again.

My father had acquired veneration for all of Earth’s natural forces from his own father who would open the drapes as a lightning storm rampaged overheard.  By contrast my grandmother was terrified and ran around the house clutching a rosary, lighting candles and ordering everyone to pray; that this is how the world will end: lightning, thunder, wind, rain – all at once and merciless.  Of course, that may be true.  But who are we to tell the Earth what to do with its tools?

My grandfather apparently displayed a sadistic streak, as his frazzled wife scampered from room to room.  “Yes,” he’d tell her.  “I just heard a report on the radio that a tornado is headed this way and sweeping up all women over age 40.”

 

Oh lightning angel.

Please smile at me.

Crackle in the caverns of that purple-black sky.

Glisten your rods of orange fire,

Whisper to me amidst vicious winds.

Please smile once more at me.

I hear your softened sensations,

And cower against your powerful heart.

Sweep my soul and steel my lungs.

Lightning angel.

Favorite of all our elements.

Looking at you from this shrinking Earth.

To your crystalline patterns.

Designs of your own creation.

Yes, lightning angel.

Gentle and sweet.

Yet you display your might.

Flashing over the silhouettes of quiet plants.

Cover my meager form on this deserted road.

Breathe your whiteness through the swollen clouds.

I reach out to you.

And wish you could take me,

Retreating back into this clouds.

But you’re alone,

In your own dimension,

In your own universe.

So I beg you please,

Just bless me with one last flare,

Before you melt,

Into that sky,

Oh lightning angel.

 

Image: Colt Forney Photography

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Just Leave Them Alone

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) image of Hurricane Matthew moving towards Florida on October 6, 2016.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) image of Hurricane Matthew moving towards Florida on October 6, 2016.

People living along the U.S. Gulf Coast were accustomed to this.  A massive hurricane was headed their way, and they had been warned to evacuate further inland.  It’s the price one must pay for a home with a spectacular view.  They didn’t need too much encouragement to flee from the chaotic beachfront.  Barely a decade had passed since Hurricane Camille had plowed into the Alabama-Mississippi coastline with winds of roughly 190 mph (306 km/h).  Camille was only the second documented Category 5 storm to hit the United States.  It had set the standard by which all future tropical storm systems would be measured and – more importantly – by how coastal residents and government officials would respond.

It was September of 1979, and Hurricane Frederic loomed menacingly on the horizon.  What had begun as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa at the end of August metamorphosed into a Category 4 behemoth, with 135 mph (215 km/h) winds, upon entering the Gulf of México.  The National Hurricane Center issued warnings for much of the U.S. Gulf Coast, and some 500,000 people – from East Texas to the Florida Keys – heeded that ominous call.  Utilizing a new and innovative weather system called Doppler Weather Radar, the NHC had deemed the Florida Panhandle as the most likely strike point.  Locals remembered Hurricane Eloise very well, so most took no chances.

Then, seemingly at the last moment (as hurricanes frequently do), Frederic shifted further westward and landed at Gulf Shores, Alabama.  As they trekked back to their boarded-up homes and businesses, wondering if criminals had taken advantage of their absence, some Florida Panhandle residents were irritated that they were forced to flee a hurricane that didn’t hit.  Wasn’t this new-fangled Doppler thing supposed to cure such uncertainty?  Regardless, many vowed to stay put the next time.

Much of this same drama played out last week, as Hurricane Matthew terrorized the Caribbean and then teased the southeastern U.S. by remaining mostly offshore.  At one point in its early life, Matthew reached the rare and dreaded Category 5 status; the first such tempest in the Caribbean since Felix in 2007.  Matthew finally made official landfall in South Carolina October 8 as a Category 1 storm and is now – as of this writing – a post-tropical cyclone.  With more than 1,000 fatalities directly attributed to it, Matthew’s financial damage will take a while to tally.  And, as always happens with these things, a proverbial “lessons learned” compendium will develop.

One lesson is how best to warn people living in vulnerable areas that they must leave.  As Matthew neared the U.S., literally millions of people, from Florida to North Carolina, were ordered to evacuate.  I don’t like the idea of forcing people to flee a coming storm or any natural disaster.  Hurricanes are one of the few calamities that can be tracked from far away.  It’s only fair to warn people of some pending disaster and help them avoid it, if we can.

