COLLEGE STATION – There’s very good evidence the same factors contributing to the drought – the El Niño-La Niña cycle — have temporarily stalled global warming, according to a Texas A&M University climatologist.
During the last two decades of the 20th century, climatologists recorded a rapid rise in average temperatures. But in the last decade the rise has leveled off, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist, College Station.
“Global temperatures have been relatively flat for the past several years, Nielsen-Gammon said. “Some people use that information to try to imply that global warming has stopped. But it turns out that the factors causing global warming are still there, it’s just that the El Niño-La Niña cycle has temporarily trended cooler and has partially masked the warming.”
Nielsen-Gammon compared a strong La Niña’s effect on atmospheric temperatures to that of leaving a refrigerator door open.
“In the tropical Pacific, there’s actually fairly cold water just below the surface,” he said. “With a La Niña event, that cold water is drawn all the way up to the surface, and interacts with the atmosphere and causes it to be cooler. If you leave the refrigerator door open, the room will be a little cooler.”
But this is a temporary effect rather than a long-term effect, as are the ever- increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases during the last 50 years, he said.
“If my forecast is correct, and there’s no La Niña to hide the underlying warming trend, global surface temperatures are likely to increase and set a new record this year.”
For the short term, the next four or five years, farmers and ranchers might hope global warming does pick back up this year, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“On the short term, the same oceanic factors that cause global temperatures to go up temporarily also tends to cause rainfall in the Southern U.S. to go up temporarily,” he said.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for March 11-18:
The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts
Central: Producers began planting corn for silage and forage sorghum. Winter wheat was providing quality grazing. Coastal Bermuda grass came out of dormancy, and oats were heading out. Livestock producers cut back feeding hay as pastures greened up. Bluebonnets were already flowering. Livestock were in good condition.
Coastal Bend: Drought conditions continued to get worse with no significant rainfall recorded. In Austin County, farmers had nearly wrapped up planting corn, rice and sorghum. Cool-season grasses had not fully recovered from last year, but grazing was plentiful. In Wharton County, farmers were still planting grain sorghum. Topsoils were dried out by the windy weather. Soil temperatures were still low, making ideal cotton planting conditions weeks away, but some growers were planting while there is some soil moisture. The average soil temperature at 8 inches deep has not exceeded 59.7 degrees in the past 10 days. In Victoria County, a lack of rain and high winds were rapidly depleting topsoil moisture, undermining those crops already planted as well as permanent pastures and hay fields. In Jackson County, farmers continued to plant row crops. Most producers planted early when there was good soil moisture, and these crops were already emerging. Some were planting under marginal soil-moisture conditions hoping for a rain. Livestock producers continued to feed hay and supplements. Hay growers were fertilizing fields. In Refugio County, the weather remained dry, causing rangeland and pasture conditions to decline. Farmers were working overtime to plant corn, sorghum and cotton, trying to take advantage of what soil moisture there was.
East: Little to no rain, high winds and low moisture increased the threat of wildfires. Trees were budding out, and pollen counts were high. Livestock were in good shape, and producers were preparing for spring cattle work. Clovers and ryegrass grew as temperatures warmed up, which meant livestock producers could largely reduce supplemental feeding of cattle. Vegetable planting was slowed by dry conditions. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: Conditions were warm, windy and dry, with the danger of wildfire high and burn bans still in place. The higher elevations had cooler temperatures, with highs in the mid to upper 50s and lows dipping into the teens. In other areas, highs were in the 80s. Farmers continued preparing fields for spring planting. Alfalfa growers began taking their first cutting.
North: Soil-moisture levels were short to adequate. Some counties received 2 to 4 inches of rain. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition. Winter ryegrass, wheat and oat pastures began to look better. Some producers were able to use their winter pastures for grazing. Winter wheat grew steadily and was in good condition. Corn planting was ongoing, with an estimated 25 to 30 percent of anticipated areas finished in some areas. About 10 percent of sorghum was planted. Livestock were in good condition. Feral hog activity was on the rise.
