As residents, farmers and livestock producers buckled down in expectation of the landfall of Hurricane Harvey late Friday, cotton producers, markets and textile industry leaders worldwide pondered the possible impact on global cotton supplies in the weeks ahead as forecasters continue to warn of a possible catastrophic weather event in Texas, the largest producer of cotton in the United States.
Forecasters say the dangers include wind, wave and "monster" downpours that could potentially last a number of days, wreaking havoc and causing substantial loss in property and assets for individuals, businesses and industry spread across a large area of the Texas and Louisiana coastal region.
See also: http://bit.ly/2gchwmA
Farmers and ranchers up and down the Gulf coastline, and inland as far as 200 miles, were frantically making preparations for the arrival of the tropical system, which was expected to bring winds in excess of 125 mph and a storm surge up to 12 feet along the coast with rainfall amounts between 6 to 36 inches over a multi-day period. By Friday afternoon, Harvey had strengthened to a Category 3 major storm, with additional strengthening possible.
[By 9 p.m. Friday the hurricane has been upgraded to Category 4, with winds reaching 156 miles per hour.]
"In Nueces County (Corpus Christi) and points south as far as the [Rio Grande] Valley, most crops, including cotton, have been harvested and we're lucky in that respect," reports Jason Ott, county agent in Nueces County. "We are also lucky that most of our cotton was harvested using picker strippers, and these large round bales they produce were designed to protect cotton from extreme weather."
But Ott warned that while most of the bales have been moved to area gins, there are still a few scattered across the county, and some of them may be subject to flooding because they are in low spots in the field.
National Cotton Council representative Dwight Jackson agrees. He said of most concern are cotton fields located in the Upper Texas coast region.
"They are about 50 percent through the harvesting process. Because of spring rains, they were late getting their crops planted, and as recently as yesterday (Thursday) farmers were harvesting as fast as strippers could roll through the fields," Jackson said.
He says cotton gins up and down the coast have also been busy trying to move cotton to safe places, but admits significant losses could develop if forecasters are right about the volume and duration of heavy rains.
National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters say Hurricane Harvey is most likely to stall as it makes landfall, moving on-shore for an extended period of time before an approaching high pressure system forces the still-active system to retreat, possibly back into the warm waters of the Gulf. They say a second landfall is possible if that should happen.
In an usually dire warning from NWS, if such a scenario becomes a reality, it is possible that some areas affected the worst by Harvey "could be uninhabitable." CBS reported the National Weather Service issued a warning Friday that parts of Texas "may be uninhabitable" for weeks or months after the storm unleashes what could be the fiercest hurricane to hit the United States in almost a dozen years.
Ott and Jackson say also of major concern are livestock producers.
"Producers have been moving cattle to higher ground where possible in preparation of the storm. It may be necessary to toss out hay to encourage herds to reach better grounds to avoid rising water and high winds if possible," he said.
Already cotton markets are responding to the possible damages expected by Harvey. On Thursday cotton rallied on speculation the storm will threaten U.S. crops. On ICE Futures U.S. in New York, cotton for December delivery climbed 1.8 percent to 69.03 cents a pound after earlier reaching the highest since Aug. 10. Louis Rose, director of research and analytics at Rose Commodity Group in Memphis reported Thursday concern is ramping up as Harvey intensifies in the Gulf.
It's not just the agriculture industry expected to be adversely affected by this powerful storm. Already energy companies have temporarily shut down oil and natural gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico as well as production at most refineries in both the Houston area and in Corpus Christi. The Gulf coast region of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas account for over 50 percent of the Nation's refining capacity, and federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico account for about 18 percent of the oil and 5 percent of total natural gas production.
Oil companies warn the availability of gasoline may be limited in the days ahead until production can resume, and officials warn the cost of gasoline at the pump will be going up as well as a result of limited production and availability.