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Wednesday, February 18. 2015
Putting together a collection of my stories about all of the storms and natural disasters I have been in, one comes to the fore and shows how conditions can quickly move past hazardous and become deadly!
In the early spring of 2005, several months before I retired, I had planned to get an early start on a Saturday morning and drive to Goldthwaite and arrive before lunch. Living in Bayou Vista, Texas, right on the Gulf Coast, I had a 4 plus, hour drive awaiting me.
Setting my clock for 5:30 AM, I awoke with a start at 6:00 AM. I hadn’t turned “On” the alarm. So much for a real early start! Rushing and getting dressed I looked outside toward my boat dock and notice that it was foggy, not unusual for this time of the year.
Nothing to load up so I climbed into my 4WD, Suburban and headed out noticing that there was about 200 yards of visibility, again not strange. I surmised that the farther I went inland, the lighter the fog will be.
Heading north on I-45 the traffic, yes traffic at 6:20 AM on a Saturday was moving along about 45 MPH and the farther inland I got, it seemed the fog was getting thicker. Seventeen miles from downtown Houston, Beltway 8, a toll road, runs east and west. As I was exiting, going toward the toll road, it seemed that the fog almost touched the Suburban”s top!
Clicking on my blinkers, the traffic report came on, every 20 minutes on weekends, instead of the 10 minutes on workdays, and reports of heavy fog on Beltway 8 around Texas 288, The Nolan Ryan Expressway, 5 miles ahead, was daunting Slow going for a ways!
On the “Raceway”, er Beltway, posted speed is 65 MPH, which is ignored, and most motorist clip along a 75 or 80, but today we’re down to 40 and nearing 288, traffic slowed dramatically, red lights glaring, hazard lights blinking and we entered a white world. The radio blared, “There has been a series of major accident on Beltway 8 between Hillcroft and Cullen, and reports from the scene say the Beltway was closed.”
Closed it was and the fog was so thick I could barely make out the reflections of the car’s lights to my front. I have never seen, or even imagined, that fog could be so heavy! Behind me I heard a grinding CRASH, and braced for a hit that never came.
We’re stopped and nothing to do but listen to the radio, that is now getting a better report from the authorities. The Beltway is closed both ways and at least 100 cars are involved in the chain reaction accident on the inbound side and around 1,000 cars are stuck and fogged in. Deaths and injuries are reported and we are still 2 to 3 miles from the accident site.
Sirens were blaring from every direction as police and sheriff’s officers begin to arrive all along the Beltway. They begin moving cars off of the Beltway and soon I’m on the access road, still heading west, but stopped. We creepped along and in some places the fog seems so thick that it must be impenetrable.
After about an hour, we begin creeping along side the scene of the most deadly accidents and then, the fog lifted, just like that! Cars are piled into each other and resemble accordions, reminding me of scenes from “The Highway Of Death” in Kuwait; some cars are upside down on the grades leading up the overpasses, with radiator fluid, gasoline and oil pooled on the road surface, people are milling around stunned and law officers are everywhere. We continued our creep for 600 or 700 yards and up ahead I saw the law directing us back on to the Beltway, in bright sunshine!
We couldn’t get out of our vehicles and help since we were being herded along. All I could do was say a prayer for those involved and thank the Lord that I was 15 minutes late. If I had been on time, I would have been right in the middle of it.
Final tally was 110, cars and trucks involved, with 7 deaths and a myriad of injured.
I was in Houston last year and traveled along this stretch of the Beltway (at 75 MPH) and there are still skid marks on the road surface and on the median attesting to the speed and violence of the crashes!
Posted by Jon Bryan in Weather at 08:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
Saturday, February 7. 2015
Quota achievement with my company was rewarded each year with an event at a very fashionable location and this quota year’s was in Miami Beach. Ample free time allowed us to choose from several prepaid options, offshore fishing, sightseeing, golf, tennis and, of course, I picked fishing, however there was one drawback.
High pressure was dominating the area causing the wind to really be blowing in from the ocean, 30steady gusting to 40. This, in turn, built up the normally moderate seas to 8 to 10 feet and most charter Captains were reluctant to even venture out, citing boat safety. One Captain finally agreed to take his boat out, but he said to us, “If anyone gets seasick, don’t blame me”.
