A captive alligator in a wetlands environment displays its teeth in an open-jawed pose.

Strangest State: Alligators, Tigers & Hailstorms, Oh My!

Weird weather, unusual attacks on education, and zoo animals keeping cool, in the latest dispatch from far-flung Texas.


A version of this story ran in the September / October 2023 issue.

Fort Worth

Texans head for spring-fed rivers or hide out in air-conditioned homes and cooling centers during heat waves. But what do animals do? At the Fort Worth Zoo, tigers, lions, and primates play with huge ice cubes, and elephants and gorillas cavort in sprinklers. “Just like humans,” a Zoo spokesperson told the Guardian, “we’ve all kind of adjusted.”

In a cartoon illustration, a large gorilla leaps, with ballerina-like grace. through a sprinkler. Its eyes are closed with a blissful expression.
(Drue Wagner for the Texas Observer)


It looked like yet another attack on Texas public education when a 5-foot-long alligator wandered to the sidewalk of a Richmond elementary school. School leaders responded rapidly to this threat. “The rumors are true. We had to turn away a visitor from registration this morning,” one posted on social media. A local game warden responded, jumped on the beast’s back, and hauled it away. 

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A cartoon drawing of a "nerdy" alligator standing on two legs, complete with messy haircut, nerd glasses, a bow tie, and pens inside a button down white shirt. The alligator is holding books and standing at the front entrance of an elementary school.
(Drue Wagner for the Texas Observer)


Weather has been really weird with heat waves, hail, Saharan dust, and Canadian smoke swirling everywhere. Suddenly, the National Weather Service predicted hail as big as DVDs would hit Texas. And voilà: In Sanger, chunks of ice as large as 6 inches in diameter fell from the sky. One Texas TV station received photos from viewers who collected ice balls bigger than golf balls, tennis balls, and even that summer treat: a ripe tomato. 

A cartoon of people in a small town scattering in a panic as massive hailstones begin raining from the sky over downtown.
(Drue Wagner for the Texas Observer)