When Ren and I visited Abilene State Park last year, we got a bit of a surprise when we went to see Lake Abilene and found that it was gone. The lake had entirely dried up. That was when it first hit home to us just how bad the drought in Texas had become. After that, we saw signs wherever we went. Much of Texas was in severe drought and had been for several years.
Here in East Texas things were not as bad as in other parts of the state, but most of our lakes were well below full. Late last year we began hearing predictions that a strong El Nino might provide some relief. In February the Dallas area received a winter’s worth of sleet, snow, and ice in two weeks. March was about average and April was a few inches above average in North Texas. The ground was saturated and we were starting to get some recovery in lake levels.
Then came May.
At first, most people were pleased with the amount of rain we were getting. The drought that had been afflicting Texas the last several years was beginning to ease. Towns that had been watching anxiously as their water supplies dried up, breathed a sigh of relief as their lakes began to fill up again. It rained nearly every day, and most people responded to comments about the weather with some version of, “Yeah, but we really need the rain”.
Ren and I were glad to see the rain. We had been concerned with the drought ever since that trip to Abilene. It looked like we were finally getting some relief. Whenever anyone complained about the rain to me I responded that this was great weather, exactly what we needed. We had seen so many lakes and rivers nearly dried up. On May 10th we decided to get out and see a park that wasn’t suffering from drought. By this point, we had already had quite a lot of rain, with more on the way. I wanted to see nature during a storm. So we packed up our rain boots and raincoats and headed for the Paluxy River.
Our first stop was east of Glen Rose where the Paluxy feeds into the Brazos. There is an RV Park / Resort there called the Tres Rios Resort. Tres Rios because Squaw Creek enters the Paluxy just before the Paluxy enters the Brazos. I’m not sure I would consider Squaw Creek to be a river, but I guess “Tres Rios” sounded better than “Dos ríos y un arroyo”.
In any case, we found out that they generally didn’t allow day passes, that their resort was for an overnight stay. They said that they were getting a lot of people who wanted to see the river while it was running so high, and they would let us in for a short stay at no charge. The hiking and picnic areas were underwater, as was some of the roads. It looked more like a lake than a river.
We shot some video while we were there.
We drove on into Glen Rose and stopped to take some more video at Big Rock park. There was a large crowd there to see the river. The Paluxy is a small river, only about 28 miles long. When the weather has been dry it is a quiet river. You can wade along the riverbed looking at the dinosaur footprints at Dinosaur Valley State Park, and barely get your feet wet.
After a big storm however the Paluxy is a powerful and dangerous river. Big Rock Park is a good place to appreciate the power of this river.
It looked like the storm we were expecting was getting near so we left Big Rock Park and headed on into Dinosaur Valley State Park. The Park Ranger did not seem pleased to see us. She explained that the footprints were not accessible and also advised us to stay well back from the river that there was a big storm coming in. When I explained that we knew there was a storm coming and that we wanted to experience the storm in the park, she didn’t seem very happy about that.
We had about an hour before the storm was due. We shot some more video of the river, which was, if anything, even more impressive. This is the same area of the river where the above photo was taken.
Our plan was to ride out the storm at the park, but when the Park Ranger came by and told us that there had been reports of tornadoes associated with the approaching storm, we decided it was time to go. We made it home without incident.
If you have seen the news at all then you know that Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas received a LOT of rain in May. For most of the state 2015 will go into the record books as the wettest May in decades. In many places it will be the wettest May on record, and in some places the wettest month on record. The average rainfall for the entire state was 7.55 inches. If this had been spread evenly it would have ended the drought nicely, but of course it was not spread evenly. Many places received two or even three times that amount. Pottsboro, near Lake Texoma received over 26 inches of rain in May. Here in Dallas flash flood warnings were an almost daily occurrence. By the time we reached Memorial Day weekend the lakes and rivers had taken in more water than they could handle, and major lake and river floods began all across the state. So far 31 people have died in the floods and the crisis is far from over. It looks like the rains are over for at least the next week, but nearly every lake and river is filled beyond capacity, and it’s going to be a challenge to get the lake levels down to normal without making the flooding down stream worse.
The loss of life is, of course, irreplaceable. Many who survived lost homes and businesses. It will be a while before we know the full extent of the damages.
While it pales in comparison with all the other losses, the State Park system also took a big hit. Many parks suffered millions of dollars in damages in addition to the revenue lost from having to close. Bastrop State Park lost it’s lake when the dam failed, and will be closed for some time. Many of the parks are still largely underwater. If you want to help out there is a very easy and enjoyable way to do so. Visit a State Park. They get half their income from visitors.
As for Lake Abilene, the dry lake that first brought the severity of the drought to our attention. As of May 28th, the water levels were still too low for the instruments to measure. According to the Park Ranger the average depth is less than two feet.