The Weather Watchers

The Texas Story Project.

Daddy was as mercurial and unpredictable as Texas weather. Sometimes he was as cold as a bitter winter to those he disagreed with or who tried to control him. He was as warm as a spring day to those less fortunate than himself. He was like a storm at times, waiting to tear into someone with rage. But often he was like sun rays after the storm with his love, humor, kindness, and his sense of adventure.

He was stronger than the wind, blowing evil and meanness away. But human weakness sometimes made him as destructive as a tornado. He could be as peaceful as a clear moonlit starry night in summer and as nostalgic as a memory of an autumn day. He was all these things to me and has always reminded me of the changes in the seasons and the rapidly changing weather in my home state. He was the very first weather watcher I ever knew in Texas.

I have been a weather watcher for most of my life. I recall some happy times sitting on the front porch with my father, in the country outside of San Antonio, while we discussed and watched changing weather. I was brought up in a rural area where farmers and ranchers had a stake in good weather conditions. The lack or abundance of rain and other factors contributed to their well being. Although my family was not a farming family, my father owned a related business that catered to the needs of farmers and ranchers, and the weather played an important part in the the success of our family business. From my father, I became interested in the daily weather reports and the signs to watch for in the Texas sky. To see the great "northers," as we called the cold fronts back then, or to see a black thunderstorm approaching was always exciting. I don't know what people do in other states but I know that, in Texas, keeping an eye on the weather every day is a given.

Once I heard someone make a joke about the announcement of the new hurricane season and that it shouldn’t be viewed as exciting news. No, not exciting news! However, if you are in the path of a hurricane, it IS important news and some of us have rather short memories. My primary residence is northwest Harris County and I have read that there has been an increase in population of 100,000 people a year since 2010.  Hurricane Ike came in 2008. Some of these transplants have never experienced this force of nature or some of the ramifications like power outages for weeks after a hurricane. Like all residents on the Gulf coast, they too will learn to keep an awareness of these approaching storms.

Rapidly changing weather in Texas led to the saying "If you don't like the weather, just wait…it will change!" For true weather watchers, Texas gives us very dramatic changes. At other times, the changes are more subtle. The change in some of the weather terminology is another matter. Terms like "cold front" took me a while to relate to. The term "norther" or "blue norther" is descriptive vernacular that needs to be seen and felt. Maybe we have lost some of our regional speech when we are embarrassed, as Texans, to say "norther." For anyone not familiar with the expression, let me explain what a real blue norther is like. One actually needs to see this phenomena to get the full impact. It is best seen in wide open spaces where one can see the horizon not blocked by any buildings or trees. A really good "norther" is indeed a dark blue-black color. Depending where you are in the state, the temperature can drop 30 degrees or more in a matter of minutes... thus the expression that a "farmer left a gate open.” (Meaning somewhere up north in the panhandle.) In recent years, Texas has changed and re-defined itself much like the changing weather, and weather terms have become much more sophisticated. Occasionally you will hear a weatherman/meteorologist use the term "norther" but often it is used only in jest.

If you have ties to the land, you are probably aware that the weather has very little to do with wearing shorts one day and a coat the next. Our farm and ranch relatives and ancestors kept a vigilant eye on weather conditions for more important reasons and often without the assistance of high-tech weather forecasting. There are numerous tales about why and how animals exhibit certain behavior before an approaching storm or change in weather. Some of these tales must hold some truth. I don't hear an owl hooting without thinking about my mother saying that this was a sure sign of rain. I often heard that, if cows were laying down in the fields, this was a sign of changing weather.

Even plants can exhibit signs of a weather change aside from season change. In San Antonio, where I grew up, we called Purple Texas Sage (mainly seen in drier areas of the state) by its Spanish name, ceniza. Mother said that if the ceniza bloomed it was also a sign of rain. Over the years I had my own unscientific way of forecasting change in the weather. Sometimes chirpy critters seem to show up before cold weather but not everybody believes me. Forecasting the weather in this part of the United States is sometimes not easy. When it comes to predicting the weather, I often think of the weather watchers in the college dorm at the university I attended. Someone would just open the door on our floor and yell to everyone what to wear for the day! Actually, that could be a forecast for just an hour but someone did it every single morning in my dorm at Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University) in San Marcos in the 1960’s. A college student is lucky if he or she is not changing classes, dressed in summer clothes, when a blue norther is approaching…especially in the hill country.

