Spring sprang violently in Central Texas last night. Classic thunderstorms rolled through the area, bringing heavy rain, lots of lightning, hail and even a tornado touchdown (thankfully, without casualties) far southwest of Austin's city limits.
This is our first spring as Texas residents in many, many years. Weatherwise, now is not the best time to be in the state. Here at the southern end of Tornado Alley, you have to be on high alert March through May.
We had a few violent storms come through my West Texas hometown while I was growing up. But my old stomping grounds are in a relatively unpopulated area, so the storms were (and still are) more a threat to mesquite bushes and ranchers' wandering herds of cattle.
Back then, we were totally dependent on the emergency sirens, which went off at noon every day to make sure they worked properly. I always wondered what would happen if a tornado chose high noon to appear. There was no Weather Channel or Doppler (insert your local TV station number here, usually followed by three zeros) or Vipir.
By the time I got to college, weather icons in the corner of the TV screen were the preferred update system. An outline of a thundercloud or tornado meant we were in a watch; a solid version indicated warning.
Now, with today's ever-improving technology, not to mention countless climatological Web sites and chat rooms and newsletters and alerting services, you can track weather conditions minute-by-minute.
The one advancement I personally find a bit disconcerting, though, is the use of storm cones.
I first encountered this weather device when my folks moved to Western Oklahoma when I was in college. Upon one spring visit (what was I thinking?!), I watched as OKC forecasters superimposed a cone's point at the tornado's current position and then let you know what specific time the twister would be tearing up your town. Of course, if you lived anywhere within the cone's expanding outreach, you had to be on alert, too, as the storm could wander anywhere within that area.
We got much too much of this cone of error, or cone of terror as we came to know it, concept during the 2004 hurricane season in South Florida. We watched for weeks as hurricanes moved across the Atlantic and I became a longitude/latitude plotting fiend as the cone mouths crept close to our locale.
After dozens of cones, including two that accurately placed Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne right down the middle and on top of us just three weeks apart, we headed home. But we can't escape the cones.
Last night, as thunderstorms with tornadic tendencies approached Austin, we watched our new local weathermen cone in on the storm's path.
So why exactly does this precise predictive device bother me? It's purely semantics.
"Cone" in my mind connotes the sweet, sugary confection into which you pile ice cream. Quit associating it with potentially tragic weather events! Stop it now! Call it the triangle of terror of dart of danger or anything else, but leave my lovely, comforting, tasty ice cream cones alone!
Spring cleaning, tax-time savings: Along with storms, springtime is the traditional season for opening up your home and sweeping out all that stale stuff you no longer need. On this first official day of spring, here are some ideas from Real Simple on getting your cluttered closet in shape.
If your organization effort results in a decision to ditch some things, don't automatically set the items out for the trash collector. Someone else might be able to put your unwanted goods to good use, so consider giving excess clothes or household items to a charitable organization.
The contribution could help you out, too. You can deduct the donated goods from your taxes if you itemize. Just make sure you value the gifts properly. The IRS expects you to claim the fair market value of the goods; that is, what a willing buyer would pay for the product. Basically, it's the garage sale price you'd put on the item.
But by giving it away, you don't have to hassle with the sales process for just a few bucks, can help out someone who might really need that coat you no longer like and possibly cut your tax bill in the process.
If you donated goods to a charitable group last year, be sure to account for that when you're doing your taxes this year. And if you're giving away stuff now, jot it down along with what it's worth and put the info in your 2006 tax file (you do have one set up by now, don't you?) so you can claim it on next year's taxes.
Everything's coming up bluebonnets: To our great delight, we have patches of bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas, in our front yard.
Even better, they weathered last night's storms just fine.
There's a one big bluebonnet patch beneath a yucca plant, another group in the rocks alongside our driveway and a couple more under two trees on the other side of the yard. We moved in our house in July, long after Central Texas' wildflower season, so we didn't know we had these beauties hibernating in our yard.
It was a very nice surprise earlier this month when we went out to pick up the newspaper and found the blooms, which in botanical terms, I believe are described as cone-shaped!
Another storm on the horizon: You don't need special forecasting equipment to see there are some threatening conditions ahead for the Dallas Cowboys.
I am still P.O.'ed at T.O. And now, my anger also is directed at Jerry Jones. What is he thinking? Sure, T.O. might be productive his first year as he tries to stay on his best behavior. But soon, very soon, he'll return to his Temperamental Terrell persona.
I'm not alone in having doubts about this newest Cowboy. Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram lays out very nicely in this column the many reasons this is an ill-advised move.
Personally, I wouldn't let T.O. into Texas Stadium until he tattoos a Lone Star on his forehead to remind him of his past on-field transgressions there and his new obligations to the team that bears our state symbol.