Texas remains ground-zero in an historic and extreme drought that now stretches from Arizona to Florida. Recent rains that fell in north Texas and the Panhandle region provided only a slight reprieve from a drought that officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now claim is the worst in 45 years. Other weather watchers say the previous four-month period was the driest since the 1930s, and March the driest in Texas since 1895.
Comparing the current drought to the seven-year drought in the 1950s, Texas residents say this year’s dry spell has sapped the rangeland faster in its early stages, setting up ideal conditions for wild fire. Many areas reported average to above average rainfall last July, but then the rains stopped.
Meteorologists say the El Niño pattern was active in West Central Texas during the first half of last year, producing average rainfall. The El Niño phenomenon transitioned into La Niña late last summer and strengthened through the fall.
Since January, wildfires have burned about 1.5 million acres in Texas, and the latest forecasts suggest the fire danger may last for some time. The NOAA says the drought will continue, and even intensify in some regions, until midsummer.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service says that despite recent rains in some areas, most of the state – and large parts of its cotton-growing regions – remained under severe to extreme drought. That means there hasn’t been enough moisture for cotton farmers to plant their crop. Additionally, cotton that was planted earlier and has sprouted is now being “sandblasted” by high winds.
Up to 10 percent of the wheat in the Panhandle and West Texas that normally would be left for grain is now either being grazed out, or being destroyed with hopes of planting cotton if wetter conditions occur.
In addition to grazing losses, cattlemen are also concerned about rangeland stock tanks that are either dry or soon-to-be dry.
While Texas has gathered the abundance of headlines in recent weeks, weather forecasters say other states in the south may soon experience similar drought devastation. Stream flow, soil moisture and groundwater supplies are below normal in several southern states.