Just when we were on a path that was similar to, or worse than, the sparse rainfall we received in the Hill Country in early spring in 2011, we got a nice rain over much of the area last week. The memories of 2011 are still very sharp in our minds, when we slowly baked in the unseasonably hot temperatures with virtually no rain. In some ways we were lucky that the Hill Country suffered fewer critical wildfires in 2011 than occurred in other parts of Texas, such as in the Ft. Davis, Bastrop and North Texas areas.
You might remember how brown the landscape was during the winter and spring months – no grass, wildflowers, butterflies and other food chain insects. Birds and other critters that rely on insects to feed themselves, as well as their young, had few food resources. Most of the Hill Country nesting birds were lucky if they eked out one clutch of youngsters; many had no young to raise. Although we had similar or less amounts of rainfall this winter and spring, we did have some differences from the 2011 results that helped us achieve more favorable outcomes for nature this year.
The most important factor is that our winter and spring temperatures have been much cooler than in 2011. I am sure everyone has enjoyed the cooler and cloudier days over the past month or more. While individual rains produced only a few tenths of an inch with many of the rain events, coupled with the cooler temperatures, the amounts were enough to allow plants to stay alive until we got the excellent amounts last week. The one to three inches quickly translated to green fields and wildflowers with also enough to allow the plants to make seed.
Butterflies, moths and other insects were also hanging on to survive long enough to be ready should a good rain come our way. Given timely resources, nature can bounce back quickly from crises to get the reproduction processes back on track. The chances are good that many of our early nesting birds will have a good chance to raise a second clutch of young because of the revitalized insect food chain.
Many of you likely noticed the very large numbers of hummingbirds hanging around your feeders this spring. My take is that since the hummers did not have an early abundance of wildflowers, they flocked to your feeders to survive. My daily sugar water consumption has been higher this spring than the record amounts I was dispensing every day last year. As the wildflowers and insect numbers both rise following last week’s rains, the increases should bode well for our hummingbirds. If we can get a good follow-up rain this weekend, we should be able to count on producing normal numbers of birds during the rest of the breeding season.
I have read that there might be a favorable chance of Texas being in an El Nino weather pattern in the fall and winter months this year, which translates to higher rainfall amounts. After the dry weather experienced in 2011, we can be hopeful for El Nino rains this year, but as we all know, the weather predictions do not always result in hoped-for amounts. The longer we have cooler mornings and high temps remaining in double digits, instead of triple digits, the better off our future will look. Maybe we can make it through the summer without wishing for a hurricane to bring us some relief. We can do without hurricanes and their relatives, tornados, to wreak their havoc in our state.
We cannot allow ourselves to become too smug about dreams of an El Nino coming our way, because some weather folks keep reminding us that there may be several more years of drought in our long-range forecasts. We all need to do our share of rain dances in hope that the weather gods will be kind to us and send us more rains like those we received recently.