Panhandle: Temperatures were near to above average, and winds were high. Soil-moisture levels were mostly short to adequate. Producers were preparing fields for spring plantings, applying manure, compost and commercial fertilizer. Wheat improved from recent moisture, but was in from very poor to good condition, with most counties reporting fair to poor. Rangeland and pastures continued to be mostly in poor condition. In some areas, producers were grazing stocker cattle on wheat fields, but cattle numbers remained down compared to past years.
Rolling Plains: Conditions were favorable in some areas, with soil moisture levels improved. Pastures, rangeland and wheat looked promising thanks to the recent moisture. Ranchers were grazing cattle on wheat to allow pastures to further improve. Winter wheat was in poor to good condition, depending upon when it emerged. Wheat that emerged in the fall was in good condition, but many fields did not emerge until around the first of the year and were behind in growth and may produce below-average yields. Pastures began greening up, and beef producers were hoping for a wet spring to encourage hay production, but the overall picture remained dim in terms of forage supplies. Little hay was available, forcing producers to find alternate means of supplementing cattle. Worries over water have already started due to February and March being drier-than-normal. Stock tanks and area lakes still needed runoff water. Peach trees were blooming.
South: Abnormally high temperatures for March continued, which coupled with high winds, further dried out soils. The northern part of the region had short to very short soil moisture levels, and very short throughout the southern part of the region. In Zavala County, dryland producers were still trying to decide whether to plant crops as there was no subsurface moisture. But producers with irrigation could provide enough moisture for seed to germinate and emerge. The spinach and cabbage harvests continued in that county, with cool morning temperatures promoting growth. Onion crops there were doing well, and cotton planting resumed following pre-planting irrigation. Webb County ranchers further culled herds, in some cases down to 50 or fewer head. Some ranchers in that area are trying to retain as much as their herds as possible with supplemental feed, as were ranchers throughout the region. Stock-tank water levels continued to decline; some tanks were completely dry. In Hidalgo County, the sugarcane, citrus and vegetable harvests continued. Cotton, corn and grain sorghum planting was active there, but progress was severely affected by dry weather and lack of irrigation water. In Starr County, growers were preparing for the onion harvest and irrigating spring vegetable crops. In McMullen County, spring calving progressed well, but forages lacked the nutrients lactating cattle needed, which caused cattle body conditions to decline. In Frio County, farmers were irrigating corn, wheat and potatoes. Planting slowed in Jim Wells County.
South Plains: The region’s weather was windy and mostly warm, though temperatures fluctuated from a low of 24 degrees on March 11 to a high of 88 degrees on March 15. There was no rain reported for the month to date. Farmers continued preparing fields for planting, applying fertilizer and herbicides, and listing rows. Wheat was jointing. Dryland wheat was in fair condition, with some irrigated fields looking good. Cattle remained mostly in fair to good condition, with ranchers having to provide supplemental feed on colder days because of limited grazing.
Southeast: For most of the region, the weather was dry and windy, with crop conditions varying throughout the region. In Brazos County, crops and Bermuda grass pastures progressed well as days began to warm up. Lee County corn needed water In Chambers County, some rice was planted ahead of the March 15 crop insurance deadline, some rice was planted ahead of the March 15 crop insurance deadline. All sorghum and soybeans were planted. In Burleson County, mild temperatures and sufficient soil-moisture promoted pasture growth, but most counties reported dry conditions.
Southwest: Recent rains and hail brought moisture to some parts of the Hill Country. Wheat was not looking good, and pasture conditions declined. Mesquite trees were budding out. Farmers were planting milo and were nearly finished planting corn. Livestock producers continued supplementing cattle with hay and protein.
West Central: The region remained dry with warm days and cool nights. Drought took its toll on rangeland and crops as soils continued to dry out. Rangeland wildfires continued to be a big concern in all areas. Wheat and oats began to turn brown. Warm weather caused spring forages to green up early. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle. Stock-tank water levels were very critical, and some producers were hauling water to livestock.