Literally, mud fell from the sky here in San Antonio last Tuesday.
I have no experience with that kind of weather phenomenon before, so I didn't know what to make of it. My first impression upon seeing my car, after emerging from my office late that afternoon, was "My car is spattered in mud from top to bottom! How did this happen? Did some huge truck drive though a deep puddle at high speed?" With no such large puddle nearby and thus no evidence that such a thing could have happened, I then noted that I had parked underneath a large live oak tree and that it is spring and rationalized that trees are messy in the spring. Then I promptly put it out of my mind, while driving to the nearest gas station to clean off the windows that I could barely see through. There, some puzzlement returned as I noted that the line for the car wash was six deep.
Daily life being full of distractions, and the concept of a muddy rain non-existent in my head, I once again forgot all about this, until, after a few days of no internet access thanks to a bad phone line, I read this article in the Express-News, titled, "Just ash with rain? Not so fast":
The strange stuff that fell Tuesday, griming up windows and lining the pockets of carwash owners, has had the additional effect of setting up a sort of meteorological whodunit.
Just what, some scientific sleuths want to know, commingled with the rain as it fell onto vehicles from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, from Austin to Houston?
Some initial reports, including one from a National Weather Service meteorologist, had the primary cause of the deposits as ash from wildfires in Mexico.
Other indications, including satellite photos, showed a dust plume also emerging from central Mexico.
Another additive to the mix washed from the sky by the rain of a fast-moving cold front may have been particles from bone-dry West Texas....
Forrest Mims III, a science consultant and a freelance columnist for the Express-News, took a sample of the stuff from his window and put it under the microscope, forwarding some of his findings to TCEQ.
"There's one black spore and there are three possible soot particles and everything else is dirt, dust, sand. I would say that it's probably less than 1 percent smoke, and that's being generous," he said.
Joe Baskin, the weather service meteorologist who initially thought that what blew over here was mostly smoke since that's what it looked like in photos, said another look indicated that it likely was dust. (The weather service isn't responsible for investigating the stuff once it leaves clouds.)
David Gay, acting director of the Illinois-based National Atmospheric Deposition Program, said his government-funded network of researchers had five sample sites in South Texas and would be able to review initial findings as early as next week.
To me and, I suspect, most others here, it is much more plausible that the stuff in the rain was dust and not ash, as was apparently first reported. The brownish, rusty color of the residue just does not fit the concept of dull gray ash.
So what is going on in west Texas or northern Mexico that their dirt is falling on our city?