The 4 of us on the charter loaded up our gear on the, 36 footer and the Captain took the boat down the channel, turned left (to port) and headed toward the ocean. Before we cleared the jetties the seas were already building and once we cleared them, the seas were almost monstrous. Up, down, the boat was shuddering, we were already wet from the wind and spray and, frankly, I was concerned for our safety and how the Captain was going to come about and head back in.
We hadn’t even covered a mile, a mile of a lot of ups and downs, when the first case of seasickness hit us. A female salesman from Chicago rushed to the side, then a salesman from Oklahoma City followed suit, but both of them, even though they were sick, soldiered on. Both my friend from Houston and I, being experienced boaters, were starting to get a little “green” feeling, even the mate was turning pale and the Captain laughed and looked down at all of us and said, “You all asked for it!”
The Mate said to me, “We’re less than 2 miles out and I hate to think about putting the lines out and I’m even getting sick.” Hearing that, I climbed up to the upper cockpit and sat down beside the Captain, leaned over and said, “Calf rope, we’ve had enough! Take us back in.” The Captain replied, “Me Too”, skillfully topped a wave, cut the wheel to the right, powered up, slid into the trough, and climbed up the backside of the next wave! My earlier worries were unfounded.
At a faster clip, we rode the waves back in, cleared the jetties, picked up speed and turned to starboard (right) back up the channel to the marina. With the seas smoothing out and our boat picking up speed, everyone was feeling better. By the time we docked the boat and the saleslady from Chicago and the salesman from Ok City, touched the dock, they we’re miraculously healed! As we got out of the boat, both of the guy’s from Houston, and all of us, of us felt much better too!
Posted by Jon Bryan in Weather at 08:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
Wednesday, December 24. 2014
The following story is not about a storm, or dramatic weather event that I was involved in, but is about the results of a severe low pressure, system, rainstorm, that struck the upper Gulf coast in 1980.
Bob Baugh had been the first customer I had met when I returned to Houston. On my first meeting with him, I happened to have a picture of the twelve-pound bass I had recently caught which I promptly pulled out and showed to him. He responded by producing a picture of a six hundred pound blue marlin he had just caught.
Shortly after our first meeting, we had Bob and his wife over for dinner and were enjoying a pleasant evening, when the phone rang and it was my son, Randy, calling to let me know he was going to be late for supper, and, and, that he was stuck on our new duck and goose lease and needed help extricating the truck.
Part of the reason he was calling had been caused by a low pressure, system that came ashore between Galveston and Freeport, Texas, hesitated over Alvin and dumped over 24” of rain in a 24 hour, period. This remains a contiguous states record for a 24 hour, period! The low pressure, system also soaked the Katy Prairie, any dirt road travel was limited and additional rains kept the roads “sticky” for a month or more.
The other reason the truck was stuck was because he and his friend Doug would try to see how much mud it would take to get stuck in. Most cases Doug would have his truck and they would alternate pulling each other out of the mire. Not this time because he and Doug had taken advantage of the duck season opener and gone hunting together in my truck!
Randy told me where he was stuck and the call ended. I sat down and filled Bob in on the details and he said, “Let’s go get him!”
We loaded up in Bob’s 4WD, truck and headed out for the short drive to the new lease. Waiting for us at the main entrance was Randy. He and Doug had found the rice farmer and he had pulled them out with his tractor.
Randy, Doug and the new truck were safe and we didn’t have to wade in the mud to get them out. Our evening was interrupted but Bob’s and my friendship was sealed and lasts till this day!
One more note about Randy and Doug. The owner of the local car wash, a nice man and a Deacon in the Baptist Church that we attended, banned both boys from using his facility to wash their trucks because of all the mud they collected. He said that he knew when they had been there because his main drain was always stopped up, with mud, of course!
Posted by Jon Bryan in Weather at 09:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
Monday, December 1. 2014
I still wonder why there was no “Road Closed” sign at the Bartlett Damn end of the road?
