COLLEGE STATION – What’s surprising in early May is not that West Texas is so dry, but that the eastern half of the state is in relatively good condition, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and regents professor at Texas A&M University.
“The thing that was unexpected was having East Texas not be in an extreme drought right now,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “We had a second year of La Niña last winter. It just finally ended officially last month. And normally – four years out of five – you end up with a dry winter. So things have worked out as well as possibly can be expected for East Texas.”
Unfortunately, West Texas is doing “as expected,” and is in the second year of major drought, Nielsen-Gammon said.
Reports from Texas AgriLife Extension Service county agents tell just how dire the situation is in parts of West Texas.
The weekly comments of Ryan Martin, AgriLife Extension agent for Motley County, southeast of Amarillo, is representative of many county agent’s reports coming from West Texas. Motley County hasn’t received any rainfall for several weeks, and hot, dry winds have prevailed.
“Ranchers are seeing pastures turn brown overnight, and cattle are running out of grazing very quickly,” Martin said. “Producers are being forced to start feeding supplements and hay that has just been bailed up.
“Summer grasses are trying to come out, but without any moisture, they have just stalled. At this time there is no moisture to 24 inches deep. Farmers are beginning to get worried as planting season is right around the corner, and there is no soil moisture. Right now it seems like déjà vu with the high winds, high temperatures and no moisture.”
Higher-than-normal temperatures – in some cases as much as 15 degrees above average – are compounding the drought in West Texas, Neilsen-Gammon said.
“Random effects” of the jet stream are partly to blame for the higher-than-normal temperatures, and about 1 degree can be attributed to global warming,” he said. But a large portion of the higher temperatures are caused by the dry soils. Dry soils mean there isn’t any moisture to evaporate and cool things off.
“There’s been enough rain in East Texas to keep temperatures down to near normal this summer,” he said. “I wish I could say the same for West Texas.”
If there’s any other good news, it’s that North Atlantic Ocean sea-surface temperatures are near normal, Neilsen-Gammon said.
“For Texas, that would seem to indicate that we might be getting more rainfall (this summer) than we have for the past several years.”
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 May 2-8:
Central: Temperatures were above normal over the past two weeks. Lack of rain, along with strong winds, brought back drought-like conditions. All winter annuals were harvested, and irrigated crops and vegetables looked good. Producers with irrigation were pre-watering before planting. Corn was stressed by above-average temperatures and no rain. The wheat harvest was expected to begin soon. Small-grain silage and haymaking went well. Sorghum showed signs of stress due to lack of moisture. Bermuda grass greened up after cool-season grasses were cut for hay. Grasshopper populations were growing.
Coastal Bend: Soil moisture was becoming critically low in some areas. More rain was needed soon for crops to grow and pastures to recover from the 2011 drought. Pasture conditions severely deteriorated over the past week. Producers continued to bale winter grasses in some areas. Pecan producers reported a good early crop.
East: Winds, high temperatures and lack of rain dried out topsoils throughout the region. Producers baled winter grasses and fertilized pastures in an effort to rebuild hay stocks. Spring cattle work continued. Feral hogs were active. Homeowners and producers were busy removing dead trees near homes and fences.
Far West: Highs were in the upper 90s, and lows in the mid to high 60s. A grass fire burned about 1,000 acres in Andrews County. In Pecos County, there were scattered rains, but any moisture gained was lost due to high temperatures and wind. Pecan producers were irrigating and spraying zinc. The flight of the pecan nut case-bearer moth was early this year, and producers were already scouting and readying to spray. In Glasscock County, cotton and sunflower growers began planting. Ward County reported that the only green showing in their area was that of mesquite trees, African rue (harmal), and a few other weeds. Producers continue to irrigate fields in preparation for planting. Ranchers were culling cows. Most ranchers were continuing to provide supplemental feed for cattle. Without a significant rain soon, most will have to ship cattle out of the area. Livestock numbers remained low due to continuing drought conditions.
North: After two weeks without rain, and high winds and warm temperatures prevailing, soils quickly dried out. Wheat headed out and most fields turned color. Most crops continued to look good. Corn, grain sorghum and soybeans showed excellent stands. Cotton was just coming up. Corn will need a rain soon as it pulls a lot of moisture out of the soil. Baling of small grains and winter grasses for hay continued. The spring hay harvest was very good. Peaches continued to look very good. Weeds and insects were plentiful in gardens and pastures. Feral hogs continued to be a problem. Grasshopper and mosquito populations were increasing. Livestock were in good condition, but large numbers of stable flies were becoming a problem.
