Drought and Fire Danger Continues in Fort Bend County—but rain may be on its way

19 06 2011

As you can tell from the chart below, the KBDI continues to increase in our region.  As I blogged about previously, the higher that number, the more chance for wildfires.   KBDI levels and its relationship to expected fire potential are reflected in the following table:

KBDI = 0 – 200: Soil moisture and large class fuel moistures are high and do not contribute much to fire intensity. Typical of spring dormant season following winter precipitation.

KBDI = 200 – 400: Typical of late spring, early growing season. Lower litter and duff layers are drying and beginning to contribute to fire intensity

KBDI = 400 – 600: Typical of late summer, early fall. Lower litter and duff layers contribute to fire intensity and will burn actively.

KBDI = 600 – 800: Often associated with more severe drought with increased wildfire occurrence. Intense, deep-burning fires with significant downwind spotting can be expected. Live fuels can also be expected to burn actively at these levels.

Here are the numbers for our region.  Notice the steady increase in the KBDI level for all counties within our region.  It remains to be seen if our area will see any relief. 

COUNTY

6/13

6/14

6/15

6/16

6/17

6/18

6/19

Austin

708

712

715

718

721

725

728

Brazoria

740

742

745

747

750

752

754

Chambers

715

719

722

726

729

732

735

Colorado

696

700

703

707

710

714

718

Fort Bend

699

703

706

710

714

717

720

Galveston

672

676

680

684

688

691

695

Harris

725

728

731

734

737

740

742

Liberty

716

720

724

728

732

736

739

Matagorda

659

663

667

671

675

679

683

Montgomery 

736

739

742

745

748

750

753

Walker

683

688

694

699

704

709

714

Waller

698

701

705

709

712

716

719

Wharton

667

671

675

679

683

687

691

Weather forecasters are giving us all some hope for rain in the coming week.  There is a disturbance moving to the west-northwest to northwest in to the Bay of Campeche and into the western Gulf of Mexico over the next 3-5 days.  Forecasters are indicating that the system could provide shower and thunderstorm activity along the northwestern Gulf Coast by the middle to the end of this week.  Keep your fingers crossed!

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Drought devastating to Fort Bend County cattle ranchers

18 06 2011

Cynthia Cisneros, KTRK-Houston, reported about the economic affects of the drought in our area.  Here is the transcript from her June 16th news report:

Ranchers in Fort Bend County say they are having to take extreme measures to deal with the extreme drought.  It’s not just homeowners who are having to watch their grass turn brown because of the lack of rainfall. Local ranchers say they seeing the same thing as well. But for them, the grass is food for cattle and without it, their herds can suffer.

What’s happening at the T&M Ranch outside of Richmond is happening to cattle ranchers all across Texas.  The cows have been fussing all morning. They are mooing, says the rancher, because he’s thinning his herd by removing the calves from their mothers. It’s an extreme decision Tim Wiethat made to save the rest of his herd. There’s just not enough grass, and the pastures have dried up from the drought.

“We’d normally ship these calves in October and hopefully they’d weigh 650 to 700 pounds. Right now, they’re weighing 400 pounds. We’re getting them off the cattle to try and get the cattle to breed back. Basically, we’re running out of grass,” said Wiethat.

He’s one of many ranchers in Ft. Bend Co. culling their herds. The usually lush pastures are brown and dusty, leaving smaller areas for forage and a smaller chance for profit this year.  Tom Dompier has been moving his cows from one pasture to another, going wherever there is grass.

“There is a sense of impending doom. In order for the cattle to survive, I’m going to have to sell the cattle. We don’t get enough rain, get enough feed — I don’t want to sit here and watch them die,” said Dompier.  He says he has plenty of well water pumped to troughs, but it is his hay barn that worries him. His winter supply is a resource Dompier says he’s forced to use now.

“This is left over from last year, and I’ve got a few bale in here from this year, and that’s all I’ve got right now,” said Dompier. “If I start using it this summer, I’m not going to have any hay for the winter.”  That is a dilemma, the USDA says, that is happening to cattle ranchers all across the state.





Local farmers, ranchers in Fort Bend County are feeling effect of hot weather

17 06 2011

Good article from Cory Stottlemyer, yourfortbendnews.com, posted today.  The article gives insight to how life in Fort Bend County is affected by day after day of extreme summer-like conditions that have arrived early this year.

No matter how long a person has been a resident of the greater-Houston area, it is nearly impossible to become adjusted to the extremely intense summer heat and humidity. No matter how much area residents prepare themselves or falsely believe they have become accustomed to the heat, summer in Fort Bend hits hard and moves in quickly, before some residents have time to register spring or forget about the winter holidays.

This year, however, the usual summer thunderstorms that typically offer a brief moment of relief from the heat are absent this year. The weather is no longer approached with mild humor or annoyance. For many local farmers, gardeners and cattle ranchers, this year’s drought has hit them in the pocket book and slowed down production.