Yet, if somebody wants to remain in place, I believe we should just leave them alone.  Governors and mayors should never issue a mandatory evacuation, but rather, a necessary one.  Necessary in that it would be in the best interest of residents to flee.  But people should be allowed to make decisions about their own welfare without harassment or input from others.  I recommend a ‘No Rescue’ policy.  If, for example, a hurricane is estimated to make landfall on a Friday, anyone still on the beachfront after midnight is on their own.  First responders would not be required to respond to a frightened citizen whose million-dollar condo is starting to flood.  Police officers, firefighters and military personnel shouldn’t risk their own lives to save just one dumbass (usually a man) who thought they were tough enough to handle 100 mph winds and 20-foot tidal surges.  Advances in automobile technology have given people a false sense of personal security; therefore, they may not drive too carefully.  Advances in meteorology have had the same deleterious effect.

Photographer Frankie Lucena captured this image of “red sprite bursts” above Hurricane Matthew, as the storm lingered between Colombia and Aruba on October 1.

Photographer Frankie Lucena captured this image of “red sprite bursts” above Hurricane Matthew, as the storm lingered between Colombia and Aruba on October 1.

In September of 1999, Hurricane Floyd headed straight for the Georgia-Florida area, prompting the governors of both states to issue that dreaded mandatory evacuation.  Some 4 million people heeded the warning and fled westward.  As usual, store shelves were emptied out, gas stations were drained, and highways became clogged with frightened coastal residents.  But then Floyd suddenly turned north and plowed into North Carolina’s Outer Banks, before marching up the East Coast.  It missed the Georgia-Florida line altogether, and many of those residents who had been ordered to leave got pissed.  With all of the advances in weather forecasting, they declared, you’d think meteorologists would know exactly where a hurricane will strike.  How pathetically arrogant.

But the public’s salacious desire to watch these disasters unfold is matched only by the media’s desire for high ratings.  As Matthew approached Florida, news outlets planted their reporters on beach fronts and empty streets to help viewers vicariously live the power of the wind and rain.  It’s almost comical watching someone holding onto a street sign or lamp post with one hand and a microphone in the other; adorned in the requisite rain coat and / or ball cap; describing how bad it is “out here” and stating the obvious: “conditions have deteriorated.”

Several years ago I watched the national news as a brutal series of wild fires ravaged Southern California.  People were angry they had to leave their million-dollar homes.  And, of course, media outlets dispatched their own people to show and maybe speak with locals packing up all they could and fleeing the area per the mandatory evacuation orders.  I recall seeing one angry man being led away from his house by some police officers; he had been reluctant to leave.  He looked into the camera and screamed about being forced to leave his home, while “the fucking media” were allowed to stay.  I empathized with him.  If he wanted to stay, he should have been allowed to do that.

After Hurricane Katrina tore into the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, thousands of people who didn’t evacuate subsequently refused to leave; despite the warning by then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that the city “isn’t safe.”  A large swath of the region, from Southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle was in chaos, and no, it wasn’t safe.  But no area directly impacted by a natural disaster is safe in the aftermath.  Still, if people want to stay and protect their property, the government shouldn’t force them to leave anyway.

Harry R. Truman refused to leave his home on Mount St. Helen’s, despite its pending eruption in May of 1980.

Natural disasters have a unique way of putting humanity back in its place and making us realize we’re not its master.  On March 11, 1888, a massive blizzard rolled over the east coast of North America, killing more than 400 people and dropping as much as 55 inches of snow in some areas.  The storm practically paralyzed major metropolitan areas, such as Boston and New York City.  Most of the fatalities occurred among urbanites, while folks out in the country just considered it another really bad storm.  Human vanity reached a new level with the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912.  Branded as “unsinkable,” the massive vessel met its fate on its maiden voyage, courtesy of a wayward iceberg, taking more than 1,500 lives with it.

Saving people from themselves is not just virtually impossible; it’s impractical.  It’s also a waste of time and energy.  Give individuals the necessary information and a means to escape.  After that, just leave them alone.

Smoke from wildfires burning in Angeles National Forest filled the sky behind the Los Angeles skyline on June 20, 2016.  Image courtesy of Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP.

Smoke from wildfires burning in Angeles National Forest filled the sky behind the Los Angeles skyline on June 20, 2016. Image courtesy of Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP.

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Pictures of the Day

A weather system dumped up to 4 feet of hail in Northwest Texas, mainly the Amarillo area, the other day.  This was an odd event, even for Amarillo, which experiences heavy snowfall every winter.

 

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