LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — With much of the nation focused on a spring marked by historic floods and deadly tornadoes, Texas and parts of several surrounding states are suffering through a drought nearly as punishing as some of the world's driest deserts.
Some parts of the Lone Star State have not seen any significant precipitation since August. Bayous, cattle ponds and farm fields are drying up, and residents are living under constant threat of wildfires, which have already burned across thousands of square miles.
Much of Texas is bone dry, with scarcely any moisture to be found in the top layers of soil. Grass is so dry it crunches underfoot in many places. The nation's leading cattle-producing state just endured its driest seven-month span on record, and some ranchers are culling their herds to avoid paying supplemental feed costs.
May is typically the wettest month in Texas, and farmers planting on non-irrigated acres are clinging to hope that relief arrives in the next few weeks.
"It doesn't look bright right at the moment, but I haven't given up yet," said cotton producer Rickey Bearden, who grows about two-thirds of his 9,000 acres without irrigation in West Texas. "We'll have to have some help from Mother's Nature."
That the drought is looming over the Southwest while floodwaters rise in the Midwest and South reflects a classic signature of the La Nina weather oscillation, a cooling of the central Pacific Ocean.
This year's La Nina is the sixth-strongest in records dating back to 1949.
"It's a shift of the jet stream, providing all that moisture and shifting it away from the south, so you've seen a lot of drought in Texas," Mike Halpert, deputy director of the federal government's Climate Prediction Center in Silver Spring, Md.
He said the pattern is "kind of on its last legs," and he expects a neutral condition for much of the summer.
Victor Murphy of the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said the location for the wet weather and the drought "is textbook."
"You tend to get real strong demarcation, and this year the magnitude of the extremes is exaggerated," Murphy said.
Texas' state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, said the state's average rainfall from October through April was 5.82 inches. The previous seven-month record came at the end of March 1918, when the statewide average was 5.85 inches.
Houston has received only 1.5 inches in the last three months — just 15 percent of its normal amount and less than some parts of the Sahara desert get during the same period of time.