Vendors at the Wild West Farmers Market in Richmond admitted to being affected by the drought to varying degrees. Ranging from large cattle vendors to retirees who sell produce as a hobby, the drought has impacted each of them in some way.

“Well, the drought has really affected me with production. Every speck of water that it’s taken to grow these crops, I put it on there. No rain whatsoever for this spring,” said Teddy Triplett, a retired heavy equipment operator who grows and sells produce at the Wild West Market every Sunday. “And of course we always like to rotate when so many rows are producing. We try to plant some more. We haven’t been able to do that.”

Despite frequently experiencing several weeks-long droughts in the past, Triplett, who owns a two-acre plot in Manvel, did not hesitate to call this year’s the worst one ever. With Harris County only receiving 5.68 inches the entire year as of Monday, his assumption is not far from true. The lack of rain has not put his hobby to an end, but it has not made things easy for him.

“I use the drip irrigation. If it wasn’t for that I’d be out of business,” Triplett said. “Anytime you run a pump, you know, it costs you. Not only does it cost you in the production, but your crops don’t produce as much. One good rain beats all the irrigation you could do.”

Waller-based Texas grassfeed beef sellers Don Hill and Hansjörg Abt offered a different perspective to the drought affecting the area. Their company is based around their cattle eating grass, which has quickly stopped growing because of the drought, forcing them to purchase grass feed.

“We have to supplement their diet with organic hay. That has been really expensive with the demand of hay right now,” Hill said. Abt and Hill also said that they have had to work with a smaller herd but are still putting in the same amount of work. As Hill explained, “it’s the same input but half of the output.”

Not everyone has been affected negatively, however. Pam Nawara, who owns more than five acres of farmland in Rosenberg, has an irrigation system set up to two lakes on her property, which she said has helped her farm.

“We got one lake that’s 20 feet, and it’s not real low yet. We have a small lake and then a bigger lake. We’re drawing water out of the bigger lake because the smaller one has less water in it,” Nawara said.

“Probably in July, if it hasn’t rained then we’ll probably have to draw out of a well.”

Unlike some of her fellow vendors, Nawara’s produce is still growing strong and on schedule, partly because she grows them in above-ground black boxes. It seems almost fitting that her station at the Wild West Farmers Market is located next to the owners of 444 Triple Grow, an organic gardening soil company, who has also learned how to combat the drought.

Owners of the company, who sell their soil by the bucket, are trying to advertise their product to gardeners and farmers struggling with the current dry weather.

“The type of soil that we use for keeping in moisture – we use a Canadian Sphagnum moss – and it is very superior material to take the moisture and just stays,” said Chou Symmes, one of the company owners. “When you talk about drought, this is the answer for that.”

Despite only selling their product commercially for two months, the Tomball-based business has sparked some interest with those looking for any way to improve their crop’s production. Symmes’ husband Edgar Poe Symmes said that while the drought might be harming others, it’s been a blessing of sorts to him and his company.

“From an economic standpoint, this soil consumes less water and is less labor-intensive,” Edgar Poe Symmes, Chou’s husband, said. “We’ve been very fortunate to be able to capitalize and help people suffering from the drought.”





More About the Keetch-Byram Drought Index…..

16 06 2011

In my last post, I explained KBDI; the Keetch-Byram Drought Index.  Today, I am posting information about what the KBDI levels are in the counties in the Houston-Galveston area.  Any number over 600 indicates a severe drought with increased possibility of wildfire occurrence.  As you can readily tell, the levels in our 13 county region are largely over 700.  In fact, the 14 day forecast indicates that all 13 counties will soon be over the 700 level. 

As the KBDI levels increase, it becomes more and more prudent for local governments to give consideration to restrictions on the use of fireworks.  Limitations on fireworks describe as “rockets on sticks” and “missiles with fins” have now become commonplace in our area.  Many counties in Central and Western Texas have completely banned the use of fireworks.  These counties include Bexar, El Paso, Hays, Lubbock, Potter, Randall, Travis, and Williamson.

 

KBDI LEVELS IN H-GAC COUNTIES

COUNTY

6/13

6/14

6/15

6/16

Austin

708

712

715

718

Brazoria

740

742

745

747

Chambers

715

719

722

726

Colorado

696

700

703

707

Fort Bend

699

703

706

710

Galveston

672

676

680

684

Harris

725

728

731

734

Liberty

716

720

724

728

Matagorda

659

663

667

671

Montgomery 

736

739

742

745

Walker

683

688

694

699

Waller

698

701

705

709

Wharton

667

671

675

679

 





Fireworks Banned in Unincorporated Fort Bend County

14 06 2011

Fort Bend County Commissioners passed an order prohibiting the sale and use of restricted fireworks June 14 in court.  The order was necessary given the extreme dry conditions across the County.  Though some citizens may feel this is unfair restriction that will reduce their enjoyment of the July 4th holiday, I think it is very important to realize why a restriction was placed on the sale and use of aerial-type fireworks.