I recall an extremely cold winter in 1984/1985 when there were many days of freezing temperatures throughout the state and even snow in South Texas. That was a year when one had to consider what to wear just to walk to the mailbox. I watched weather reports with the same fascination that many people track hurricanes. There was one polar blast after another. Weathermen appeared to be bored with reporting the monotonous cold conditions. The winter doldrums can be even worse in Texas as most of us tend to expect hot temperatures and modify our activities but underestimate the possibilities of really frigid winters. It is not totally tropical all year long in such places as Houston or Galveston when you see huge dead Hibiscus bushes in yards after a hard freeze. Folks in places like Amarillo or Dallas are fairly blasé about snow, but I remember the winter of '84-'85 made some residents of South and Southeast Texas yearn to get a break from the cold. Records were broken.

Supposedly, if you admitted to being at least 30 years of age, you have seen the best and worst of Texas winters. Texans get tired of staying indoors and I recall seeing my now-grown children, when they finally saw the sun come out and being tired of seeing ice and snow, throwing on their windbreakers and grabbing cold canned drinks and running outside. I asked them what they would like to do and they said "Go swimming!" I was tempted to let them go out to break the ice on our swimming pool just for the exercise!

It bothered me that in 1984 my family in San Antonio witnessed an historical weather event and I wasn't there. San Antonio with 15 inches of snow? I am still looking for a framed painting of my hometown blanketed in pristine snow…a picture of the Alamo preferably. Unfortunately, at the time, my 73 year old mother missed the snow as she was visiting another city. She was in disbelief when she heard that the San Antonio River was covered with ice. It was a shock for those who had lived their entire lives there and had not experienced that kind of cold until that winter. If you have not yet experienced temperature readings in the teens in South Texas lasting for many days, it probably will happen again some winter down the road. Just like the days of 100 plus temperatures that are temporarily gone and good riddance! That’s just Texas. What's so predictable is that the weather here is so often unpredictable. I learned that one year when I was in a car with very young children and a small tornado tore through our neighborhood in Cypress, Texas…an unexpected and terrifying experience with very little warning.  In August of 2017, I had a first-time experience of having family travel to secure a coastal vacation home and, as I watched a stormchaser online, praying that our new home would sustain little damage when Hurricane Harvey tore through Aransas County leaving devastation in its path. Places that had never flooded before where I live in Harris county did heavily flood due to Harvey. Members of some of my family and many others had to either wade out of their homes or be rescued.

If you live long enough you come to realize that nothing, including the weather, is under one's control. I can't change Texas weather and I could move to another part of the country but I don't plan on doing that either. I'm a sixth generation Texan and should be used to the extreme summer heat since we are supposed to be so tough. But the older I become, I'm not that tolerant. I stay inside and drink my iced coffee instead of my hot coffee on scorching summer days. It was interesting for me to learn from my biological mother, during a rare conversation we had by phone in my adult years, that the ONLY single thing she missed about the state of Texas was the weather. My half sister who lives in northern California said that the one thing she truly missed about Texas was warm rain!  Maybe I should not ever complain about our weather but where else but the state of Texas can one complain so much and get away with it? It's our birthright! As my Daddy used to say, "Keep an eye out on the weather and y'all take care."

Sherrill Pool Elizondo graduated from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) with a degree in English and Education. She is a sixth generation Texan and an avid genealogist. Sherrill has been an aspiring writer for over 35 years. She is the proud parent of three sons and has six talented and remarkable grandchildren who now all reside in the state of Texas. Sherrill was born and raised in San Antonio has lived most of her adult life in the Houston area, and now enjoys another home in Rockport, Texas, where she still enjoys observing the weather.

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