The people of Texas were wishing, hoping, and praying for rain. Governor Rick Perry even proclaimed a three day session for Texans of all faiths to pray for rain April 22 through 24 2011. This was before Texans even felt the worst of the drought—over 75% of the state would become classified with “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest possible drought ranking given. Many Texans would suffer greatly in the dry, relentless heat—some losing their homes, livelihoods, and even loved ones before the year ended. Residents of Austin, Texas heartily welcomed 2012, hoping to put both the driest and hottest year ever recorded behind them.
The people of Austin, Texas are used to hot summers—customers continue to eat in the outdoor seating of restaurants in triple-digit temperatures and are kept cool with rows of mist spraying fans. Barton Springs, a crisp blue pool of spring fed water that maintains a temperature of around 68 degrees year round, is a favorite place for the locals to gather and cool off. As summer temperatures peaked at 112 degrees, however, many heeded the heat warnings of the National Weather Service and stayed inside their air-conditioned homes.
One of the most devastating events of the drought was the wildfire in Bastrop, the most destructive fire in the history of Texas. The fire raged for over a month, destroying over 1,500 homes and 1.5 million trees, and damaging over 34,000 acres of land, including the majority of Bastrop State Park. The 2011 drought caused staggering agricultural losses: Texas lost half its cotton crop and many ranchers had to sell off their cattle due to the inability to keep them fed and hydrated. Monetary losses were estimated to be over $5 billion. Due to wildfires and drought, Texas is estimated to have lost over half a billion trees. The Texas Forest Service estimated the costs to remove the trees and the increased energy bills from their shade loss to cost $840 million.
The people of Austin, Texas have been thankful for rain received so far in 2012, with inches of rainfall in February and March exceeding normal amounts. Still, the lakes around the city and groundwater levels have much recovering left to do, and drought conditions are expected to continue through 2012. In the face of such devastating losses in 2011, many individual Texans and organizations have worked to help those in need. TreeFolks, a non-profit organization that plants trees throughout central Texas, helped plant 2,000 saplings specifically in areas such as Bastrop that suffered from wildfires. The organization planted over 13,000 trees throughout central Texas in 2011 with the help of over 2800 volunteers. The organization has been encouraging citizens to plant and care for trees despite the drought because of the services they provide, such as shade to reduce the heat island effect and energy costs, root systems that keep moisture in the soil and filter groundwater impurities, and the provision of food and shelter for struggling wildlife.
Has your neighborhood suffered from recent droughts? Learn how to combat drought in your home and care for drought-mitigating trees here.
Photo credit: climatewatch.noaa.gov