Triple Digits

Officials from the nonprofit Trees for Houston estimate that 66 million trees will be lost in the city within two years due to the year-long drought. That’s 10% of the tree canopy. Others say this may be an underestimation.

When we moved here eight years ago, we were surprised to find Houston didn’t fit our stereotype of Texas: brown grass cattle ranches populated by men in wide-brimmed hats and leather boots, and maybe a tumbleweed or two. West Texas is just that – the west; all the stereotypes apply. But southeast Texas is nearly tropical (humid subtropical, according to Ask Encyclopedia) with palm trees, lush greens and flowers that bloom in winter. It rarely dips below freezing, and hurricanes and tropical storms occur all too frequently.

Except for the last year or two. Since Hurricane Ike in 2008, we haven’t had a major storm. And when three inches of rain fell at Bush Intercontinental Airport in mid-October, that was the highest daily total since July, 2010.

Not only that, 2011 set a number of records for extreme heat:

  • Highest number of 100 degree days (45)
  • Highest number of 100 degree days in a row (24, August 1-24)
  • Earliest recorded 100 degree day (June 2)
  • Hottest day late in the year (102 degrees on September 13)
  • Hottest day ever (109 degrees on August 27)

It was the warmest year on record coupled with the driest year on record. That’s a recipe for disaster. Close to four million acres burned. Some days we smelled the smoke in the inner loop.

The summer is long past, yet we still see workers watering full-grown trees in Herman Park, hoses attached to tanker trucks filled with water. More frequently, though, we see trees coming down, felled by other workers, in cherry pickers, bearing chain saws. Some specimen trees are harvested for their fine hardwood for furniture craftsmen, a small positive in this gloomy picture. Others are ground for mulch.

We learned this year that if a tree is brown but the leaves have not fallen, the tree is dead. That’s something we’d rather not know.

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