It scant feels like December 15th. Texas weather this season feels more like a struggle between spring and summer. Yesterday’s high struck at 68° F/20° C, and today’s forecast high is 74° F/23° C. Worse than the unseasonable warmth is the dearth of precipitation. The last appreciable rain was in September when the remnants of Hurricane Hermine brought floods and tornadoes through the heart of the DFW Metroplex. Since then? A big fat lot of nothing. Moderate drought has overtaken the region and has grown worse daily with frightening rapidity.
Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings continue unabated in meteorology discussions. That Hermine came late in the growing season meant her deluges caused a last-minute growth spurt which promptly died in subsequent freezes and the lack of rain. In no uncertain terms, the entire region is one vast pile of kindling waiting for a spark. The U.S. Forestry Service has banned campfires in all national forests throughout Texas. Burn bans cover more than half the state, and the drought map has more than three quarters of the state colored in various hues of dry.
Last winter we had snow storm after snow storm after snow storm after snow storm, not to mention a cataclysmic freeze that left behind scenes more appropriate to the Arctic than Dallas. But this year is the polar opposite. Pun intended. Thus is the curse of La Niña around these parts: a warmer and drier winter. Much warmer and much drier.
Before anyone gets an “I told you so!” attitude and points to these extremes as evidence of climate change, brace yourself: You’re wrong! Disappointing though it might be, in terms of weather and climatology this winter, our lack of seasonal norms means nothing more than the predictable, oft repeated product of La Niña, a recurring oceanic pattern that, like her brother El Niño, comes and goes with nary a thought for anthropogenic climatic effects. Having lived here forty years, I can tell you the no-show cold this season comes as no surprise.
I can also tell you that mild winters like this can mean good things in terms of wildlife. The few killing freezes we’ve had coupled with the worsening drought will likely see fit to curtail next year’s mosquito population, yet the warmth also means creatures that normally would die out or hibernate instead continue to thrive as conditions permit. Like this Mediterranean gecko (a.k.a. house gecko; Hemidactylus turcicus) found meandering about the patio one morning:
They live in the walls of my patio and garage. And I’m thankful for them. Coupled with the diurnal green anoles (a.k.a. Carolina anole; Anolis carolinensis) who also live in the walls, the nocturnal geckos complete the circle and provide me with round-the-clock insect control. Rather than chemicals, I have natural protection from the various critters that would otherwise amass around my home. (Not that I dislike arthropods, mind you; on the contrary, I adore them. But some level of insect population control in subtropical climes is always a good thing lest home and hearth be overrun.)
Seeing active reptiles in winter is cool no matter how much I miss the Snow Miser’s touch. And active reptiles need active insects, something I’m also grateful to see when the world is otherwise painted in earthen tones of slumber. Though I might dislike La Niña’s effects in winter since I do love the cold, cognitive dissonance means I’m also thankful for her visit since it means enjoying glimpses of life that would otherwise be absent for the next few months.
Though I suggest no one light a fire in Texas for a while. It wouldn’t be safe. For any of us.