Posted by Jon Bryan in Weather at 08:05 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
Sunday, October 5. 2014
It could be said that the weather in the Phoenix area is always hot and bright. Even if it is cool, the sun is out most of the time and Jake Schorder and I, both of us being good ole' Texas boys, remembered plenty of rain and clouds, and would joke around with each other and say “Ho hum, another beautiful day in paradise.” One day, for me, paradise turned ugly!
In 1972, Bill Randall and I were both managers with a large computer company and both shared the same love for hunting. During the last portion of dove season, we left work early, sales calls you know, and I picked him up in my Bronco and off we went to a spot he had found north of Gilbert, Arizona.
It was a large grain field that had just been harvested. Arizona is strange. It is hot and dry, but if you can get water to a crop, it will grow, and, along its east side a large irrigation canal supplied the water to this field. We up and downed through the canal, thankfully it was dry, and scrambled out of the truck and began our hunt, paying no attention to a large thunderhead southeast of us.
Bill and I were the only ones in the field and were literally “covered up” in birds. We held off of the mourning doves and concentrated on the larger white wing doves. Nearing our limits of birds, we noticed that the thunderhead was moving towards us and causing a small sandstorm. No problem, when it gets close we’ll load up and go.
It got close real quick and the next thing we knew there was a wall of sand coming closer and closer, until it engulfed us. Hurrying to the truck, it started getting darker and by the time we closed the truck doors, it was like night had fallen 4 hours early. As the wind picked up, large drops of rain were smacking into the truck and Bill said, “Jon, we are in trouble. I bet this is a tornado and we got no place for shelter.” I said, “We could lay down in the canal and hope for the best.” And he replied, “Just drive the truck into it.”
We pulled over one of the berms and turned left into the canal and stopped, lightning popping all around, the wind and rain buffeting us and then we heard it. A train bearing down on us, but no tracks around here and we looked at each other and said, “Tornado!”
We could feel the force of the wind shaking us and trying to lift the truck up into the storm, but for some reason, we kept settling back down into the canal. In the darkness, terrifying minutes passed until the big wind and the roaring passed. It remained cloudy, the sky brightening, the wind dropping to an estimated 50 MPH, and the big drops of rain being replaced by a normal shower, and soon, the big storm was breaking up before it ever reached a populated area.
No mention of the tornado on the 10:00 PM news, so I guess Bill and I were the only witnesses. Also, the Chamber of Commerce thinks it is bad for tourism if there is talk of tornadoes in Arizona.
Posted by Jon Bryan in Hunting at 14:13 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
Saturday, July 5. 2014
I understand that Phoenix, Arizona was hit by a sandstorm on July 3rd of this year. The following recounts another sandstorm that hit Phoenix in 1971, that hit my newly moved into home there.
At first, moving to Arizona in mid-January, 1971 was a challenging experience, but as we became acclimated, the entire family thoroughly enjoyed the State and its many outdoor activities. Along with our acre lot and diving pool, our house, a four bed room, Spanish colonial period style, with stucco walls and a courtyard, was very comfortable. During mid spring of that year, the family had survived a tornado that had hit our mountain, Mummy Mountain and bounced over our house, tearing into northern Scottsdale and yes, it did sound like a freight train.
Come June 1, into the pool we went. The water was still cool, but wow, our own pool! On a pleasant summer afternoon, only 110 degrees, we were enjoying the water when we noticed, moving rather fast to our southeast, a funny looking cloud and before we knew it the funny looking cloud was within two miles of us, rolling in our direction. So like the flatlanders we were, we kept on swimming and playing and soon it was a block away when we figured out that the cloud was made of sand.
It was a sand storm with epic proportions and it blew over us for the next 15 minutes! No one was hurt, but everything, including us watchers, was a mess and liberally doused with a covering of fine sand. The sand seeped into our house, our cars, and our beautiful pool had almost an inch of sand on the bottom.
If you are a beginner in pool maintenance, try cleaning sand out. After this storm we hired a professional and in their local and national advertising, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce never mentions tornadoes or sand storms.
