Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Drought Update: Another Dry Spell for Texas, But Enjoy the ‘Cold Front’

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Agrilife

Cotton fields in bloom this year in Wharton County in Southeast Texas.

While the major metropolitan areas of the state have come back quite a ways from last year’s record drought, the same isn’t true for many farmers and ranchers in the rural parts of Texas. The latest drought monitor map shows that West Texas and the panhandle are still suffering, with much of the region in drought conditions ranging from ‘severe’ to ‘exceptional.’

Rangeland and pastures in the Panhandle are in “very poor to poor condition,” according to the latest crop and weather report from the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service. It’s not all bad news. This year’s cotton crop is doing well in parts of the state like the Gulf Coast, and worse in others, like the Coastal Bend area. Other areas of the state are seeing good yields with alfafa. Winter wheat is being planted. Suffice to say, Texas’ nearly $8 billion in agricultural losses last year won’t be repeated in 2012.

One of the main culprits of last year’s devastating drought was the La Nina weather pattern. That’s when warmer-than-normal surface ocean temperatures cause higher temperatures and less precipitation in Texas. After back-to-back La Nina’s, Texas was literally left in the dust last year.

But the counterpart to La Nina, El Nino, is on its way. And typically that means cooler temperatures and higher precipitation. 

The current forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that any day now, El Nino will be in effect. But before you get your hopes too high, keep in mind that NOAA is predicting a weak El Nino — albeit one that could last into February.

That could be why NOAA isn’t predicting for drought conditions to improve in the parts of Texas that need it most anytime soon. Here’s the lastest drought forecast for the U.S. over the next three months:

There’s still a chance that a drought-buster of a tropical storm could help some parts of the state, and temperatures are already dropping during a ‘cold front’ that brought 100-plus days back into the mid-nineties. North winds blustered their way through Texas over the weekend, bringing near-record lows to Central Texas and a welcome respite from an extended summer.

If the NOAA predictions have you down, you could always turn to the “Useful, With a Pleasant Degree of Humor” Farmer’s Almanac for 2013. They’re predicting a cold, wet winter for Texas this year, with precipitation near or above normal, and a cool, wet spring and summer for Texas next year. “Most of the areas suffering from drought will receive sufficient winter precipitation to bring improvement,” the Almanac says.


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