Drought in Texas, Plains May Persist Until 2012

11 08 2011

As written by Paul J. Weber and published by the Associated Press on August 8, 2012:

The drought that has turned Texas and parts of the Plains into a parched moonscape of cracked earth could persist into next year, prolonging the misery of farmers and ranchers who have endured a dry spell that is now expected to be the state’s worst since the 1950s.

 The U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that the La Nina weather phenomenon blamed for the crippling lack of rain might be back soon, just two months after the last La Nina ended. If that happens, the drought would almost certainly extend into 2012.

 The extreme dry conditions have been made worse by week after week of triple-digit temperatures, which have caused reservoirs to evaporate, crops to wither and animals and fish to die off by the thousands.

 “The suffering and desperate need for relief grows with the rising temperatures and record-breaking heat that continue to scorch Texas with each passing day,” state Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples said.

Even the state’s feral hogs are hiding from the heat, postponing a new reality TV show about Texans gunning them down from helicopters.  Texas saw less than an inch of rain statewide in July, and more than 90 percent of the state is already in the two most extreme stages of drought.

“Anything below 2 to 3 inches of rainfall would be a fly-on-the-windshield type thing as far as improvement,” said Victor Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service. “It wouldn’t reverse this continued death spiral we’re on.”

 Also Thursday, the state climatologist declared this the most severe one-year drought on record in Texas. Officials expected to declare soon that it has become the worst drought since the 1950s.

 In Dallas, county officials say at least 13 people have died from the heat this summer. The high temperature Thursday was expected to hit 109 degrees, which would be a record for the date.

Statewide demand for power was expected to approach the maximum Thursday for a fourth straight day. Some large industrial plants were forced off the overburdened electric grid, requiring them to shut down or rely on their own power reserves. And for the first time this summer, utilities warned residential customers of the potential for rolling outages.

Beleaguered farms and dead pastures have been hurt the most. The agriculture industry, which accounts for nearly 9 percent of the Texas economy, may be headed for the biggest single-year losses ever — potentially as high as $8 billion, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

The La Nina watch issued by the Climate Prediction Center warned that the phenomenon marked by a cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean could soon redevelop. La Nina typically results in less rain for southern states, and it’s blamed for drought conditions in Oklahoma and New Mexico, too.

A La Nina watch means conditions are favorable for La Nina to return within the next six months. But Texas will probably know as early as October or November, said Mike Halpert, a deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center.  By that time, the driest places could be out of water.

In the town of Robert Lee, a rural farming community of about 1,000 in the middle of West Texas, people are worried that Lake E.V. Spence could dry up by winter and leave the town without any water.  Some residents wonder if the National Guard can haul in water. Making matters worse, a pipe that was probably busted by the dry, shifting ground began gushing water the town cannot spare. City workers scrambled Thursday to fix it.

Closer to Austin, the Llano River trickled at a rate about 95 percent slower than normal. The city of Llano already has contacted bottled water distributors about supplying residents with bottles for cooking and drinking if the river flow stops entirely, which could happen in a matter of weeks.

“It’s amazing we’re still getting what water we are,” City Manager Finley deGraffenried said. “We’re running 107 degrees yesterday and the day before. It’s unbearable.”  Texas received no significant rain in April or May, which are typically the state’s wettest months.

Lake levels are so low that earlier this week, a massive chunk of the space shuttle Columbia that broke apart over Texas in 2003 was found poking out of the receded waters of Lake Nacogdoches.

About 70 percent of Texas rangeland and pastures are classified as being in very poor condition, which means there has been complete or near-complete crop failure or there’s no food for grazing livestock.

One of the most memorable droughts occurred in the 1950s, when a decade of below-average rainfall and long dry spells actually changed the state’s demographics, with many families fleeing parched farms for cities. Experts say the current drought is nowhere near so severe, but if it continues, the scarcity of water will be painful.

In the mid-1950s, Texas had a population of 7 million.  “We got a state with 25 million now. You can see the impact would be significantly greater if we had a drought that the 1950s had,” said Travis Miller, a member of the state’s Drought Preparedness Council and AgriLife Extension Service leader.

One upside is that second La Ninas are historically weaker than the first, Halpert said. The formation of La Nina also doesn’t guarantee there won’t be significant rain. The pattern often makes for a more active hurricane season, which could lash Texas with a soaking storm. Forecasters said Thursday they still see a busy hurricane season ahead, calling for 14 to 19 tropical storms.

