Article Published by the Association of Certified Meteorologists (ACM):
Hurricane Ian was the third major hurricane to make landfall in Florida in the past five years and the second of such hurricanes in recent years to strike southwest Florida – the other being Hurricane Irma in 2017. A major hurricane is a tropical cyclone in which Category 3 strength or greater is achieved. On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian made landfall along coastal Lee and Charlotte Counties in southwest Florida at high-end Category-4 strength.
Numerous weather sensors in the area of landfall recorded surface wind gusts in excess of 100 miles per hour, while storm surge and flood gauges indicated water levels rising to at and above one-story levels in some coastal, flood-and-surge-prone areas.
According to the National Centers of Environmental Information, as of October 31, 2022, Ian was responsible for 131 fatalities. John Lavin, Certified Consulting Meteorologist, ACM Member, and Director of Forensic Services at AccuWeather explained, “Ian is likely the deadliest tropical system for the state of Florida since the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which killed over 400 people.”
While damage cost estimates have varied widely in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, most estimates put Hurricane Ian in the top-5 of costliest tropical cyclones (not adjusted for inflation) in the mainland United States (according to NOAA), perhaps as high as Hurricane Harvey (2017) and Hurricane Katrina (2005), or at least near to that of Hurricane Sandy (2012) and Hurricane Ida (2021).
Meteorologists from the Association of Certified Meteorologists (ACM) have been tracking Hurricane Ian and its aftermath since the storm first originated near the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. H. Michael Mogil, ACM member and Certified Consulting Meteorologist with How The WeatherWorks out of Naples, Florida – just south of the landfall location of Hurricane Ian - conducted live broadcasts with Dave Elliott’s Morning Talk Show (WGUF-FM) regarding the storm, and discussed Hurricane Ian’s impacts and attributes with many local residents. “Many residents…noted several things. First, how fast the water rose. This wasn't surprising, because before the storm arrived, winds with a component from the east were blowing water offshore. As the winds started to turn to onshore, the storm surge was more easily added to the water shortfall at the shoreline. Of course, once the water started to rise quickly, escape for coastal and waterway residents who opted to stay in their homes became impossible.”
According to Mr. Mogil, the water levels rose in Naples by about two feet per hour during the onset of Ian’s surge. “Dave Elliott and I also discussed the coastal shape in and near Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island and how this concave-shaped coastal region was primed for the surge along with the horizontal squeeze (and vertical rise) that the coastal shape would provide. I believe we referred to that region as ‘ground zero.’”
Now, as the state recovers, the insurance claim and rebuilding processes are underway. At the same time, professional meteorologists are also reviewing all of the weather data from the storm. “While the National Hurricane Center warns for a hurricane to be a certain magnitude and follow a certain track, the real truth of the actual magnitude, especially on land-surface and the impacts of the storm, often take months following the hurricane to decipher and understand,” according to Dan Schreiber, Certified Consulting Meteorologist and ACM Member based in Texas with STWX Strategic. “For example, Hurricane Michael in 2018 was believed to be a Category-4 hurricane at landfall, but after further analysis months later, was upgraded to Category-5. There is a lot of misinformation and speculation ongoing regarding Hurricane Ian’s magnitude, but at this point, Hurricane Ian is still officially on the record as a Category-4 storm, and the highest measured wind gust on land currently published – on a preliminary basis - by the National Weather Service at a single location is 140 MPH.”
Mr. T.C. Moore, Certified Consulting Meteorologist, ACM Member, and owner of Atlantic States Weather in Raleigh, North Carolina further elaborated, stating: “The National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report usually contains an exhaustive analysis of the post-storm calculations used in setting the maximum sustained winds at landfall. However, many factors impact whether any location, even on the immediate coast, will see winds up to the maximum estimated by the NHC…which are usually contained in a very small area of the storm.” Mr. Moore also indicated that there are unpublished studies that point toward maximum wind gusts on land being about the same, or slightly less, than the estimated maximum sustained winds of the hurricane, often due to increased surface friction over land. “When hurricane winds move over land, increased friction begins to slow down the winds near the surface. This is especially true in wooded areas and in areas with a concentration of man-made structures.”
