The Dog Days Are Upon Us
East Texas- The “Dog Days” of summer have nothing to do with the canine species. Rather the phrase “Dog Days” deals with a star in the constellation Canis Major, which is one of the brightest stars in the sky. The “Dog Days” are named after Sirius, the Dog Star. The “Dog Days” come when the Dog Star begins to line up with our Sun. When such an alignment occurs it is called a “conjunction.” For many years it was believed that the Dog Star aligned with the Sun and the two stars combined their energy to make the weather even hotter. During July and August, during a persistent heat wave, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase, “we are in the Dog days of summer”.
This year the “Dog Days” have been accompanied by a nasty drought. Following the drought from the 1950s, Texas built dozens of reservoirs to ensure adequate water supply should another drought of such epic proportions ever fall upon the Lone Star State. It appears that those tough dry times are upon us and those reservoirs may soon be tested. Texas rain gauges have historically see boom-and-bust cycles of precipitation. This feast or famine rain cycle is the reason the state has nearly 200 reservoirs, to catch and hold water.
Piers can be seen in full view, standing several feet away from lake water lines. Boats are parked along the dry banks where water stood just a few months ago. These low water levels can eventually be beneficial to reservoir fisheries by providing a boost of nutrients when the rains do come and fill the lakes again. However until then the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is monitoring reservoirs closely. Lower lake levels do impact fish reproduction, which will in turn impact sport and prey fishes. Also, reduced water levels and higher water temperatures in streams and reservoirs also lead to lower levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, and can lead to fatal die-offs. TPWD’s Kills and Spills Team monitors fish kill events and can be notified of fish kills at their 24-hour hotline, 512-389-4848.
Trees in the Pineywoods are discolored from the dry conditions and so brittle that any amount of rain can cause branches to snap. Several East Texans have taken notice of the excessive amount of fallen limbs and trees this year.
Over 90 percent of the state is in a drought. These conditions are devastating the East Texas economy as farmers and ranchers struggle to survive. Experts are watching nervously as the record breaking heat continues to loom over the Pineywoods. According to the Palmer Drought Index, last month was the hottest June ever recorded in Texas. So far, this drought is the third worst on record, behind the drought of 1916-1918 and 1952-1957. There is little relief in sight.
East Texans should use caution and avoid situations that could cause wildfires. More than 3 million acres have burned in Texas this year. Nearly 11,000 fires have devastated the Lone Star State, and packed a financial punch worth more than $116 million in damages and several volunteer firefighters have lost their lives.
An estimated 90 percent of all Texas wildfires are caused by human activity. The most common single source of wild fires is contributed to burning debris that is not properly contained.
To help prevent fires:
• Keep a fire extinguisher and water handy when working outdoors with equipment that gets hot, or involves sparks, such as welding equipment. If possible water down work areas in advance to ensure safety.
• Smokers should extinguish cigarettes in vehicle ashtrays. DO NOT toss cigarettes out of car windows and do not put cigarettes out on the ground.
• Avoid burning trash. Even contained burning can spark a fire.
• Use caution when pulling off the road, onto the shoulder, or when driving into a field. Hot catalytic converters can ignite dry vegetation.
Log on to the Texas Forest Service Fire Danger & Advisories Page for more information.