Cary Allen Burgess, formerly of Kerrville and Tivy Class of 1986, had some very memorable moments in his meteorlogical career in July 1987. That was the year Kerrville experienced the massive flood that took the lives of 10 summer campers whose bus was washed off a low-water crossing.
Burgess said he was home from college for part of the summer, and as he always did, he left his bedroom in Kerrville South near Camp Meeting Creek to wake up his parents with his weather news, this time the major rains.
They said, “Yes, dear,” and went back to sleep, their usual response.
The 1987 flood was followed in 2002 by a flood on Town Creek and Quinlan Creek.
Burgess said it can rain 20-30 inches in one night here; and on July 17-18, 1987, journals say it rained all night in Hunt, that much or more. Radio warnings said “life-threatening flood situation.”
The Weather Channel on television had continuous warnings, including the Guadalupe River cresting at 35-40 feet.
He decided to take his camera and go into Kerrville, if he could get there, and see for himself. He said the crossing at Camp Meeting Creek was no problem, surprisingly. So he continued to Highway 16,
“When I got to the hilltop intersection at Ranchero Road and looked toward Kerrville, I could see the river. Wow, I shouldn’t have been able to do that,” he said.
He drove into Kerrville to the Sidney Baker Bridge at Thompson Drive to find the floodwater almost even with the bridge.
“I knew that meant I couldn’t get across G Street or Lemos Street because of their low-water crossings. So I decided I would just drive across the Sidney Baker Bridge myself and go into downtown,” Burgess said. “I was 18 or 19. And I wanted to see for myself the flood damage in other parts of town.”
He said the bridge wasn’t blocked off, and he drove across it and out Junction Highway to the Inn of the Hills.
“At the UGRA Dam there was a gigantic whirlpool with whole cypress trees spinning round and round, and lots of other things, but no cars.”
There were no fatalities until later that morning when the buses carrying the campers from Hermann Sons Camp were caught in the river.
That flood created a 10-15-foot wall of water and they tried to find a way out, but 10 youngsters drowned. He illustrated that with still photos and a short video of emergency rescues.
“That one affected me because the victims were my age,” Burgess said. “And people move here all the time and don’t know the dangers. I use ‘Turn around, don’t drown’ a lot. People need to remember 6 inches of water will sweep you off the road, and if you’re in a vehicle, you’re in there.”
Burgess asked audience members to raise hands if they saw the snow here in 1985. A few said yes.
“We can’t get snow here? Yes, we can! We’re close enough to the Gulf moisture,” he said.
He said in 1985 he was working at H-E-B after school, and they were sent home because of the evening forecast, but nobody believed it at first. Then he saw flurries in the parking lot lights.
“It snowed all night and most of the next day. And they cancelled school – at least a week, right?” he said.
It snowed again several other times, once 13 inches. “That’s rare even for Lubbock. I remember the snow mound pushed up next to the old Radio Shack; and it gradually turned from white to brown.”
Ice happens more often, he said, and the lowest temperatures recorded here were minus 1 degree one winter, and zero degrees in 1989. There also was snow here and minus 7 degrees recorded Jan. 31, 1949.
Hottest temperature recorded was 112 degrees in 2011.
He said this area was in a drought until September this year.
He predicted a generally wetter-than-normal fall and winter; good weather through November; then more gloomy and fog with above-normal precipitation, and temperatures above normal.
“But watch for spring flooding because the soil is already saturated.”
He said from an early age he’d been so fascinated by everything about weather that he kept daily records of morning and afternoon low and high temperatures, rainfall and general conditions on calendar pages.
“I grew up a ‘weather nut’ and my friends knew it,” he said.
He said he was generally a B student and only when Mr. Ahrens taught two weeks about weather in seventh grade did he make A’s.
He always was awakened by thunder or rain or lightning, and would go announce those occurrences to his parents, no matter what the hour.
Now he’s a broadcast meteorologist, the weatherman on KCBD-TV in Lubbock while also storm-chasing and providing long-distance weather reports to the Hill Country via computer and radio.
On Oct. 1, Burgess was the featured speaker at a Hill Country National Weather Association club meeting at Schreiner University.
And the audience of about two dozen people included some of his former teachers from Kerrville public schools.
Hill Country hazards
He chose his colleges by their weather conditions, too, going one year to San Angelo State and transferring to Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
“It was mainly because of the weather up there, especially in Lubbock. Sometimes all in one day, we can have sand and wind, and gauge it by a ‘hair scale,’” he said.
“In 1970, they had an F-5 tornado on the Fujita scale, which was new then and not entirely accepted. It occurred at 9 p.m., so there are no photos; and hit every type of structure possible to be hit; and even overturned a train. And Theodore Fujita himself came to Lubbock to graph it,” Burgess said.
One result was a city ordinance that banned any more skyscrapers. The tallest one now is 22 stories. They formed their first emergency tornado plan only in 1969.
Burgess said the main weather hazards that Kerrville most often experiences are flooding and hail or ice storms, also the area’s biggest hazards financially.
“Tornadoes in the Hill Country are not usually a serious threat,” Burgess said. “But it’s a fallacy that a tornado will never hit Kerrville. It starts up in the Gulf Stream and could come down here, But most are weak here.
“But one of Texas’ worst tornadoes killed 70 people in Rocksprings in the 1930s. And San Angelo and Waco were both hit in the 1950s.”
Instead the Hill Country is known as “Flash Flood Alley,” he said.
He also addressed the summer drought of 2018; and provided a general outlook of what Hill Country residents may expect later this fall and winter.
He also discussed some snow and ice climatology, climatological “normals” for this region; and some records that date back to 1896 when weather data was first recorded in Kerrville.
He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab on State Highway 16 near Interstate 10 has been the official climate recording site since 1974. And when he was going through Kerrville ISD schools, there was no internet or even “weather radio.”
He worked out his own formulas for temperature readings. His home near Camp Meeting Creek was always slightly cooler than in town, he said, and Kerrville has usually been 7 to 8 degrees cooler than San Antonio.
Audience questions included what chances we have for more hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico (he can’t rule that out, but the Pacific Ocean has been more active).
Others asked the truth or fallacy in some “folk-tale” weather signs such as persimmon trees ripening very early, or mesquite trees always leafing out after the last freeze. Burgess said at his age of 50, he’s more accurate because of his knees and wrists.
Another was why storms seem always to sweep north of us. Burgess said topography is a big factor here, compared to cotton fields and farmland. And big cities of 200,000 people or more create a “heat island effect.”
He also defined the difference between “gust-nadoes” and “dust devils” in Texas.
Local weather club
The website for the Hill Country weather group is www.hcnwa.club, for announcements of future programs and more information.