Recently in Weather Category

Loquat to No-quat
April 7, 2021 8:23 PM | Posted in: ,

Debbie and I have spent the past few weeks repairing the landscape around our house following the devastation of the Great Texas Freeze-Out of 2021. We make a great team; she tells me what to do, and I do it.

So far, we've taken out the following dead, or mostly dead, plants:

  • 4 pittosporum
  • 4 ligustrum
  • 4 palm trees (3 sagos & one unknown -- to us -- species)
  • 2 or 3 nandina (which weren't dead, but this was a good excuse to upgrade the landscape)
  • loquat tree -- more about this later
  • multiple rosemary bushes
  • 1 aloe vera
We're still waiting to see whether the potted bougainvillea survived in our cheapo greenhouse after the little ceramic heater shut off unbeknownst to us just when we needed it the most.

We also pruned back to the ground more than 20 big liriopes (aka monkey grass)...a process that was mind-numbing and back-breaking. There's never a machete around when you need one.

Mashup photo of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride 'operating' on a 'mostly dead' aralia plant
I spent way too much time making this image,
so please pretend to be impressed.
Speaking of plants that were mostly dead, the four aralias -- which were 5-6 feet tall -- in our front courtyard appeared to be goners, but are already flourishing from the ground, and looking quite content.

We replaced the pittosporum and ligustrum with 7 Lucky Leaf hollies pruned into a "pyramid" shape. The spots where the nandina previously resided are now occupied by Japanese boxwood, plus a quite fetching Crimson Queen Japanese maple tree. We haven't decided what -- if anything -- will go where the palm trees used to be. All of the replacement plants are hardy down to 0º; I hope we never find out if that's accurate.

Now, about that loquat tree...

Of all the plants we lost to the freeze, the loquat was the most distressing. We think the tree was planted by the original owners of our house when it was built twenty years ago. It was around fifteen feet tall, and its wingspan was about the same. Its blooms brought butterflies in the summer, and the fruit was coveted by deer. The thick foliage attracted all manner of birds and lizards, and the squirrels used it as a jumping off point to access the big pecan tree that grows out of our deck. It had survived all kinds of weather, but was no match for the record-breaking cold in February. For what it's worth, we haven't seen a single loquat around the city that survived.

Here's a rather large gif depicting the decline and death of our tree.

Animated gif showing stages of decline and death of our loquat tree

It may have taken two decades to grow the tree, but it took us only about four hours to reduce it to its component parts, including some logs that I hope will prove to be good firewood by the time the next polar vortex rolls around.

Of course, once the tree is cut down and the leaves and branches hauled off, there's still the problem of the stump. I thought about hiring someone to dig it up and take it away, but I was curious about what kind of root system it had. My guess that it didn't have a tap root, but instead had a network of lateral roots which didn't extend very far into the ground. If that was the case, it should be a relatively easy task to cut a circle around the stump and pry up the root ball.

I was half right. The root system was indeed shallow. The task was anything but easy. I tried a variety of tools, but finally settled on a pickaxe and a long-handled shovel. It took four hours stretched over two days but we finally broke the large root ball loose. I say "we" because Debbie provided some critical assistance at the end by using some long-handled loppers to snip through the last remaining roots that I couldn't get to with the pickaxe. We finished the job this morning, too late to include in the preceding animation.

Photo - Loquat root ball

That's about 150 pounds of loquat stump, roots, and embedded soil and rocks. I'm probably going to have to chainsaw it down the middle in order to load it into the pickup for disposal. My chiropractor will finally be able to afford that swimming pool she's been saving up for.

Replacement of the loquat tree is a challenging issue. It provided a rather significant privacy screen for our backyard and even our house, and we're not sure what to replace it with. We have a lot of options, ranging from another tree to multiple tall shrubs. I'm sort of partial to a vitex tree because they're fast-growing, but magnolias and desert willows are also still in the mix.

At the end of the day, we're thankful the damage from the winter storm wasn't worse, and we've actually been able to upgrade some of the landscape that we weren't really thrilled with but lacked motivation to do anything about. We're also thankful that we can afford the cost of replacement plants, and that we have the physical strength to do the work (if not the mental acuity to avoid it).
Howdy, buckaroos. We just received the cancellation of the boil water notice that we've been living under for the last eight years* so I'm giddy and in the mood to engage in some mindless activity...like blogging.

I don't know if you heard, but Texas traded places with Antarctica for a week, and then Hell took over. But, things are looking up, at least for us here at Casa Fire Ant. We went from 3º on February 16 to 73º yesterday, so our reputation for science fiction-level weather remains intact.

