Midlanders begin observing water rationing today, April 1, 2011. Midkiff, who once lived in the city when he was a boy growing up in the 40s, has lived a lot of his life in drought conditions. He's 84 now and old enough to remember the great drought of the '50s -- the one that spawned much hardship, and even a Western novel by famed West Texas writer Elmer Kelton.
Midkiff said it's hard to compare droughts -- the one then and the one we're in now. Droughts aren't nearly as dramatic as other natural events. Earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes -- big, brazen, swashbuckling events -- steal headlines and often do much damage. Droughts are lazy, Ben Stein-slow, deliberate forces that spread their evil day by day, month by month.
Midkiff won't say the drought we're in now is worse than the one from the '50s which spawned that popular book title, "The Time It Never Rained," but he does share some startling statistics recorded on his own personal rain gauge.
"Last year we got 20 inches of rain from January 1 to July 31. SInce then we've had 4/10ths of an inch," he said. "And that all came the first part of October last year. In the early 1950s my uncle claims he went 11 months without it raining a half inch."
Midkiff says comparing droughts is difficult in part because of all the oil field traffic that kicks up dirt and caliche dust today, something that was kicked up without aid other than wind back in the 1950s. His property is home to a larger population of mesquite, notorious for thriving in dry climes, than it was in the last dry period. He said it's hard to judge the severity of the drought, too, because his property has less turf than it did in droughts past. He is thankful he has no sheep or cattle to run these days, which are unfortunately one of the ultimate judges -- and victims -- of a drought's meanness.
No one has been able to forecast an end to the current dry spell in West Texas longer than the current 10-day forecast, but a predicted high of 98 tomorrow -- April 2 -- does not seem to leave much hope for moisture in the short term. Or maybe even the long term, if recent history is our guide.
Like most of us, Midkiff will take what he can get. It may not be much, but it's certainly enough to at least feign optimism.
"This morning, we had the most clouds I've seen in a long time," Midkiff said one afternoon in late March. "We had some dew that dripped off the roof, but nothing from the clouds."
Pictured: T.O. Midkiff, right, and wife Carol Anne.