Avid Texas coastal weather watchers usually breathe a sigh of relief when mid-September arrives.
This year it appears things will be different. Hurricane Ike will have the undivided attention of coastal residents in Texas and Louisiana as the second week of September concludes.
Mid-September marks the mid-way point for the annual Atlantic and Gulf hurricane season. Historically after that mid-season point, the paths of approaching tropical storms are deflected by the movement of cool fronts that become increasingly more frequent and stronger as they move from Canada through the Texas Panhandle make their way deeper into the heart of Texas.
When a well organized hurricane gets recharged over the warm Gulf waters, it takes a fairly strong cold front arriving at the proper time to direct a major hurricane away from its intended direction.
When September 2008 arrived, the lower Texas coastal counties had suffered a hit from hurricane Dolly in August. The upper Texas coast and far northeastern Texas had a brush with Hurricane Gustav during the Labor Day weekend as it made its way through Louisiana and Arkansas.
The tropics and South Atlantic were still alive with activity in early September. Tropical Storm Hanna was turning up the Atlantic seaboard sparing the Gulf States from additional heavy rains.
The storms following Hanna were Ike and Josephine. Earlier prediction models had Ike moving toward the coastal regions of Mississippi and Alabama.
As is often the case with hurricanes, a lot changes during the 1,000 mile trip across the Atlantic. Ike moved in a more westerly direction than was earlier predicted.
As of Sept. 8, late planted grain sorghum, sunflowers, and sesame-awaited harvest across the Coastal Bend. It was estimated that up to 15 percent to 20 percent of the Nueces County cotton crop was still in the field. That situation prompted state officials in-charge of the cotton stalk destruction program to extend the plow-out deadline to Sept. 21 for Nueces, San Patrico, as well as Bee and Live Oak county cotton acreage south of Highway 59.
Since tropical storms and hurricanes are part of life on the Gulf Coast, I am reminded of a telephone conversation I had a few months back with Lin Dugger, a longtime Coastal Bend area farmer and rancher.
We were reflecting on the Centennial Anniversary of the City of Robstown and about the conversion of prairie grasslands and running mesquite country into farmland. Mr. Dugger commented that on one of his farms is a barn that had been built by one of the original farming families to settle in the Robstown area.
He had been told that the family had built that barn as soon as they settled on the property and lived in it until they harvested their first crop. Then they began constructing their home.
That old wooden barn was stoutly built. Granted, it has had some repairs over the years. But it is amazing how it has survived numerous tropical storms and hurricanes. If that old barm could talk, I am sure it would have some very interesting history lessons to share. That old barn might also remind us of more droughts that have occurred during the past century than we care to remember.
So much has changed in the 100 years since Robert Driscoll decided to divide his portion of the Driscoll Ranch near the crossroads of the Missouri Pacific and Texas-Mexican railways. Mr. Driscoll and ranchers to the south needed the railway to ship their cattle to market.
The introduction of barbed wire had fenced off the open range and halted the cattle trail drives. By selling land they hoped to attract farm families in search of fertile soil to settle in the southern part of Texas, once know as the "Wild Horse Desert". The goal was to create more business for the railroads.
Today, same land remains highly productive thanks to the stewardship of folks like Lin Dugger and the generations of farmers and ranchers that came before him. But much has changed in the past hundred years. That same piece of farmland can now be plowed in a matter of hours with a 250 to 300 horsepower tractor, instead of weeks, when teams of horses and mules pulled the plows. Just within the past decade, satellite beams provide real-time global position data that allows computer-controlled auto-steering on specially equipped tractors.
The farming technology that has evolved in the past decade was not even imaginable for those early farmers who settled in the Coastal Bend a century ago. Back then, they could only dream of getting a steam powered tractor to help up-root those pesky running mesquite bushes.
And how about those pesky mesquite bushes? They continue to stand the test of time in South Texas just as they did a century ago.
As far as hurricanes go, we continue to be better informed about their strength and speed, but they continue to have a mind of their own just as they did a century ago.
Harvey Buehring is the former Agricultural Extension Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5223.