Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Travel in Time to Post-Drought Texas!

J.D. Hancock via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/

Jump into your time machine and take a trip to post-drought Texas.

Years from now, when Texans talk about 2011 they’ll probably remember one thing above everything else: the weather.

The drought , the extreme heat and the fires that came with it have made this an historic year for Texas. And it will leave a mark that will be felt long after the drought is over.

How will it be felt? Let’s take a hypothetical ride to the grocery store.

Imagine this. It’s the year 2014. The Texas drought is thankfully over. And you’re in your car driving to the supermarket.

On your way you realize the view out your windshield isn’t quite as green as it once was. There are stretches of dead trees, their bark slowly peeling off. The ground is littered with fallen limbs.

Then, you remember the words of Jim Carse, an Urban Forester from the Texas Forest Service. Carse said the effect of drought can take years to become apparent and trees, stressed in the current drought, will be dying off even after it’s over.

“You’ll see the signs of broken limbs and falling limbs and bark falling off, and something called hypoxolin canker which is kind of a white sluffy kind of fungus on the bark of a tree. If you start to see those kind of things the tree is definitely a risk,” he told StateImpact, Texas.

Depressed by the view, you focus on your driving. Back when the state was still in drought you noticed cracks opening up in the asphalt. But that was a couple a couple years ago and the road still seems to be getting even bumpier. How could this be?

The you remember the words of John Hurt, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Transportation.

“What happens is that you get water into these cracks, then during the winter it will freeze an expand and then you get potholes,” Hurt told StateImpact, Texas.

Photo by flickr user Coltera/Creative Commons

Potholes along a cemetery road in Dallas

Hurt says crews are working to seal up cracks caused by the drought, but there’s no way to permanently reverse damage to roads. That could make for larger repair bills in years to come, and even the need to replace some roadways.

Finally, you’re at the grocery store.  You were going to pick up a steak for dinner, (apologies to readers who don’t eat meat), but you’re shocked by the prices. It’s been raining again, but it seems like the cost of beef is still going up!

In the next aisle over you see Pete Bonds, Vice President of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He’s happy to explain those high prices.

“When it does rain, we ranchers will start retaining heifers to build these cow numbers back. There’s going to be a time there when there’s actually going to be less beef on the market,” says Bonds.

The reason an end to the drought means even less beef in the market for a year or so is this: When ranchers are confident that they can support larger herds, they’ll stop slaughtering the limited cattle they have remaining. They’ll keep some of those cows to breed. So a heifer that would have ended up on the dinner plate won’t.

In Bond’s words, the heifer is “not going through the beef system to produce beef. She is going to go through the ranching type system to produce calves.”

So there you have it: just three ways the drought will still be felt even years from now. But if the future seems a bit bleak, consider this: our scenario assumes the drought will be over. Could be, it’s 2014 and it’s still with us.


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