With most data from Hurricane Ian is still considered preliminary, and even in some cases possibly erroneous, certified meteorologists are in high demand as the Florida insurance market grapples with significant losses as a result of the storm – from winds, floods, and surge to tornadic activity. According to Megan Walker, Certified Consulting Meteorologist and ACM member at Blue Skies Meteorological Services in Gainesville, Florida, “It's always important to work with a credentialed meteorologist, but especially so when utilizing preliminary data…to construct a consistent, scientifically rigorous picture of conditions on the ground. Failing to do so, and building opinions on questionable data, can lead to incorrect conclusions, with potentially significant consequences for the [end user].”
One important meteorological fact regarding Hurricane Ian – like all hurricanes – is that weather conditions in one location may be significantly different than other locations impacted by the same storm. Mr. Moore further noted that even the altitude of measured wind reports need to be carefully examined, as elevated wind measurements may be significantly different than near-ground wind measurements.
ACM Member Jay Rosenthal, a Certified Consulting Meteorologist at Air, Weather & Sea Conditions, Inc. based in California explained his thoughts on Hurricane Ian: “What I think is worth noting about Hurricane Ian is that storm surge at any one location is very dependent on distance and direction from the eye. It makes a big difference if you are in the sector where winds blow towards the coast versus away from the coast, and that can vary greatly over a relatively short distance, as was observed with Ian.”
Aside from storm surge, the highest winds generally associated with hurricanes are found within the eyewall of the storm. Therefore, while the storm itself did produce measured surface wind gusts in excess of 100 MPH in some places in southwest Florida, this does not hold true for the entirety of Florida. For example, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach metroplex largely sustained only tropical-storm force winds, but did encounter a handful of damaging tornadoes.
Dr. Matthew Bunkers, Certified Consulting Meteorologist and ACM Member with Northern Plains Weather Services in Rapid City, South Dakota provided some expertise on this tornadic activity, stating, “The thunderstorms that produced these tornadoes were smaller than the typical tornadic storms in the central United States; however, some of them had clear velocity signatures suggestive of a tornado, along with a ‘tornadic debris signature’ - revealed by the dual-polarization radar’s ability to detect non-weather targets. Tornadoes such as these are typically found in the right-front quadrant of a hurricane.”
Impacts of Hurricane Ian were felt far from the south Florida as well, with high winds and copious rainfall across central Florida and along the Space Coast. Some of these impacts were accomplished as Ian was officially at only Tropical-Storm strength while it crossed the Florida peninsula before regaining Category-1 strength in the warm Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic Ocean offshore of northeast Florida.
Hurricane Ian then made landfall again near Georgetown, South Carolina, and eventually travelled into North Carolina as a Tropical Storm, with many hybrid, mid-latitude storm characteristics. According to Mr. Moore, in North Carolina, “Among the 45 weather stations in the North Carolina State Climate Office ECONet, 19 [stations] recorded tropical storm-force gusts of at least 39 mph.” Additionally, “A wind-driven storm surge reached up to 5 feet high on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina. That was the fifth-highest level on record at that gauge, behind the crests from some of the state’s most infamous hurricanes – Isaias, Florence, Matthew, and Hazel.”
In addition to scientific hurricane analysis, Certified Consulting Meteorologists are also crucial in the research, discovery, and implementation of new emergency management techniques and partnerships related to severe weather, like hurricanes. Mr. Jay Rosenthal elaborated: “In spite of all the efforts by NOAA and the emergency response agencies, there will always be a certain percentage of people that choose to not evacuate [a hurricane]. That's just the way it is, and it probably would be beneficial to develop and implement strategies in emergency response that account for this segment of the population.”
Hurricane Ian’s forecasted center-track did fluctuate as the storm approached, initially centering over southwest Florida, then shifting slightly west more parallel to the coastline, then back east toward southwest Florida as the forecast was refined. This drew some criticism to forecasters, emergency planners, and politicians alike.
Some meteorologists argue that much of this confusion and lack of certainty by the greater public was due to the improper interpretations of Hurricane Ian’s forecast “cone” by the end-users. Mr. Mogil explained, “In talking with some people from Naples to near Fort Myers, I also learned just how closely people [follow] the ‘cone’ and spaghetti plots. Contrary to all advice, they tend to view the storm as a point and as impacts limited to the cone. The various watch-warning graphics by NWS, NHC, TV stations, and private meteorologists seem lost in the focus on the ‘cone.’”
