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geoffsebesta: (Default)
So it has come to my attention that some of you do not live in Austin; in fact, some of you might not be Texan at all! In that case, I bet you're a bit curious about whether or not my state is burning down. Here is a FAQ:

1. Is Texas burning down?

No. Texas is a really big place. We have space for a lot of wildfires.

2. Is Austin burning down?

Now that's a much better question. All I can tell you is that I live very close to Central Austin and I can't see any smoke or really smell any smoke. I can tell there's something in the air because people have been having crazy allergy attacks for the last three days, coughing and sneezing everywhere you go. And I hear if you get up about ten stories you can see this wall of smoke to the East that is supposed to be quite disturbing and depressing. But from my house, no, you can't see a thing. So downtown could theoretically be safe.

3. Is Bastrop burning down?

Bastrop is unfortunately apparently gone. Everything to the south and east of here is apparently not there right now.

4. So is Austin next?

We're going to have to get into geology here.

Texas is basically one very, very big hill. The hill's called The Hill Country. We (like Waco, San Marcos, San Antonio, and basically every major city in Texas) are at the very edge of the foothills of the Hill Country, we're right where it stops and turns into endless prarie. The prairie is on fire, not the Hill Country. This is an extremely good thing.

The wind is coming from the north, (and will be coming from the north, with no rain, for the forseeable future) which means that effectively any fire that's coming here has to spread (slightly) uphill, and into (relatively) damper areas. The Hill Country also traps and funnels all the water in most of the state, and it drains through Austin. This means that we still have water, long after most of the water is gone from the state. In fact, as long as this area doesn't turn to a desert Austin will always have water.

Howeever, due to Texas climactic factors, Austin has a much larger surface area of city parks than most city. Basically every creek in Texas is its own little tree-lined canyon. They're too steep to build in, so they're just parks, and they're everywhere. This normally does a great job of protecting and sheltering the water and preventing fires, but when you're in a drought as severe as this one (and neither I nor anyone alive has ever seen a drought like this) that doesn't matter any more. The creeks are not completely dead but they've been dying. This means there's basically a hundred lines of tinder and kindling leading straight into downtown Austin. This means when it happens, it's gonna happen.

5. So how exactly could it all go wrong for Austin?

The Hill Country is not on fire.

Right now.

However, the Hill Country is a much wetter area than the prairie. It's a lot more sheltered. That means that it's covered in trees. It's not a forest like you Yankees think of a forest, because the trees are shorter and much wider, and there's a big space between the trunks.

It's still a forest.

Which means it's made of wood.

And there has been a terrible tree disease called "oak wilt" that has been killing most every tree in the Hill Country for years now. There are hills and hills and hills filled with dead trees.

That was before the drought.

It is extremely easy to imagine a wildfire of truly horrific proportions sweeping down the hill country to Austin. At that point we are well and truly screwed. It won't be a brush fire so it won't just come and go. It will burn, and burn, and burn. I can't imagine how they'd put it out, especially in a high wind so that the fire jumps the ridgetops.

6. Wouldn't rain help?

It's not gonna rain. An interesting side-effect to all these East Coast hurricanes is that when they turn north and go up the coast they push a column of air over the top of the pole and back down. It goes right down the middle of the plains states, and the wind has no moisture in it whatsoever. As long as this continues, no rain. Hurricane for you = no rain for us.

If it did rain substantially, lots of deaths from flash flooding, because the ground is much too hard to absorb much water.

7. What next?

If the fires back around to the west of Austin, it's my opinion that it's time to think about leaving.

It's also my opinion that by that point it will be too late to leave, that there won't be anywhere to go anyway, and that no matter what I don't plan to leave. This is actually the best place to be for hundreds of miles in any direction, because your choice is drought-struck plains, plains that have just burnt down, or a terrifying hilly tinderbox. This doesn't change for 300 miles in any direction.

The places that burned, in two years they'll be prairie again. The people who lost their houses, I dunno, I don't have a clue. If you're thinking it's a bad idea to put this much carbon into the atmosphere right now, you're right. Maybe some of it will fall onto the Gulf, stick to the oil, and bring it to the bottom. That's your silver lining.

I love Austin more than anything, but if it doesn't rain this winter I'm leaving. I'm not exactly worried about my town burning down, because what's happening now is actually sort of a controlled burn and even if new ones start after this we'll be able to escape through the part that already burned. It's not that. It's that I can't stand to watch all these trees die.


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