COLLEGE STATION – An El Niño currently developing in the tropical Pacific could mean an improved agricultural outlook for all of Texas, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and regents professor at Texas A&M University.
“An El Niño refers to unusually high tropical temperatures which shift the pattern of tropical convection, and usually leads to a cool and wet winter for Texas,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Though an El Niño’s effects are usually stronger in southern parts of the state along the Gulf Coast, it generally causes shifts in weather patterns for the entire state, he said.
“It’s a nice switch from the last couple of years, which were La Niña events which generally favor dry conditions,” he said.
La Niña episodes are when the tropical Pacific temperatures are lower than average, he said.
Unfortunately for the Midwest and Mississippi Valley, an El Niño generally “signals” a drier-than-normal winter, according to Nielsen-Gammon.
Currently, tropical Pacific temperatures are about 0.5 to 1.0 degree Celsius (0.9 to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“Right now, it looks like a weak to moderate one,” he said. “It would have be 1.5 to 2 degrees (2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal to get a strong one.”
But even a weak-to-moderate El Niño should have a pronounced effect of this fall’s winter weather, he said.
“I just want to emphasize that wet conditions from an El Niño are not a sure thing, just like dry conditions with La Niña are not a sure thing,” he said. “Last year, we saw La Niña conditions, but we ended up having above-normal rainfall across the state.
“For the sake of West Texas, I hope this El Niño comes through for us and gives us wet weather, but there’s no guarantee of that.”
North Atlantic temperatures are still running high, which is “a strike against us, especially for summer for fall,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But sometime around November, statistically the Pacific starts to take over, having a bigger effect on our weather.”
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 the week of Aug. 14-20:
Central: Some counties received rain but only trifling amounts. Soils were dry, though not as severely so as last summer. Most hay fields were still green but showed very little growth. Many producers hoped to take a third hay cutting if they get a substantial rain. Producers began preparing fields for planting winter wheat and oats. Stock-tank water levels were sufficient but dropping. The cotton harvest began. Cotton producers were defoliating. The harvesting of corn, milo, sunflowers and soybeans was nearly complete. Pecans looked very good.
Coastal Bend: Most of the area received some much-needed rain, from 0.25 inch to 4 inches. Despite the rain, hot, dry conditions remained the rule. In areas where cotton was yet to be harvested, growers were using growth regulators in a struggle to keep ahead of vegetative growth. Sesame was maturing rapidly. The rain meant many hay producers might be able to take one more cutting of hay before fall. Winter wheat was being planted. Pecan tree limbs were breaking due to the heavy crop load. Cattle were in fair condition with herd numbers holding steady. Producers were still supplementing cattle with hay and protein.
East: As much as 2.5 inches fell across the northern part of the region, but southern counties remained in much need of rain. Ponds and pastures were in good shape where there was rain. A few producers were selling hay. Cattle were in good condition, with calves being weaned. Feral hogs stayed close to water sources. The West Nile virus outbreak resulted in many calls to county offices about mosquito control. Grasshopper and armyworm infestations continued.
Far West: Highs were in the triple digits and lows in the mid to upper 70s. Rangeland and pastures remained in very poor condition because of the excessive heat and drought. There were scattered showers reported, with Andrews County getting as much as 1.4 inches and Upton County 3 to 4 inches. Other areas, such as Presidio County, only reported 0.1 inch. In Glasscock County, irrigated cotton was progressing well, but there was some boll-drop after the rains. Most dryland cotton is at cutout, the growth stage prior to boll setting. Grain sorghum was ready to harvest. Producers continued to provide supplemental feed to livestock and wildlife.
North: The region received much-needed rain, and soil-moisture levels were adequate in most counties. The corn, milo, sunflower and soybean harvests neared completion with good yields reported. Producers began harvesting cotton and preparing fields for planting winter pastures and wheat. No hay was being harvested. Livestock were in fair to good condition.
Panhandle: Temperatures were lower and scattered rain eased some drought pressure, but the region still faced short to very short soil-moisture conditions. Producers were preparing for harvests and planting wheat. The condition of cotton was widely mixed, with some of the northern counties seeing good to fair stands, while others reported poor stands or had abandoned fields to crop-insurance adjusters. Corn was in fair to good condition in most areas. Some sorghum and stressed corn was being harvested as silage. Generally, grain sorghum was in good to fair condition, but was beginning to look moisture-stressed. Livestock producers were still providing supplemental feed to cattle on pastures. Some were selling cattle as feed prices continued to rise.
