Last week was a good week for West Texas precipitation. Unfortunately, the state’s first extended hot, dry spell of the summer, expected this week, will negate most of the gains from two or three rainfall events.
“King and Dickens counties were the two big winners last week,” says Climatologist Victor Murphyat the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southern Region Office in Ft. Worth. Much of King County received 3 inches of rainfall and about one-fourth of Dickens County received 3 inches from several rain events last week, Murphy says.
“Generally, rainfall was pretty widespread and averaged from 1 inch to 2 inches across the entire region. It was the wettest week we’ve had (in West Texas) in a long time. We may see some improvement in the drought monitor later this week.”
But probably not for long.
“Last week’s rain (is) followed this week by the first significant hot, dry weather of the year across the entire state.”
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“We do not think enough rain fell to justify improvement in the Lubbock National Weather Service (NWS) area,” says Ron McQueen of the Lubbock Forecast Office. “We actually did fairly well the past week, in general 1 inch to 2 inches—up to an inch above normal for some areas.”
And some areas got more than others. “A little spot near Jayton continues to perform even better. This is the only ‘normal’ period of precipitation we have seen this spring.”
More rain may follow. “There appears to be some hope for showers Friday and into the next weekend.” And then more dry weather comes in. “Otherwise, the upper ridge will dominate this week and should redevelop next week with more hot and dry weather,” McQueen says.
No reservoir recharge likely
Reservoir recharge will show little, if any, gains from those rain events. “The moisture went straight into the ground,” Murphy says. Recharging reservoirs, which have been drawn down drastically over the last two to three years, will take much more than a few rains to begin the refilling process. Murphy says rainfall would need to approach 200 percent of normal to refill reservoirs in a year.
He also notes that Texas has been following a “one step forward, two steps back,” process for the past year or more. “We may get a wet week but we can’t sustain it,” he says. “A wet period is followed by hot, dry conditions” that prevent moisture from saturating the soil and running off into reservoirs.
Murphy says Lake Bridgeport, in Wise County just West of Fort Worth, is down to 51 percent capacity. In the Wichita Falls area, three lakes combined are at 30.2 percent capacity. Individually, Arrowhead is at 38 percent; Lake Camp is at 21 percent, and Kickapoo is at 38 percent. And that follows a fairly good week of rainfall.
Lake Texoma is not especially far from those lakes but is at 96 percent capacity, Murphy says. He adds that lake levels point out the “haves and the have-nots” for rainfall. “West of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is “where the drought commences,” he says. From Denton County east, conditions are much better and those improvements should be reflected in the next drought monitor update.
2011 put us behind
Drought has become something of a self-sustaining condition. “We got so far behind in 2011 that we are having a hard time clawing our way out of drought,” Murphy says. The drought has persisted for 32 months, back into the fall of 2010. “We’re now into our 33rdmonth of drought.”
Central and West Texas are not alone in their agony. Most of the state has been suffering under some phase of drought for more than two years. A line from Houston to Gainesville and east may be the exception, but Murphy cautions that even though that section is in fairly good shape now, a month or two of drought could bring it back into a serious drought status.
“And Fort Worth is teetering on the edge of the drought line.”
Last week’s precipitation also brought some damage to West Texas cropland. Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist Calvin Trostle, out of the Lubbock Research and Extension Center, says he’s received photos of damage on corn and sorghum in northern Lamb, and Parmer Counties. “The fortunate thing is that the growing point was still low enough on the plant that I think the plants will recover to less than 10 percent yield loss, though the current foliage loss on plants about 16 inches tall was one-half to two-thirds.”
Replanting may be an iffy proposition, Trostle says.
“I had a conversation with sorghum breeder Dr. Gary Peterson. We concluded that even if you were ready to plant as soon as soil dries out, our threshold at this point to try to start a dryland crop—unless crop insurance dictates the planting date like cotton, and producers use the full-coverage crop insurance date as a target for planting—we would have to have 2 inches of rain at a minimum. Most of the region did not get that, and most didn’t get 1 inch.”
He says scattered rains fell for about three days last week but totals were variable. “In the South Plains region, 24 of 36 locations, based on the West Texas Mesonet, received less than an inch. That’s good for some—and many others did get one-half to three-fourths. These rains are not a game changer except for a very few sites.” Trostle says with the hot, dry weather expected this week, most of those smaller water accumulations will be gone shortly.
Variable across state
Across the state, conditions are quite variable, according to a weekly Texas AgriLife crop and weather report compiled by media specialist Robert Burns. “Despite rains — substantial in some cases — drought still had a hold on much of Texas,” Burns reported. “According to the June 4 U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 87 percent of the state was still suffering from moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional drought.”
The Panhandle, parts of the South Plains, South and the Southwest regions continue to report the worst drought conditions.
And recent rain “was by no means equally distributed,” Burns reports. “In the Panhandle, for example, agents reported the rain in some counties measured in inches, while others got no more than a sprinkle. For example, J.D. Ragland, AgriLife Extension agent for Randall County, Amarillo, reported there was ‘no significant accumulation.’ Even irrigated corn and cotton are beginning to suffer, and no dryland will be planted until some kind of rainfall occurs,” he said.
High temperatures have also hampered crop growth. A high of 106 degrees recorded June 4 in Lubbock County was followed by a line of severe thunderstorms and extremely high, damaging winds, according to Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension agent. “Those storms brought as much as 2 inches of rain, which helped crops, but winds as high as 84 mph damaged structures, toppled trees and overturned many center pivots.”
By contrast, the thunderstorms moving through East Texas brought only rain and greening up grass and promoting hay growth, says Chad Gulley, AgriLife Extension agent for Smith County, Tyler. In much of West Texas, rains did little more than settle the dust, says Norman Fryar, AgriLife Extension agent in Pecos County.
Many South Texas counties reported rain since June 4, but George Gonzales, AgriLife Extension agent for Webb County in Laredo, says with temperatures in the 100- to 103-degree range all week long, “evaporation rates were very high.”
Burns reminds farmers and ranchers that more information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.