When I was a little boy, my mother told me a story about her childhood in west Texas, about it raining during a sandstorm. She said it rained mud and that the mud was much harder to remove than dust!
Posted by Jon Bryan in Weather at 12:38 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
Sunday, August 4. 2013
My dad had grown up outside of Marlin, Texas and my mom, a Drâ€™s daughter, grew up outside of Abilene, but as we looked for a house far outside the city limits of Houston, far at the time was over 5 miles, we finally settled on a 3 bedroom bungalow 6 miles from the western city limits. Moving in to the new house in October of 1939, everything was fine until August of 1941.
We had moved in without any problems, the â€œnewâ€ wasnâ€™t even off the house and we had moved into a brand new, incorporated, subdivision. Being west of Rice Institute (now University), the subdivision was aptly named West University. â€œWest Uâ€ as we called it had, and still has, its own fire, police and water departments.
Houstonâ€™s urban sprawl now has encircled â€œWest Uâ€ and driven prices sky-high! Our 3, bed room, frame, house and lot, had cost $3,900. Today lots are over $200K and homes over $500K. Back then, the streets were paved with oyster shell, drainage ditches lined the streets, but on calm and still days, when new shell was applied to the streets, the smell was overpowering! Now â€œWest Uâ€ is a model, pricey, yuppie haven, not the almost country place of my youth.
The radio had alerted us of a storm thrashing around in the Gulf of Mexico and apparently headed for landfall on the upper Texas coast, back then storms weren't named. It hit between Galveston and Freeport and unknown to us, was headed our way. Now, with satellites and radar we can tell within miles of where one of these monsters will hit, but back then it was just an educated guess. To me, not yet 6 years old, it sounded like a lot of fun, but looking back, I just donâ€™t know how we survived without the TV weather folks, with their foul weather gear on, telling us what to do, how to pack our survival items and not to drive our cars into the deep water!
The storm made landfall and bored inland. â€œWest Uâ€ is about 60 miles as the â€œcrow fliesâ€ from the coast and we received almost the full fury of the storm! The rain was first, beginning in mid morning, then the wind, strengthening and making noises that I had never heard before. By early evening the lights went out, the telephone was dead and we had lost all power. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, the rain came down in sheets, but our new house held together! Then everything stopped!
The hurricaneâ€™s eye was passing right over us my mom and dad explained to my sister, H.R., and me, as they took us outside for a quick look around. It was dark but we could tell that there were no clouds above us, the stars were out and there was no storm, wind, rain or lightning. Our parents hurried us back inside and we waited for the onslaught to begin again, and it did with a vengeance! More wind and heavy, rain, not as much thunder and lightning, but the storm pounded us until morning.
The hurricane had moved away and following my dad outside, we both heard a tiny â€Mewâ€ and looked under the edge of our house (it was built on a block foundation and raised about 18â€ above ground level) and found that the source of the â€œmewâ€ was a tiny, yellow kitten. Picking it up, I discovered later that it was a male, and as I ran back inside, yelled, â€œMother, can we keep it?â€ She replied, â€œIf your Dad says so.â€ He was easy on this one and "Tom" lived with us for the next 14 years.
Not knowing it then, but we had a much bigger and deadlier â€œstormâ€ coming our way on December 7, 1941!
Posted by Jon Bryan in Weather at 12:42 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
Monday, February 4. 2013
This past Saturday, February 2, 2013, was Ground Hog Day. This was a huge celebration in Pennsylvania, settled by Germans, home of the day. The German influence goes way back in time to the Romans who had conquered half of the British Isles they took the custom over to the mainland and influenced the Teutons (Germans), them thinking this was a good way to see if winter would drag on, or end.
It was cloudy in Pennsylvania this past Saturday the ground hog didnâ€™t see his shadow so spring is near. But in Texas things were different.
Bee Cave Bob, our local prognosticator, an armadillo, came out of his burrow, saw his shadow and went back in. Six more weeks of winter down here! This picture is of an armadillo that wandered into our yard.
Our weather forecasters need to get their act together, because this sounds like a serious dichotomy to me.
Posted by Jon Bryan in Weather at 17:52 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
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