The order prohibits certain fireworks from being sold and/or used in the unincorporated areas of Fort Bend County and was initiated from the drought conditions that are being experienced across the region.  The order specifically prohibits the sale or use of “sky rockets with sticks” and “missiles with fins” from being sold or used. It has been determined that the restrictions are needed for these types of fireworks due to the lack of rainfall over an extended period of time and as a method for mitigating the threat of dangerous fires.

How dry is Fort Bend County?  Before you answer that question, it is necessary to understand how “dryness” is measured.  A standard measure used is the Keetch-Byram Drought Index.  This Index, commonly referred to as “KBDI,” was created by John L. Keetch and George Byram as a way of measuring specifically for fire potential.  It is a number representing the net effect of evapotranspiration and precipitation in producing cumulative moisture deficiency in upper soil layer.  It is a continuous Index relating the the flammability of organic material in the ground.

The KBDI attempts to measure the amount of precipitation necessary to return the soil to full field capacity. It is a closed system ranging from 0 to 800 units and represents a moisture regime from 0 to 8 inches of water through the soil layer. At 8 inches of water, the KBDI assumes saturation. Zero is the point of no moisture deficiency and 800 is the maximum drought that is possible. At any point along the scale, the index number indicates the amount of net rainfall that is required to reduce the index to zero, or saturation.

KBDI levels and its relationship to expected fire potential are reflected in the following table:

 • KBDI = 0 – 200: Soil moisture and large class fuel moistures are high and do not contribute much to fire intensity. Typical of spring dormant seasonfollowing winter precipitation.

 • KBDI = 200 – 400: Typical of late spring, early growing season. Lower litter and duff layers are drying and beginning to contribute to fire intensity

KBDI = 400 – 600: Typical of late summer, early fall. Lower litter and duff layers contribute to fire intensity and will burn actively.

KBDI = 600 – 800: Often associated with more severe drought with increased wildfire occurrence. Intense, deep-burning fires with significant downwind spotting can be expected. Live fuels can also be expected to burn actively at these levels.

So, now that you understand KBDI—- Fort Bend County’s level on the KBDI is currently 703.  This number is rising; and with little or no chance of significant rain in near future, the number will likely continue to rise.  Just for comparison, here is the KBDI level for some of our neighboring counties:  Austin–712; Brazoria–742; Harris–728; Waller–701; and Wharton–671.  Perhaps you now understand why local government officials in our area are taking steps to limit use of fireworks during the upcoming holiday season.





Animal Rescue in Fort Bend County

13 06 2011

As published by KHOU.com, June 13, 2011:

A 1,300-pound bull was rescued from the Brazos River, just south of Fulshear, Sunday afternoon.  The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, Fulshear/Simonton Fire Department and the Houston SPCA assisted in the effort.

The bull had gone into the river and was trying to get back to the bank when he got stuck in chest-deep, muddy waters. Rescuers, along with some ranch hands employed by the bull’s owner, were able to save the animal after a six-hour ordeal.

It wasn’t an easy effort – the river bank sloped down at a 60-degree angle, and to get to the bull, crews had to make their way through 300 feet of thick underbrush in temperatures approaching 100 degrees.  The SPCA said it was all worth it, though, because as of Monday morning, the bull was reintroduced to his herd and doing fine.





Fort Bend County Health & Human Services provides heat safety tips

9 06 2011

No rain in our area.  Hot windy conditions on a daily basis.  Drought conditions persisting week after week.  Not the normal May and June we are accustomed to in Fort Bend County.  Summer has started early in Fort Bend County in 2011.  And looking at the forecast for the next week—- no relief in sight.  However, below, please review the hints below, provided by our County public health officials, on how to better cope with the extreme heat conditions facing us.

With extreme heat arriving early this summer, Fort Bend County Health & Human Services would like to remind everyone to take precautions and be safe outdoors.  Symptoms of heat related illness include high body temperature, confusion, nausea, and headache.  If you experience these symptoms move to a cool area, take a cool shower, and drink plenty of water.  Know the illnesses caused by extreme heat:

• Heat Stroke-the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.

• Heat Exhaustion-Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating.

• Heat Syncope- fainting (syncope) episode or dizziness that usually occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position.

• Heat Rash-skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather.

To prevent extreme heat illness use these tips:

• Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Start drinking fluids 30 minutes before going out.

• Plan strenuous outdoor activity for early morning or evening when the temperature is lower.

• Take frequent breaks when working outside.

• Wear sunscreen SPF 15 or higher, wide-brimmed hats and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.

• Check with a doctor about the effects of sun and heat when taking prescription drugs, especially diuretics or antihistamines.

• Dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing. Shade their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella.

• Check frequently on the elderly and others who made need help.

• Never leave anyone or pets in a closed, parked vehicle in hot weather.