Craig Setzer, tropical meteorologist and ACM associate member with Setzer Weather in Broward County, Florida, has written extensively about the interpretation of hurricane forecasts and much of the confusion that they bring. Citing literature published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), Mr. Setzer reiterated that prior to Hurricane Ian, nearly 50% of surveyed Florida residents believed that the generic tropical cyclone forecast “cone” represented the extent of the storm. Instead, as Mr. Setzer states, “The cone does not represent anything other than future points on a map within a probabilistic interval… where the forecast center point of a storm is expected to be two-thirds of the time based on the National Hurricane Center’s previous five-year forecast skill.”
Mr. Setzer explains that the public relies heavily on the “cone” to plan and prepare for a tropical cyclone, like a hurricane, so much so that they believe that the “cone” is the storm, and this could lead to life-threatening mistakes. “We’ve had 20 years of testing the NHC forecast cone, and still the public largely misses the message from that graphical tool. The cone is doing what the cone is supposed to do. It is tracking where a point on a map is expected to be two-thirds of the time. But a tropical storm or hurricane is much bigger than a one-dimensional point on a map, and the graphical tools we use to warn people should indicate it as such.”
Mr. Mogil further elaborated, “There are some significant educational issues linked to this. Even with TV station hurricane guides and TV meteorologists providing outstanding coverage leading up, during, and following storm events, and public and community meetings focusing on preparedness and response, students (grades K-12) are receiving limited education in meteorology, in general, and in severe weather, in particular.”
In the wake of Hurricane Ian, one consistent question asked of meteorologists regards climate change and its relationship to hurricanes. While in recent years there have been several major hurricanes making landfall on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the relation to climate change is still to be determined. The American Meteorological Society stated in their 2019 Climate Change Statement, “The number and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes have both increased since the early 1980s, but much of this increase may be due to natural variability of the atmosphere and ocean. Furthermore, there is little trend or even a decrease in hurricane activity in other ocean basins, so the global trend, if there is one, is not clear. There is evidence that ocean warming is providing more energy to make hurricanes more intense.”
Despite no clear global trend between climate change and increased tropical cyclone activity, tropical storms and hurricanes remain a huge threat to coastal areas across the globe. Mr. Rosenthal stated that “It is not generally known that the northeast Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico is actually the world's second most prolific area for tropical cyclone development. But since they generally move away from land, they get less attention.”
The 2022 hurricane season has been eventful, and in some ways unique. Hurricane Ian aside, Hurricane Agatha in the Pacific Ocean made landfall in Mexico and the remnants eventually regained tropical storm strength in the Atlantic Ocean (after hitting Florida as an unnamed storm), becoming Tropical Storm Alex. In opposite fashion, Tropical Storm Bonnie in the Caribbean crossed Central America and became Hurricane Bonnie in the Pacific Ocean. Hurricane Julia also crossed Central America and was downgraded to a Tropical Storm in the Pacific, officially making two “cross-over” named-storms - and arguably a third, albeit officially unnamed - in one season.
Also, this season, Hurricane Kay brought tropical storm to hurricane-force wind gusts and heavy rains to parts of southern California, which is a generally rare occurrence at such magnitude.
Even the high latitudes and arctic were not safe from hurricane-related activity this year, with remnants of Typhoon Merbok – as an extratropical cyclone - leading to tropical-storm to typhoon (hurricane)-force winds and significant coastal flooding in western Alaska, including along the Bering Sea, before dissipating completely in the Arctic Ocean. Shortly after, Hurricane Fiona blasted communities along Canada’s Atlantic coast before morphing into an extratropical cyclone and emerging into the Labrador Sea west of Greenland and dissipating at about the same time Hurricane Ian was moving toward southwest Florida.
With the 2022 hurricane season soon coming to a close, rebuilding has just begun. The insurance claim process has a long road ahead. Building regulations, preparedness measures, and emergency response plans will be reviewed. Hurricane Ian will be analyzed, reviewed, investigated, and researched for many years. Meteorologists of the Association of Certified Meteorologists will continue to be at the forefront of many of these initiatives.
Del Rio, Texas, as a border town, is not at all immune to issues arising from illegal immigration. While illegal border crossings have always occurred in and around Del Rio, as in every border town, the recent wave of illegal traffic along the US-Mexico border since the election of President Biden has resulted in Del Rio, Texas – among many other border towns, especially in Arizona and Texas – making national headlines on a near daily-basis.