Panhandle: Most of the region remained dry with above-average temperatures. Rangeland and pastures began to dry out at a rapid rate due to hot and dry conditions. A few areas reported receiving some moisture. Parts of Collingsworth County received from 0.6 inch to 4 inches of rain. Flooding and erosion occurred in many fields where there were heavy downpours. Farmers continued planting corn and cotton. Wheat was in very poor to excellent condition, with most areas reporting poor to fair. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to good condition, with most reporting poor. Cattle were reported in good condition.
Rolling Plains: With no rain and high winds for the last several weeks, western counties remained extremely dry. Pastures turned brown overnight, and cattle were running out of grazing very quickly. Also, the dry, hot conditions were spreading to eastern counties that earlier received rain. Rangeland was still in good shape but will need rain soon. Motley County producers were forced to start feeding hay that was just recently bailed. Summer grasses were trying to come out, but growth stalled without any moisture. Some cattle producers reported they may have to sell off more cattle without normal May rainfall. Hail damage was reported in Wichita, Stonewall and Dickens counties. The wheat harvest was under way — the earliest on record in some counties. Early yields were 30 percent below average, with test weights about 55 pounds, shy of the normal average of 60 pounds. Producers continued to bale wheat, alfalfa and grass for hay. However, the hot, dry weather was stressing alfalfa fields. Cotton planting began under marginal planting conditions. Dry soils made it difficult for producers to get adequate stands without irrigating. Reports of pecan nut case-bearers continued to come in.
South: Hot, dry and windy weather continued throughout the region. Rangeland and pastures were quickly drying out. Soil moisture was from 50 percent short to 100 percent very short, according to county agent reports. Weeds and grasses were quickly browning out, showing signs of deterioration and becoming dormant. Cattle inventories were dropping, as ranchers continued to face low stock-tank water levels and lack of access to groundwater supplies. Despite rangeland issues, most cattle still had decent body condition. But if it doesn’t rain soon, the condition of livestock was expected to quickly decline. In the northern part of the region, wheat and oats were being harvested, early-planted cotton was showing the fifth leaf, corn was in the tassel stage and a lot of hay was baled. Crops in the eastern part of the region were rapidly drying out. Producers in the western parts of the region were busy irrigating all crops. Also in the western counties, the cabbage, onion, oats and wheat harvests were ongoing, and corn neared the tasseling stage. In the southern part of the region, corn, sorghum and cotton were under irrigation, some sorghum was heading, and the harvesting of tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, melons and squash continued.
South Plains: The region had another week of high temperatures and hot winds. Some producers were still pre-watering cotton fields, hoping for enough rain to plant. A few were already planting. A survey of 141 cotton fields in Lubbock County found about six planted, with less than 1 percent emerged. Yoakum County producers started planting peanuts and were about 30 percent done. Rangeland and pastures improved in some parts of the region with recent showers. Cattle were in better shape as a result of improved grazing. Rain was accompanied with hail in some southeastern counties. Everyone was grateful for the rain, but could have done without the golf ball- to baseball- sized hail.
Southeast: Without measurable rain in at least two weeks, soils were dry and plants and crops stressed. Ryegrass continued to be harvested as hay. Grain sorghum planting was completed. Overall, planting was a little late this year due to earlier saturated soils. Pastures remained in fair condition, but many still showed damage from the 2011 drought. Weed pressure was severe to very severe in areas. Pastures have benefited in some areas from early herbicide application and good grazing management. Ranchers continue to mend fences due to falling trees that were weakened or killed by last year’s drought and toppled by high spring winds. In Liberty County, the wheat harvest was all but completed. Ponds were nearly full. There were no reports of crop disease or insects.
Southwest: A few counties received rain, with some recording 1 inch or more. Overall, high temperatures throughout the reporting period heightened drought conditions. Additional water restrictions were implemented in San Antonio and surrounding areas as aquifer levels continued to drop. Cattle were beginning to show stress on pastures where winter forbs were declining. Farmers were irrigating row crops, which were making good progress. Sunflowers were flowering. Onions, oats and wheat were being harvested.
West Central: The weather continued to be hot, dry and windy with mild nights. Soil moisture was rapidly decreasing. There was very little field activity because of lack of soil moisture. All counties needed rain. Fire dangers have been noted in all areas. Grain sorghum progressed well. Some producers were already harvesting small grains or expected to begin to do so soon. Cutting and baling of wheat and oats for hay continued. Some Bermuda grass was harvested for hay, but most fields needed moisture to develop. Cotton farmers were preparing for planting. Rangeland and pasture grasses were declining. Weeds continued to be an issue. Flies and other insects were abundant. Pecan growers were irrigating orchards and spraying for pests.