 “If I was in Texas, this is not great news,” Halpert said. “But it’s not the end of the world.”

Texas drought surpasses 1918 as State’s 2nd-worst on record; 1950s’ drought still most severe

10 08 2011

The Associate Press reported the following on August 9, 2011:

Texas is officially in the midst of its second-worst drought on record.  National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy said Tuesday that this year’s drought has now surpassed one that ended in 1918 as the second-driest period in the state.

Texas’ most severe overall drought remains one that persisted from 1950-1957. The state climatologist last week declared the current drought the state’s most severe one-year drought on record.  Texas saw less than an inch of rain statewide in July, and more than 90 percent of the state already is in the two most extreme stages of drought. It has endured its driest 10 consecutive months on record.   A newly updated weather map shows the drought holding firm through at least October.

Michael Norris, file/AP Bottom of Pond near Amarillo Texas


Update – 2011 Hurricane Season

10 08 2011

I know a lot of you are wishing for a Tropical Storm or a Hurricane.  The thought is that will provide us much needed rain and cool the temperatures.  That might be the case, but wishing for a tropical system to make a direct hit on the Houston-Galveston area sounds a bit dicey to me.  We are now about halfway through the 2011 Hurricane Season, and except for some excitement caused by Tropical Storm Don, not much has developed out in the Atlantic so far. 

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through its Climate Prediction Center, has recently published its 2011 Updated Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook.   As issued on August 4th, a summary of the Outlook is found below:

NOAA’s updated 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook calls for an 85% chance of an above-normal season, and a 15% chance of a near-normal season. There is no expectation for a below-normal season. Therefore, 2011 is expected to become the twelfth above-normal season since 1995. This updated outlook reflects a higher likelihood of an above-normal season compared to the pre-season outlook issued in May, which indicated a 65% chance of an above-normal season. See NOAA definitions of above-, near-, and below-normal seasons. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The higher confidence of an above-normal season is based on several factors. First, as predicted in May, conducive atmospheric and oceanic conditions are now in place over the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea (called the Main Development Region- MDR). Second, these conditions are expected to persist throughout the peak months (August-October) of the hurricane season in association with the tropical multi-decadal signal, which has contributed to the high activity era that began in 1995. Third sea-surface temperatures in the MDR are the third warmest on record, and models predict a continuation of very warm SSTs through the hurricane season. Fourth, there is a possibility of La Niña re-developing.

Historically, this combination of conditions produces an active Atlantic hurricane season. In addition, several dynamical model forecasts of the number and strength of tropical cyclones indicate that an above normal season is likely.

The 2011 season is expected to be comparable to a number of active seasons since 1995. We estimate a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity during 2011:

  • 14-19 Named Storms
  • 7-10 Hurricanes
  • 3-5 Major Hurricanes

The official NHC seasonal averages are 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. To date, five tropical storms (Tropical Storms Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, and Emily) have formed in the Atlantic basin. Significant activity is expected for the remainder of the season, with an additional 9-14 named storms likely, of which 7-10 are expected to become hurricanes with 3-5 reaching major hurricane status.

An interesting way to view the Texas Drought graphically….

9 08 2011

YouTube:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58S0cmdfoKg

(Make sure you turn up your volume knob so you can hear the accompanying music!)

Thanks to Lach Mullen of the Fort Bend County Office of Emegency Management, please enjoy an animation of the KBDI Drought Index for the State of Texas from January 1, 2009 to August 8, 2011. 

Images are from the Texas Forest Service and the Texas A&M University’s Texas Weather Connection.  Link: http://twc.tamu.edu/drought/kbdi

Drought Conditions Worsen in Fort Bend County

9 08 2011

There has been little or no rain in Fort Bend County in recent weeks.  The little bit of showers that occurred about a week ago are now a distant memory.  The KBDI level is now well over 700 indicating that we are experiencing “absolutely dry conditions.”  And so is the rest of our region and the rest of the State of Texas.  As of today, 10 of the 13 counties that make up the Houston-Galveston Area Council have KBDI levels over 700; and two other counties are fast approaching that level.

The dry conditions are only exacerbated by the daily Heat Advisories in the County.  Afternoon temperatures will likely exceed  triple digits again for what seems like about two weeks in a row; and the upper level high pressure will continue bring well above normal temperatures and heat index values between 105 degrees and 110 degrees.  So far this week, the electrical grid seems to be handling the load, but when temperatures are this high, a strain is put on electrical demands across the area. 

