Calling it untimely, a growing number of Coastal Bend cotton producers are "pulling out the stops" and accelerating harvest efforts in hopes of taking advantage of dry days, or at times dry hours, before the next scattered rain or thunderstorm rolls across the region.
While most farmers agree rain is needed since substantial late spring/early summer rain showers all but ceased by mid-to-late June, few are wanting that rain to fall until cotton harvest is complete.
"It's been perfect weather in recent weeks for maturing cotton," said Herman Mauer of Kleberg County, who owns a contract harvesting operation serving much of Coastal Texas.
"But things have gotten fairly dry across much of the area over the last couple of months except for a few spotty showers, and a lot of folks are looking for some much needed fall rains. But not until they can get their cotton stripped and moved to [the] gin."
After a slow start to the season because of flooded fields and torrential cloudbursts throughout April and May, cotton producers welcomed a break from the rain in June through August. Heat units began to build by early August, and as Mauer put it, "cotton jumped ahead" in the maturing process.
"I would have told you a month ago we wouldn't be hitting the peak of harvest until nearly the end of September, but we're running day and night trying to stay ahead of this weather because I would say 70 to 80 percent of the crop is ready for baling," he said.
Perfect conditions until last week
While defoliation began as much as two weeks ago, harvest conditions were nearly perfect until last week. Moist Gulf air, held offshore most of the summer by prevailing west-southwest winds, finally re-established a more seasonal flow on shore this week, mixing with unstable air aloft that has helped to create frequent thunderstorms to develop across coastal Texas.
While heaviest rains have been limited to areas north of Victoria, spotty rains and moderate thunderstorms have been forming sporadically over parts of the Costal Bend for the last week or so, and the forecast is calling for more throughout the weekend.
Chief Meteorologist Dale Nelson with KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi says conditions are ripe for "on-again, off-again storms" that drop as little as a trace of rain up to two inches on some fields while completely jumping over others leaving them high and dry.
Mauer estimates over 60 percent of cotton in southern Nueces and northern Kleberg Counties has been harvested as of mid-week.
"We were working on a field this morning with three strippers when a storm blew in off the coast, and it rained so hard and so fast we had to stop working. But we moved to another area about four miles down the highway and managed to strip 100 acres while it rained all around us. We got occasional sprinkles throughout the afternoon, and it didn't slow us down and we managed to make good progress."
Nelson says the atmosphere across the Coastal Bend remains unstable and is predicting an increasing chance for rain showers and thunderstorms in the days ahead.
Intensification of rainfall
"We're going see some intensification of widespread rain through most of the weekend as conditions for rain have improved. We should see a little improvement on Sunday but the forecast for now through Sept 24 looks like heavy rains could be developing just ahead," he warns.
"Looking at the computer model-generated rainfall totals between now and Sept. 24, except for Florida and the Pacific northwest, and I don't think there is anyplace in the U.S. that is expected to be wetter than the Texas Coast, including the Corpus Christi area."
The forecast is not favoring farmers who are desperately trying to start or finish harvest operations in the Coastal Bend, but a drive across Nueces County mid-week (Sept. 8) revealed most fields had been prepared for and are awaiting harvest and most had either been harvested or were ready for harvest.
In San Patricio and Aransas Counties, cotton harvest conditions are a little behind those in Nueces County, but many fields have been harvested and operations are still underway.
But farmers say they are concerned that heavy rains in the days ahead could not only disrupt harvest operations but could create additional problems if fields become too wet to work for an undetermined amount of time.
For more on Texas harvest conditions, visit http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Texas/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/