In the midst of the misery, there were some bright spots, and I learned a few things. For instance, did you know that mockingbirds and robins  don't get along? For a couple of days, I watched with great amusement as each of them tried to stake a claim on the big yaupon in our back yard, laden with delicious (to a bird) berries. The first time I noticed their jousting, the robin chased the mockingbird away. But thereafter, the mockingbird, having apparently gotten a pep talk from his buds, bullied the robin. I've known for a long time that mockingbirds are pugnacious avians, having had to wear a motorcycle helmet in order to mow the grass around a tree containing one of their nests, but I had no idea their hostility extended to other birds.

Photo - Robin in yaupon
Above: The robin enjoying a rare moment of peace
Below: The mockingbird enjoying the fruit of his victory
Photo - Mockingbird in yaupon, with a berry in its mouth

We'll talk more about birds in a moment, but I think it's extremely important that you take a moment to contemplate the sheer genius of a website that allows you to draw an iceberg and then view a simulation for how it will float. Just imagine how different things might have been for the Titanic had the crew been able to access this technology. OK, probably not much different. But the point is...it's really fun to play with. And in observance of Texas temporarily becoming a...well, you know...here's what it would do if totally immersed in water (insert your own broken water line joke here at such time as it's not too painful):

Drawing - A Texas-shaped iceberg

And speaking of being frozen, here's a cardinal (the bird, not the cleric) in an icy loquat tree (which, by the way, is likely dead...it just doesn't yet realize it. I'm referring to the tree, not the bird, and certainly not the cleric.).

Photo - Cardinal perched in an icy loquat tree

Speaking of things that may (or may not) be dead, there's quite a bit of chatter going around about a claim that a thylacine has been spotted in Australia or Tasmania or one of those places where the toilets flush in the wrong direction. I'm sure I don't have to explain the implications of finding that an apex predator -- the largest carnivorous marsupial known to science but thought to be extinct for almost a hundred years -- is still kicking. Yes, that's right. If the Tasmanian tiger/wolf/what-have-you is real, then confirmation of the existence of the chupacabra cannot be far behind.

[In all seriousness, the discovery that a species previously thought extinct is still alive would be a Very Cool Thing. Let's hope it's true.]

In closing, let me leave you with a visual recipe for the most delectable dessert you'll likely ever encounter that can be made in a matter of mere seconds.

Animation showing how to mix delicious rice pudding with even more delicious coconut cream to make the most delicious dessert

*This might be an exaggeration, but there's no way to know for sure since our clocks AND calendars froze.

Steam Fog on Lake LBJ
October 28, 2020 7:50 PM | Posted in: ,

Folks who live in close proximity to Lake LBJ no doubt noticed an eerie phenomenon yesterday. Even though it was not a foggy day, the lake was covered with a thick blanket of what looked like smoke or mist...and the windy conditions blew that fog across the sky so that at times it did resemble smoke from a wildfire. 

It was a malevolant presence, likely concealing horrible apparitions. Although that could have been my imagination, given that this is the week of Halloween and I may have watched the movie adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Mist a few too many times. 

In reality, what we were witnessing was a meteorological phenomenon known as steam fog (aka steam smoke, water smoke, sea mist, etc.). It's not uncommon in these parts, but it's rarely as thick as it was yesterday. In fact, for most of the day, the surface of the lake was completely obscured.

Steam fog occurs when cold, dry air moves across the surface of warmer water. So when that frigid cold front blew in Monday night and dropped temperatures a couple of scores of degrees, we got to witness the result of textbook conditions for the creation of steam fog.

I spent a half hour or so taking some photos of Lake LBJ in an attempt to capture some of the mysterious-looking fog. Here's a photo of the Wirtz Dam shrouded in fog. The area between the dam in the background and the trees in the foreground is all lake.

Photo - Steam Fog over Lake LBJ (Horseshoe Bay, Texas)

This photo below shows Horseshoe Bay Resort (foreground) and some condominium complexes (mid-ground). The long thin row of trees along the background is Lighthouse Drive, and you might be able to vaguely make out the northern shore of Lake LBJ. Again, the strips of fog are resting on what would normally be seen as water.

Photo - Steam Fog over Lake LBJ (Horseshoe Bay, Texas)

Of course, the steam fog phenomenon isn't always scary or eerie. It can create quite a beautiful scene, such as the early spring occurrence on the creek behind our house, as shown below.

Photo - Steam Fog on the surface of Pecan Creek (Horseshoe Bay, Texas)

I'm not normally a fan of frigid, windy weather, but when it results in amazing phenomena like steam fog on the lake, it's hard not to be impressed.

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