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March 25, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Everything’s Bigger In Texas…Even the Drought!

Here in the Lone Star State we’re in one of our worst droughts in 44 years. This is a huge problem since we are the largest U.S. cattle producer and the second-largest winter wheat grower. According to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, we’ve received only 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) of rain on average from October through the end of February. On March 20th, more than half the wheat fields and pastures were rated in poor or very poor condition.

The lack of rain has damaged the wheat crop and is currently forcing ranchers to reduce cattle herds. It’s not only Texas that is suffering, but Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado have also seen less than 25 percent of their normal rainfall over the past month. Thankfully, it looks like we’ll get some relief as we head into the weekend across parts of the Plains beginning as soon as later this afternoon.

 Showers and thunderstorms will develop from eastern Oklahoma into Mississippi today. Severe storms (indicated in red) will also be possible. Snow (white) will continue across northern California/Oregon into the Intermountain West and Central Rockies today with 2-4 inches likely and isolated amounts up to 6 inches possible. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

 Saturday: A low pressure system and its associated cold front will bring showers and thunderstorms from the Central Plains to the Southeast. Image: ImpactWeather

Warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico will interact with a frontal boundary tomorrow bringing showers and thunderstorms from eastern Oklahoma and Texas to the Deep South. Conditions will be favorable for severe thunderstorms to develop and be capable of producing frequent lightning, hail, damaging wind gusts and isolated tornadoes.  The greatest risk of severe weather is expected across northern and central Mississippi and Alabama.

What’s the impact of the drought? Well, the USDA estimated last month that the nation’s production may fall 5.8% from a year earlier to 2.08 billion bushels as dry weather compels farmers to abandon some crops. The potential yield will also go down every day we don’t get rain. As for the cattle, 30 percent of beef and dairy cattle are from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. Because of the drought, the overall herd is decreasing and ranchers are selling cattle to feedlots earlier because there is little grass for them to eat. Last week, the USDA said that U.S. retail beef prices were up 9.4% higher in February than the previous year.

Here’s a closer look at the drought situation:

 Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

From the U.S. Drought Monitor: Across Texas and Oklahoma, dry and unseasonably warm weather led to widespread intensification and expansion of drought.  Temperatures averaged up to 18°F above normal across the region, with highs reaching the lower 90s; consequently, crop and pasture moisture demands were higher than normal.  In eastern Texas, the expanded Extreme Drought (D3) region aligned with soil moisture percentile rankings consistently in the lowest 5th percentile.  90-day rainfall deficits in eastern portions of Texas averaged 4 to 8 inches, with smaller deficits (2 inches or less) in the remaining D0 and D1 areas of central Texas.  It should be noted that many drought indicators in east-central Texas have reached the Exceptional Drought (D4) level, and if rain does not materialize soon, worsening of the current drought depiction is highly likely.  In western Texas, Extreme Drought (D3) was expanded in response to 180-day rainfall values that are 10 percent of normal or less.  In south Texas and the Lower Valley, where precipitation has averaged 10 to 30 percent of normal over the past 90 days,  Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2, respectively) were expanded.  Likewise in northern Texas and western Oklahoma, severely dry conditions over the past 90 days coupled with unseasonable warmth led to an expansion of drought.  Most notably, Extreme Drought now stretches from just east of Oklahoma City southwestward into north-central Texas; many locales in the heart of the expanded D3 region have reported less than 20 percent-of-normal precipitation over the past 90 days.  Severe Drought (D2) also expanded across western portions of Oklahoma, reflecting soil moisture rankings in the lowest 20th percentile.


Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

Even though some relief may be on the way as we head into the weekend, we certainly need a lot more in order to put a dent in the drought. However, it is severe weather season so we should start to get at least more consistent systems rolling through the Great Plains that will bring the chance for showers and thunderstorms.

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