Videos of illegal immigrants freely crossing shallow water of the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico onto US soil along Vega Verde Road in Del Rio and immediately surrendering to awaiting Border Patrol and local law enforcement have captured the attention of millions of Americans. Human traffickers in plain sight, escorting illegal immigrants from over 70 countries, wait on the river on the Mexican side, free to conduct their booming enterprise without fear of apprehension by US law enforcement.
Bus stops and the surrounding stores, fast-food restaurants, and sidewalks in Del Rio, Texas are crowded with illegal family units – many from countries such as Haiti, Venezuela, and several African countries. Many have several young children, and some of the ladies also appear pregnant. Locals (who are very against illegal immigration) don’t even pay too much attention anymore, and law enforcement drives right on past unless a big issue arises – it’s just another day since the crisis began.
So, what is life like in Del Rio, Texas, in the mix of this surge?
Many people who have just moved to the area, or are visiting, have told me that they expected Del Rio to be a tightly-gripped police-state, practically under martial law. From the various media outlets’ portrayal of the border issues, I can see how that impression might be given. But it’s not true, not for Del Rio.
In fact, I’ve never felt safer. I’ve never felt unsafe in Del Rio – even for my family’s sake. I’ve lived in places where murders and armed robberies were a practical nightly occurrence. Del Rio has never been like that, and continues to rank as one of the safest cities in Texas.
Not only has Governor Greg Abbott sent hundreds (to thousands) of Texas State Troopers and other state law enforcement officers to the border to protect Texas state sovereignty (he even plans on funding President Trump’s border wall), but law enforcement officers from around the country are also prevalent in Del Rio – Florida State Police, Ohio Highway Patrol, Nebraska State Police, and Iowa State Police. I’ve even seen a sheriff’s jeep from somewhere in Florida driving through town. Both Governor Abbot and Governor DeSantis of Florida have visited Del Rio, and held a joint conference at the airport.
Hotels in Del Rio are filled to maximum capacity, with almost nothing but Texas DPS cruisers in every parking spot. In a five-minute drive down Veteran’s Boulevard (Highway 90) the other day, I counted six DPS troopers patrolling the roadway. While driving west toward Comstock, Texas, the roadsides – which would normally be spattered with Border Patrol, were packed with both marked and unmarked law enforcement vehicles.
These troopers are here because while Border Patrol is so busy apprehending docile family units crossing illegally at the Rio Grande, human smugglers and drug-traffickers are having a heyday transporting contraband (including humans against their will). But the increased law enforcement presence is attempting to curb that.
Governor Greg Abbott (Texas, right) and Governor Ron DeSantis (Florida, center) holding a joint conference at Del Rio International Airport. Florida, among other states, have sent law enforcement personnel and resources to aid Texas in the state's response to the surge in illegal immigration and drug/human trafficking. Source; Texas.gov
Truly, it would be almost impossible to get away with anything illegal in Del Rio right now.
It’s not unsafe at all, here. I rode my bicycle a few months back along Vega Verde Road, just for exercise. I road past the now-famous location seen on Fox News where thousands of illegals are seen wading across the Rio Grande. On the Mexican side, Mexican families were enjoying a day at the river. On the American side, patriotic Americans had US and Texas flags flying on their boat docks. Just another day on the river.
In town, the influx of law enforcement has allowed some of the city police and county deputies to return to their normal duties of patrolling the city and county. While the Val Verde County Sheriff’s Office remains heavily taxed, especially due to the jailing of so many captured human smugglers, Del Rio Police Department has largely been able to keep a handle on the day-to-day patrolling of the city limits – and there hasn’t been any notable increase in crime.
The reason is two-fold.
First, the vast majority of illegal immigrants are not criminals. They don’t want trouble, and they are respectful, well-mannered people. They are simply fleeing their broken countries. I don’t have to agree with their reason for illegally entering the United States under broken immigration policies to understand that they are humans, and that they ultimately just want a better life for their families. They don’t cause trouble. And, Del Rio does a great job of processing illegal immigrants, and send them on their way. The illegal immigrants really aren’t interested in settling in Del Rio, so every effort is made to get them on a bus and sent to San Antonio, where they disperse to their destination of choice. They don’t have time to cause any trouble, even if they actually wanted to.