Last week, rolling blackouts were barely avoided when electrical usage soared to new record heights across the State of Texas.  Temperatures are remaining very warm at night so nobody gets much relief from the heat when outside.

Cattle at Mason Briscoe's Ranch in Rosenberg

There have been some heat related deaths in the State, but fortunately not in Fort Bend County yet.  Problems persist for those in the agricultural and farming trades.  As reported by Jeff Osborne in the Fort Bend Herald on July 30th, the heat and lack of rain is devastating the ranching industry.  He writes:

Rain Hardly Helps Drought

Dave Scott of Richmond, former president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said this year’s drought has caused nothing less than a disaster to plague area farmers and ranchers.

Echoing the comments of many others in the agriculture industry, Scott said this year’s drought is the worst he’s ever seen.

“When you have people like Hilmar Moore selling cattle that says it all,” Scott said.

And the bad news just keeps coming.

“The farmers are probably hit even worse than the cattle people,” he said. “If it stays this way, a lot of people are going to struggle and suffer.”

Scott said there’s very little hay on the market in Texas. And what little hay is available is very expensive.

“Hay that sold for $40 a roll last year costs $70 to $75 right now,” he said.

“They’re shipping some hay out of Arkansas (to Texas ranchers), but the problem with those big round bales is that you have to invest so much money in freight costs. It’s very, very expensive.”

Scott said he can’t think of anyone raising cattle who hasn’t had to sell at least some of their herd.

“We’ve had to cull 2 to 2 1/2 times more than we usually sell at auction,” he said.

“In North and Central Texas, they’re telling people not to bring their cattle to sell. They already have more than they can handle. Fortunately, we haven’t gotten quite that bad around here yet.”

Scott said recent rains might help some farmers and ranchers, “but we’re almost down to the bare dirt. The grass is gone. So people are having to lighten up on (the number of cattle they have).”

Mason Briscoe, who owns Fort Bend County Feed & Farm Supply in Rosenberg, also raises cattle.

“This drought has hurt us in a whole lot of different ways,” he said. “One of the main things is I had to sell calves 2 or 3 months early this summer. “There’s just very little grass.

“The price of cotton seed hulls has gone up a lot, and they don’t even have any available until they can harvest and process the cotton. All the feed has gone sky high, too. It’s rough.”

He said the cost of range cubes for cattle has increased $3 to $4 “and nobody can afford to feed, and now’s the time we need to feed the most, because we haven’t got any grass.”

Scott said there’s little farmers and ranchers can do, except cut their losses and hold on for better days – if possible.

“Everybody is living day-to-day waiting for the next big rain,” he said. “And even then, we wonder if it’s going to be enough.”

Pecan Grove to get New Fire Station

9 08 2011

As published in Ultimate Fort Bend on July 28, 2011, Scott Gorden writes:

The Pecan Grove Volunteer Fire Department broke ground last week on a second fire station that will help firefighters and EMS reach the Pecan Grove subdivision’s northern end and Waterside Estates more quickly.

The station, at 3700 Farmer Rd., will measure about 1,500 square feet, have three bays for fire trucks, and house a total of six firefighters and EMS workers, at a construction budget of about $250,000.

“[Our first] station is on the far south end of our service area [at 727 Pitts Road], and 29 years ago, we only went three-fourths of a mile north,” says Chief Paul LeDoux, who also serves part-time as a captain with the Houston Fire Department. “Unfortunately, Pecan Grove kept growing to the north.”

The department now covers 6.5 miles and about 19,000 people in an unincorporated area of Fort Bend County between Richmond and Sugar Land. A home’s proximity to a fire station affects insurance rates, not to mention how quickly firefighters can get there in an emergency.

“The goal for this year was to bring 90 percent of our territory into a less-than-three-minute response time,” LeDoux says.

LeDoux says the department would like to have the station up and running by November, “if it could just stay dry for another three months.”

The department has also ordered a new pumper truck to be housed in the new station, and wants to add at least 10 volunteers to its current roster of 23 volunteers and 18 paid staff.

“We’re going to run a campaign up in Waterside Estates to try to attract some more volunteers out of that area,” LeDoux says.

A groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, July 21 included LeDoux, several of the department’s other staff and board members, and Fort Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers.