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TAMU Climatologist: Drought could be here to stay
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 • Posted July 21, 2009

COLLEGE STATION – During the next few decades this year's summer of 100-plus temperatures and parched soils may represent the norm, not the exception, for much of Texas, said a climatology expert.

However, this winter could be wetter, thanks to an El Niño currently building in the Pacific, but the long-term trend suggests more hot and dry summers, said Dr. Gerald North, professor of atmospheric sciences and oceanography at Texas A&M University.

El Niño generally produces wet winters for the south, from Florida to Texas, he said.

"One thing for sure. All the (climate) models say things are going to get warmer in the U.S. and the rest of the world," he said. "But it's a gradual process; a kind of stagger-step trend upwards. It may warm for a few decades, then slows down, then warms again for a few decades."

North bases his predictions on a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, an organization composed of thousands of scientists from more than 100 countries, he said.

"In the report are all sorts of results from climate (computer) model runs," North said. "What I've done is try to summarize what these runs mean for this region. ...What they suggest is that the tropical climates will expand northward. This seems to have been happening in the past and will continue to happen in the future."

What is a tropical climate? Think of Central Texas during a typical summer, North said. The last storm front comes through roughly in the middle of June, and brings with it nice rains.

"During those months of the summer, all we have are these blue skies and little puffy clouds, occasional little rains in the afternoon. That's tropical climate."

"As global warming proceeds – this is the theory, it's what the models say – the storm belt moves northwards," he said. "And that particularly affects us here in the summertime, when we get no fronts."

North said it is possible that the current drought is not indicative of a permanent trend, but is an anomaly, as were the droughts of the 30s and 50s.

"It could be just a fluke that persists for a decade," he said. "But my guess is that it's here to stay, but with fluctuations up and down."

More information on drought in Texas can be found at the Web site of the Drought Joint Information Center at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

The following summaries were compiled by Texas AgriLife Extension Service district reporters:

CENTRAL: The region was extremely dry. Stock tanks were going dry, and producers continued providing supplemental feed to livestock. Corn yields were low, and silage yields were not expected to be as good as indicated earlier in the season. A few counties that received rain showed improved soil moisture conditions.

COASTAL BEND: Extreme drought conditions with record high temperatures continued to stress crops and livestock. The harvesting of corn and grain sorghum began with marginal yields. Some cotton showed open bolls. Sesame was beginning to bloom. Farmers with zeroed-out fields were baling corn and grain for hay. Range and pasture conditions were extremely poor. Ranchers were liquidating herds due to lack of forage.

EAST: Several counties in the southern part of the region received rain, but many remained dry. The100-degree-plus temperatures threatened to quickly dry out what moisture was received. Nacogdoches, Cherokee, Panola and other counties received substantial rain, but parts of Angelina County have not had any rain since May, according to AgriLife Extension personnel. Hay production slowed, and yields were low. Producers continued to provide livestock with supplemental feed. The harvesting of vegetables and fruit was ongoing. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Some producers began to cull herds to lessen the load on drought-stressed pastures and hay stocks.

FAR WEST: Widely scattered showers brought 0.5 -1.75 inches of rain to a few areas. Reeves County reported more than 5 inches. Much of the region remained hot and dry. High temperatures stressed plants and dried out soils. The third cutting of alfalfa sustained some damage because of rains. Pecans were in full nut development stage. Moth trappings for second-generation pecan nut casebearers were low, and no spraying was recommended. Yellow aphids in pecans neared the economic threshold for control, but rains washed out the pest and the levels of beneficial insects were high. Chiles were in full bloom with a measure of heat stress. A few farmers plowed their poor stands of cotton up and have not planted anything behind it. The cotton that has survived looked good for the most part. Some cotton showed signs of Southwestern cotton rust.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from adequate to very short. Several days of 100-plus-degree heat took a toll on the grasses and crops. Scattered spotty showers helped a few locations, but for the most part, conditions remained hot and dry, which has impacted all crops, pastures and forage. Corn, soybeans and sorghum were all in fair to good condition. Cotton and rice were in fair condition. The harvesting of oats and winter wheat was completed. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Vegetable growers reported the heat was killing tomato and watermelon vines, and tomato diseases continued to be a problem. Rangeland and pasture conditions were fair.