Second, Del Rio sits on the border-side of the highway checkpoints. Border Patrol checkpoints require all vehicle traffic to stop for inspection. They are a second-layer of protection between the Customs checkpoint at the actual border and the rest of the United States. Between the border and these checkpoints, organized criminal activity does everything it can to fly under-the-radar. They don’t cause issues. There is simply too much surveillance and law enforcement. These criminals do everything in their power to get their contraband on the other side of the checkpoint as quickly and quietly as possible, where they can then freely operate across the United States under far less law enforcement pressure. This makes Del Rio very safe, but surrounding towns outside of the checkpoints much more dangerous.
So, all-in-all, while the media has the story partially correct, Del Rio remains a safe place – perhaps safer than ever. Those who need to be most concerned about reaping the first, second, and third-order consequences of this crisis of illegal immigration are those in the cities removed from the border.
If you have orders to Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas, chances are that unless you personally requested them, you may be a tad disappointed. Don't worry, most folks don't have the greatest enthusiasm right off the bat, either.
My biggest piece of advice - don't listen to anyone, or anything - that hasn't lived here. I can't tell you the number of people that gave me weird looks when I said my family was moving to Del Rio, and how many people remarked "eww" and "who did you piss off?". But these people had never experienced Del Rio - they simply ignorantly classified the town with all other cartel-infested border towns that politics, the media, and Hollywood would like you to believe is the case. But, it's not true.
The Del Rio area is home to several state parks (Seminole Canyon, Devils River, Devils Sinkhole, Kickapoo Caverns, Lost Maples, Garner, and more), a National Recreation Area (basically, just like a National Park) known as Lake Amistad and known for its bass fishing, several rivers (Rio Grande, Devils River, Pecos River, and nearby Nueces & Frio Rivers, among others), a city creek with several swimming holes, a waterfall, and rope swings, historic Fort Clark (in nearby Brackettville), the world famous Super-Bull George Paul Memorial bull riding event, and more.
In short, Del Rio isn't short on attractions or things to do, nor is it a pit of doom, like some folks - who have never lived here - will say.
Del Rio's crime rate puts it at one of the safest in the State of Texas. In fact, even witnessing a crime is rare. Most people are generally honest, and live a slower pace of life than folks that are used to the hustle and bustle. The amount of law enforcement in Del Rio, between local, state, and federal agencies, makes it a good chance that your neighbor is probably an officer of the law, especially on the north side of town.
Del Rio has several neighborhoods, with the Alta Vista, Buena Vista, Reservation, and Ceniza Hills being the most popular among military and federal employees. You can find a very nice house in these parts of town, and not have to worry about your kids playing in the streets. Lake Amistad living is also available, outside of the city limits, and more expensive.
South Del Rio is more historic, with large mansions and lots of trees, and many of the original Del Rio families still live there. Central Del Rio (basically the numbered and lettered streets) is modest living, with both older and newer homes and a higher concentration of long-term Del Rio locals.
The San Felipe neighborhood, which constitutes just about everything south and east of San Felipe Creek, used to be it's own town before it was annexed by Del Rio years ago. Many of the original San Felipe natives still live there and take pride in their neighborhood legacy and culture, which is almost entirely Hispanic.
Del Rio does have a commercial airport, serviced affordably by American Airlines twice per day. Amtrak is also available a couple days each week. Both San Antonio and San Angelo are about a two-and-a-half hour drive away, which becomes a "drive down the street" after so many times of doing it.
Del Rio has a hospital, a Walmart, an H-E-B (grocery store), and several home furnishing stores, hardware stores, and auto parts stores. There are plenty of restaurants, too, from typical Mexican food, to Tex-Mex, to barbecue and steak houses, pizza, and even Asian food. Nightlife isn't a big thing in Del Rio, but there are a few places to go for late-night drinks and a social atmosphere. In Acuña (Mexico), the nightlife is more abundant.
There are also several social clubs in town - everything from Rotary, VFW, Lions, and Boy Scouts to Bible study groups, Chamber of Commerce, Library book clubs, Dance clubs, STEM clubs, a Wine club, Art clubs, Karate clubs, and more.
If school is an issue, don't let it be. Between the public school system, several private, alternative, and Christian schools, and a large homeschooling group as well as a community college, most families do not run into issues regarding school choices.
So, don't fret. I always encourage newcomers to explore the area with an open mind upon arrival. Unfortunately, many families do not come with open minds, and they barricade themselves and their families on Laughlin AFB. Do yourself a favor, don't do this! You'll be miss out on a great experience.
