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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

On the September Sky

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by Michael Brown

On Sunday morning, September 11th, I witnessed one of those strikingly blue, cloudless, post-cold front days we often associate with fall in Texas. My family traveled to Wimberley to attend the Patriot Day Ceremony hosted at the Veteran’s Memorial Plaza and support my son Travis, who is a deputy constable for Hays County. The Plaza sits atop a hill next to Wimberley High School and offers a wide-open sky – perfect for viewing the amazing cloud patterns of September in Texas.
I really became aware of the fall sky some years ago when I traveled a good bit, flying from place to place for work. Invariably, the return trip home offered a close-up view of large cumulus clouds, as the pilots of my aircraft wove around and about them toward Austin. Cumulus clouds are the large puffy clouds of summer and fall, flat on the bottom with tops that resemble enormous cotton balls. There are about two dozen varieties of cumulus clouds. My favorite type is what I call “army clouds.” These are smaller cumulus clouds in the afternoon that seem to march into Central Texas from the Gulf of Mexico.
Seen from space at this time of year, cumulus clouds appear to show Texas breathing in-and-out over a twenty-four-hour period. Their presence often allows brief moments of shade from the hot sun, and so temperatures this time of year are somewhat lower. As I drove a country road the other day, I noticed how the front edge of a moving cloud traveled in the same direction and at about the same speed as I, and so it kept my truck in the shade. It made me think of Joe Btfsplk, the hapless Lil’ Abner comic-strip character, who was followed by a dark cloud everywhere he went. I chuckled and wished the cloud away.
If you ask children to draw a cloud, it’s likely they will use cumulus clouds as models. When my grandchildren were younger, I enjoyed explaining to each one how the water cycle is such a big part of our lives. During my youth, I worried a lot about tornadoes, and I become wary, even today when I see unusually dark cloud formations. Tornadoes are sometimes formed when cumulus clouds become larger and reach high into the atmosphere, forming “anvil-shaped” thunderheads, called cumulonimbus clouds. I’ve never seen a tornado in person, but I have seen some strange-looking clouds. I was chased across Wyoming once as a tsunami-like line of clouds followed me from Riverton to Casper. I’ve observed that formation twice before here in Texas. Both times were in early fall.
Sunday morning’s blue sky was a fitting reminder of the otherwise beautiful day 15 years ago when Muslim terrorists attacked our country and killed over 3,000 people. The skies were eerily silent for two days thereafter as the FAA closed America’s airspace. In the years since we stand vigilant against new attacks. We take nothing for granted. Sunday at the Plaza in Wimberley, Travis was recognized as Wimberley’s 2016 Patriot of the Year. I’m grateful to him, his fellow law enforcement officers, and the other first-responders who show up every day with a watchful eye and true heart.
Michael Brown is an education consultant and a former teacher. He can be contacted at michael.brown@utexas.edu.

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