The Polar Vortex, or There is No Need to Remind Us Why We Love Austin

January 7, 2014  | By Shoal Creek Conservancy

This blog post was written by Ted Lee Eubanks. To learn more about the author, please visit this site.

Sunrise at Lady Bird Lake, Austin, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks
Sunrise at Lady Bird Lake, Austin, Texas, by Ted Lee Eubanks

I decided to go see the polar vortex for myself. How could I miss the show? No television or radio channel is without its blathering 24-hour weather head trying to eek out every ounce of sensationalism from another weather event. When hurricane season is over, you go with freezes, floods, and the like.

For those of you new to Austin, this is not all that cold. Remember the Christmas Freeze of 1983? Part of Galveston Bay froze solid. In 1989 the Austin temperature on December 23rd dropped to 4 degrees. That’s right, 4 degrees without any of this wind chill factor that people up north use to make us even more happy that we are here. News for the north. We are about as glad as we can be. No amount of fudging the temperatures is going to make us gladder.

This morning I wandered down to Lady Bird Lake to see this polar vortex in person. The temperature at lakeside hovered around 25 degrees. Only a few die hards were jogging the trails. Once you become acclimated to Austin, your taste for cold weather mysteriously fades away.

A thin layer of fog hovered over the lake. The crisp, clear air exaggerated what is always a spectacular sunrise. I braved the cold, took a few images, and marveled at the morning.

The mouth of Shoal Creek has been undergoing renovation for several months, and it appears as though the city is almost finished. Don’t get you hopes up for a reopening of the trail. For the next few years construction projects will keep the trail in varying stages of closure.

 

Rufous hummingbird in the polar vortex, Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas
Rufous hummingbird in the polar vortex, Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas

 

The rufous hummingbird wintering in my yard greeted me as I returned home to Shoal Creek. I brought his feeders in the nights it froze, and the rufous made it though the polar vortex no worse for the wear. I must admit to being amazed that a bird so tiny can survive freezing conditions. Yet hummingbirds have the ability to enter a state of torpor, similar to a brief (overnight) hibernation. In torpor they lower their metabolic rate to conserve energy. Once the sun rises, however, they immediately zip over to the feeders and refuel. For the next few weeks my rufous will be especially dependent on the feeders since even our brief freezes have significantly decreased the insect population.

Happy New Year from those of us with the Shoal Creek Conservancy! We came into being in 2013, and we are now poised to do great things in 2014. Please consider joining our ranks and supporting our activities. This year we will progress with the conservation and restoration of the 1887 West 6th Street Bridge. We are expanding our efforts to enhance the Shoal Creek trail, and we are looking at ways to reduce graffiti in the watershed. Our field trips along the creek will return this spring, so keep an eye on our website for the schedule.

And, while we pretend that Austin is cold, fluff out your feathers like my rufous and stay warm.

Ted Lee Eubanks
7 Jan 2014

Austin skyline looking east from Auditorium Shores by Ted Lee Eubanks
Austin skyline looking east from Auditorium Shores by Ted Lee Eubanks