Become a Weather Observer, Volunteer With CoCoRaHS! A Great Experience For Young Children & Senior Citizens Alike
Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a non-profit weather observing network with thousands of volunteers across the United States, Canada, and The Bahamas. These volunteer weather observers take daily weather reports from their homes and businesses and submit them to the CoCoRaHS database, which is used to help meteorologists create forecasts, publish weather alerts to save lives and property, and assist in the diverse professional meteorology community.
The best part about it – it only takes a few minutes each day, you can do it from home, and the only requirement is to have enthusiasm about watching and reporting the weather, with a desire to learn.
What’s really cool is that CoCoRaHS is utilized in the United States by the National Weather Service and other professional meteorological agencies. If you record an inch of rain at your house and report it to CoCoRaHS via their online platform, the National Weather Service and other meteorologists will use it to assist in forecasting. If you report large hail, flooding, or other dangerous weather – your report will be documented and remain valuable for research, insurance claims, damage surveys, among other professional uses. Weekly condition monitoring reports are also submitted by hundreds to thousands of users to assist in drought monitoring.
Here’s the thing – it’s so easy to become a part of the program, my toddler daughter even does it with me. While I’m a professional meteorologist, it’s an absolute blast walking out each morning with my youngster who is still trying to learn her ABC’s to check the rain gauge. Through the routine, she learns the very basics about weather and its effects, about the responsibility of making accurate reports, about getting work done on time, and – very important – that Dad’s job is pretty cool.
So, how do you start?
It’s easy! Go to CoCoRaHS.org, then click “Join CoCoRaHS” on the left side of the webpage. Volunteering is absolutely free, but you will need to purchase a high-quality rain gauge of certain specifications before you can make rainfall reports to ensure that reports are standardized across the network using the same equipment. I’ve listed some websites below (price may or may not include shipping). There is also online training on the CoCoRaHS website, and a local coordinator will get in touch with you to assist in any questions you may have. That’s it!
It’s so easy, everyone should do it. Become an important part of CoCoRaHS today!
In the military, there’s the dream duty locations – Hawaii, Europe, Florida, and so on, depending on what your taste is. And, there are the locations that most try to avoid – and Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas is one of those.
It’s been said many times by military folks here, Laughlin is the Air Force’s best force-shaping tool. In layman’s terms, “force-shaping” is synonymous with “trim the fat” or “to weed out”. In other words, the statement is really suggesting that the Air Force powers-that-be, in an effort to discharge the folks it doesn’t want anymore, simply would threaten to relocate them to Del Rio in hopes that they would leave the Air Force voluntarily. True or not, I’ve seen many families chose to leave the Air Force instead of relocate to Del Rio.
Who did you piss off? That was what one coworker (who had never been to Del Rio personally) asked when he heard that’s where I was headed before my family arrived over three years ago, implying that perhaps I drew the short stick in the bureaucratic game of duty location assignments – and that the Air Force was simply trying to weed me out. While Laughlin AFB doesn’t have the most glamorous mission of undergraduate flight training while other military bases actively train for warfighting, the surrounding community of Del Rio is what would make or break the deal for me. Assignment accepted.
After three years in Del Rio, the Air Force certainly did weed me and my family out, voluntarily. Not to avoid Del Rio, but instead rather to embrace the town further. We were ready to leave the military, but not Del Rio.
Most military people looked at me sideways when they heard the news of my family staying put in Del Rio after I exited the military. While the vast majority of the exiting force counts the days til they see this part of Texas in the rear-view mirror en-route to larger cities, higher-paying jobs, and cooler weather, they can’t seem to understand why we would stay.
If you’ve ever relocated a few times in your life, you know as well as I do that the people make or break the location, not the other way around. Of all the places I’ve lived, Del Rio – by a long shot – is home to the friendliest people. Texas, by-and-large, is home to nice people, especially in the more rural areas.
Growing up on the West Coast, people aren’t friendly. It’s not uncommon to simply feel like you are just in their way - an inconvenience - and sucked into the rat-race of keeping-up-with-the-Jones’. In Del Rio, no one cares if you drive a $70K SUV (although you might not fit in…) or an old clunker that is one lug nut from not passing inspection this year. You can own a $300K home, or rent a $600 apartment, and your kids can attend the same school. And, vastly different from the beaches of Southern California, you can strike up a conversation with a total stranger – anywhere – they’ll tell you they’re life story, simply for the sake of having a neighborly conversation. Folks are genuine, here.
