True-life stories of survival against insurmountable odds, especially in natural catastrophes, hold a certain fascination for us all. That Terrible Texas Weather puts the reader in the eye of the storm, at the crest of the flood, and in the heat of the drought through a collection of newspaper reports and eyewitness accounts of victims caught up in some of the most devastating weather Texas has ever produced.
From the hurricanes of Indianola to the tornado at Wichita Falls to the drought and heat wave of 1998, this is a sampler of Texas weather through the years -- the terrifying storms and other events of weather gone berserk. These are the stories of the people who perished and the people who endured and of their Texas-sized courage and heroism.
Rain. Ranchers and farmers pray for it, especially west of the 98th Meridian. There's a wonderful scene in the movie Dancer, Texas, where one West Texas rancher greets another, and the two of them simply stare at the sky without talking. A Hollywood over-exaggeration? Not hardly.
In the Wild Horse Desert of South Texas, water meant life. Consider these excerpts from letters Richard King wrote to wife Henrietta in 1883:
"Grass is very short ... still some cattle dying here not enough of rain." -- March 18
"Everything lovely at home but grass and that is growing short -- it looks to night like rain hope it will rain ... hope and pray for a good rain." -- March 24
"We all miss you at home we are all well but no rain so far and it makes us all feel bad stock is suffering for grass but we hope for the best as we have at all times have our portion of good luck ..." -- June 22
"Have commenced shearing but have stopped on account of rain as it has rained every day since my arrival ... the finest grass I have seen for 20 years at this place everything full of water ... the only thing that is missed here is Mama and my pets ..." -- June 27
"We have had fine rains and plenty of them here the stock is all right I think now the grass is growing fast ... it does look more cheerful now since the rain and in six or eight days we will have fine grass here and all around us in fact it has been a good and general rain in this section we are doing the best possible in matters but a great deal of bother -- in matters here during the dry time every body was crusty and mad ..." -- July 6
"I think we are all well and the grass in the yard is green once more thanks be to God for it -- we were getting in a fearful fix if did not have rain ..." -- July 82
Western frontiersmen, it seems, would try anything -- would believe anything -- to make it rain. Theories abounded: If you plowed up the land, it would hold moisture, thus increase evaporation, thus make more rainfall possible. Growing crops or burning the prairie would also cause precipitation. One theory required building a tall chimney over water and starting fires at the water's edge. The flames would be drawn over the water to the chimney and carry moisture into the air.
So it should come as no surprise that King Ranch manager Robert J. Kleberg II took an interest in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rainmaking experiment during the drought of the early 1890s.
The government-backed plan was the brainchild of Robert G. Dyrenforth, special agent of the Department of Agriculture, and Illinois Senator Charles B. Farwell. War and the Weather, a book by Edward Powers including data that even in dry regions, â€œcopiousâ€ rain fell after battles during which there had been cannon fire. In 1880, General Daniel Ruggles of Virginia patented his production of rainfall by causing explosives in the air.
The concussion from the explosions jarred the air, smoke caused a reaction of "nuclei or mechanical retaining points," the atmospheric pressure reacted to the concussion, the buoyancy of the produced gases and the heat to force a current up, causing a disturbance, the explosions generated electricity and friction, "producing polarization of the earth and sky ... inducing ... other conditions necessary for storm formation, electrical manifestation being a constant forerunner and concomitant of storms ...."
There were other theories, too, including several -- understandably -- that Dyrenforth "was quite unable to understand."Still, Dyrenforth "found innumerable instances where heavy cannonading had been followed by copious fall of rain, though there was nothing definite to indicate that there might not have been rainfall in each case without the firing." It seemed enough to warrant further investigation, so on February 27, 1891, Dyrenforth was appointed special agent to conduct experiments regarding the "idea of producing rainfall by concussion."
Copyright 2000 by Johnny D. Boggs