PANHANDLE: The entire region was hot and windy with some area highs consistently above 100 degrees. Fields were rapidly drying out. The cotton crop progressed with only light insect problems. Corn and sorghum were doing well, but water usage was climbing because of the heat. All planted crops were reported to be in good condition. The wheat harvest was complete in most counties. Oats were completely harvested. A few feed yards reported cattle losses due to heat. Soil moisture was short, but rangeland and pastures were in fair condition. Cattle were still gaining well.

ROLLING PLAINS: Highs continued to be above 100 degrees. A large portion of the district received substantial rain early in the reporting period, but high temperatures and winds quickly dried soils out. Pastures and livestock showed signs of heat stress. Cotton was in good condition but needed moisture. Hailed-out cotton fields were replanted and looked good. Producers began spraying weeds and cultivating, but were limiting the passes across fields due to high fuel prices and the fear that disturbing soil would accelerate moisture loss. Armyworm populations rose in milo and haygrazer but were not at economic thresholds. The rain helped forages but did not help replenish critically low stock tanks.

SOUTH: Drought conditions continued with temperatures of 100-109 degrees and no rain. Any moisture provided by spotty showers in some areas evaporated. Only irrigated crops were doing well. In the northern part of the region, corn harvesting began, and sorghum harvesting was about to begin. Cotton was in the boll-setting stage, and peanuts were pegging. In the western part of the region, trees and turf grass showed signs of burning even when regularly watered. The watermelon harvest was completed, and cotton and corn producers continued to irrigate heavily. The extremely high temperatures have helped dry the sorghum crop in the western region, eliminating any additional drying in storage bins. Most producers in the southern parts of the region completed the grain harvest. Overall, rangeland and pasture forgages continued to decline in quality and quantity. Although producers continued providing supplemental feed in most areas, high temperatures and a declining forage supply affected the body condition of cattle. Many stock tanks have gone dry. Livestock producers were relocating their cattle, hauling water or using poor-quality ground water. Some ranchers sold their entire herds.

SOUTH PLAINS: Many days, temperatures were above 100 degrees. A few widely scattered showers were received. Producers were irrigating crops and applying insecticides. Cotton was squaring with some of the earliest planted cotton beginning to bloom. Sorghum was in fair to good condition. Corn was in good condition. The wheat harvest was nearly completed. Pastures and ranges were in fair to good shape. Producers continued some supplemental feeding of livestock.

SOUTHWEST: Isolated thunderstorms graced a few farms and ranches, but for most the hottest,driest summer on record continued unabated. High winds and a series of more than 20 days with record or near-record high temperatures aggravated the drought. The soil profile was very dry. High, dry winds increased the risk of roadside and field fires. The Edwards Aquifer water level, as measured at a test well in San Antonio, dropped within 0.3 feet of the mandatory Stage III declaration requirement by the San Antonio Water System. A mandatory stage III water rationing declaration was expected soon, said AgriLife Extension personnel. Except in deferred pastures, forages were almost non-existent. Pastures and rangeland made almost no progress. The cantaloupe and watermelon harvests were nearly complete. Harvesting of corn and sorghum began; below-average yields were expected. Cotton, peanuts and pecans were making excellent progress under heavy irrigation.

WEST CENTRAL: Extremely hot, dry conditions with record high temperatures continued. Soil moisture was very low. Crops and livestock were showing signs of heat stress. Most cotton was planted, but the crop was off to a slow start due to lack of moisture. Cutting and baling hay was ongoing. Rangeland and pastures were drying up and forages were turning brown. Stock tanks and ponds were drying out. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued in over-grazed areas. Pecans were being irrigated.

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