In Del Rio, I’ve had total strangers at the downtown creek-side park invite me to their barbecues. No hidden agenda, just hospitality. When my daughter was born, every lady in H-E-B (local grocery store) found their way to the aisle I was on to meet her. On her first birthday party, our house was so full we had to move most of it outside with the sprinklers on (it was hot). Her second one we held at the church, a smashing hit. Not because she is all-that (she thinks she is, like all two-year-olds), but because Del Rio is a family where a sense of community is important. If you embrace it, it will embrace you.
Dirty, dusty border town? Sure, it is somewhat of a desert climate – hot and relatively dry – but the area does have its green season most years with plenty of rainfall. It also gets a mild winter from time to time – but rarely snow.
Unlike many desert locations, however, the area also has numerous rivers, Lake Amistad, and Hill Country all within an hour’s drive. Sunrises and sunsets are beautiful, and wide-open spaces are plentiful and filled with wildlife. It’s common to see deer in your front yard in town, and just out of town you can find aoudad (big-horn sheep), numerous types of deer, birds, hogs, varmints, and mountain lions.
Lake Amistad is one of the clearest lakes in Texas and straddles the international border with unlimited gorgeous desert scenery and great fishing and boating. The Devils River is also a paradise with ultra-pure waters. The Pecos River and Rio Grande both make big cuts into the desert plateau and are frequented by kayakers. Many locals float down portions of the Rio, as well as other local Hill Country rivers like the Nueces, Sabinal, and Frio Rivers.
Del Rio is one of the safest cities in Texas. With a crime rate of about half of the national-average according to City-Data.com, Del Rio is an extremely secure town. For a population of about 35,000 residents, law enforcement departments include Del Rio Police Department, San Felipe-Del Rio School District Police Department, Val Verde County Sheriff’s Department, Val Verde County Constable, U.S. Border Patrol and Customs, Texas Highway Patrol, Texas Game Warden, U.S. Park Rangers, FBI, DEA, and U.S. Marshalls. There might be a few I missed, but the point is that criminal activity is highly discouraged due to the shear number of law enforcement officials scattered throughout the town.
I never worry about my wife and daughter out and about anytime during the day or night – crime is so rare, especially violent crime. Even Acuña – Del Rio’s sister-city across the border – is frequented by Del Rioans daily with few problems.
The Cost of Living
Cheap! While the housing rental market is rather inflated due to Laughlin AFB, the rest of the town remains very affordable. Even if you want to buy a house, it’s rather inexpensive, although property taxes and utilities are slightly high in Texas compared to some other states. However, like much of West Texas, you don’t need a high-paying job to live comfortably.
While high-paying jobs outside of federal employment are hard to find, the cost of living allows modest salaries to meet the needs of most families. Some say that it’s only inexpensive because they’re nothing to spend your money on – but that’s far from the truth. My wife and daughter stay busy every day in the community enjoying free – or very inexpensive – entertainment and activities.
While Del Rio doesn’t have a wide variety of shopping choices, prices are low. Movie tickets are between $4-6 a pop. The Whitehead Museum, Del Rio Community Garden, Civic Center, Del Rio Chamber of Commerce, The Dr. Alfredo Gutierrez Amphitheater, the Lake Amistad Recreation Area routinely hold free events. The Paul Poag Theatre also holds regular musicals and other shows at reasonable prices.
Too many people never see Del Rio – they give up the opportunity before they even arrive. Others do relocate with the military or federal service, reluctantly, but come close-minded and ignorant. They stay holed up on on base at Laughlin AFB or in their house in the north part of the city and Del Rio doesn’t even get a fair shot. If my wife and I came to Del Rio with the preconceived notion that we would hate it (like many do), then I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. But, like the story of a Game Warden’s wife I once met here in Del Rio – she came here kicking and screaming, and left here in tears.
I’ve found that the culture in Del Rio is accepting of newcomers. Not newcomers that want to make Del Rio a big city, but newcomers that want to contribute to the community – those who take pride in their new city and its culture. Many Del Rioans want to see the city grow through new ideas and opportunities. They welcome – with open arms – families that want to help make a positive impact on the community. Because of this, there are an unlimited number of opportunities for community involvement that will help you and your family in transforming this duty location in a home.
We gave it a shot, embraced it, and in turn it embraced us.