Rolling Plains: About 0.1 inch and more fell in some parts of the region, with 4.5 inches recorded in Wise County. Cooler days raised hopes of a change in weather patterns. In most areas, pastures and rangeland remained in poor condition, in need of a lot more rain. Stock-water tanks remained low, as did lake levels. The rain did soften ground enough for farmers to plow in preparation for planting winter wheat. Dryland cotton did not look very good. Irrigated cotton producers reported wells going dry. An average crop of peanuts was predicted. Over-grazing and lack of moisture took its toll on pastures in some areas, and ranchers were selling off more cattle. Some producers were shipping cattle every day. Old trees were dying off in pastures. The pecan nut crop was heavy. Wildfires in Palo Pinto County were brought under control.
South: Most of the region reported short to very short soil-moisture levels, with the exception of a couple of counties that received some rain in the last week. Atascosa County got 1.25 to 6 inches and Willacy County got an average of 1.25 inches. Atascosa County had 100 percent adequate soil moisture levels and Willacy County 75 percent adequate. In much of the area, however, rangeland and pastures continued to be in poor to very poor condition. As a result, livestock producers had to continue to provide supplemental feed. Hay and other feed was becoming more costly and difficult to find. In McMullen County, producers were weaning calves early. In Zavala County, there was minimal selling of livestock to reduced herd size. Body condition scores remained good to fair. In Atascosa County, cotton harvesting began, and peanuts were progressing well. In Frio County, the corn and sorghum harvests were completed, cotton was opening bolls and peanuts were pegging. In Jim Wells County, row crop harvesting was completed, with many cotton fields zeroed out by insurance adjusters and plowed under. In Zavala County, most cotton was opening bolls, and growers were defoliating. Also in that area, early-planted cotton was being harvested, and sorghum and corn producers were busy plowing under stalks. In Cameron County, the cotton harvest was nearly finished. In Starr County, growers were preparing to plant fall vegetables.
South Plains: Some isolated storms brought from a trace to 2 inches of rain in several counties. Highs remained in the upper 90s over most of the region until a cool down over the weekend. Most cotton was in cutout, the stage of growth prior to boll opening. Insect pressure was light. Peanuts were doing well, but disease risk increased with rain, higher humidity and heavy irrigation. Grain sorghum made good progress under irrigation. Irrigated cotton looked good with high yield potential. Dryland cotton was hanging on, but yields were expected to be low at best. Early-planted sorghum was filling heads, and sunflowers were drying down. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to good condition depending upon scattered rains. Livestock were mostly in good condition.
Southeast: High temperatures were in the low to mid 90s, with lows in the 70s. Spotty showers allowed moderate forage growth in some areas. Brazos County received 0.5 inch to 1.5 inches of rain, which was expected to improve pastures. Burleson County had continued hot and dry weather, which was withering existing forages. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were completed with average yields reported. Some hay harvesting continued. The first rice-crop harvest wound down.
Southwest: Some areas received from 1 inch to 3 inches of rain, improving some pasture conditions. Dry conditions persisted in other areas. The sorghum harvest began but where there was rain, the cotton harvest was temporarily on hold. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were nearly done. Pastures continued to decline under hot and dry conditions, and the danger of wildfire was high.
West Central: Hot, dry weather continued and the drought worsened. A few counties reported some scattered showers late in the week that brought temperatures down and improved pasture and rangeland conditions. All row crops showed moisture stress. Insects continued to be a problem in some areas. Some producers were preparing fields for fall planting. Cotton was blooming and setting bolls, and was in desperate need of rain in some areas. Early developing bolls were undersized. Early yield projections were 50 percent of average. Most hay harvesting was finished. Areas that received recent rains may get a third cutting. The corn harvest was over. The harvesting of grain sorghum and silage sorghum was nearly completed. Livestock and wildlife conditions continued to decline due to high temperatures and no moisture. Supplemental feeding of livestock further increased.