Large areas of Texas remain in drought after four years of below average rains. But farmers in south and southeast Texas have delayed planting corn and now soybean as a result of heavy rains and cool weather conditions that have been persistent throughout the winter.
While the delay in planting is becoming critical to farmers who are trying to decide whether to plant corn, grain sorghum or cotton, the problem is expected to ratchet up starting late today (March 20) when a low pressure system from the west collides with a cold front entering the state from the northwest bringing potentially heavy rains and flooding to fields in south central Texas.
Those fields are already inundated from storms that ravaged much of the state last weekend (March 13-14).
National Weather Service forecasters in San Antonio say heavy rains could arrive in the Central Hill Country early today and will be followed with heavier storms late into the night and again on Saturday.
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Parts of central, south and southeast Texas, including all coastal areas, could receive from 1 to 5 inches with isolated heavier amounts possible. Rain showers and storms will reach the coast by late this afternoon and are expected to intensify into the night and continue into Saturday.
"The heaviest rainfall is anticipated Friday evening through Saturday. Previous rainfall across the region has increased soil moisture significantly and additional rainfall could lead to flooding, especially in low lying areas," forecasters said.
A Flash Flood watch issued late Thursday across a broad area including 45 Texas counties expires late Saturday evening when conditions are expected to improve.
Farmers across most of the watch area have had limited access to their fields in recent weeks causing many to be as much as three to four weeks behind normal planting schedules.
NWS climatologists say the late development of an El Niño system has been causing the formation of low pressure systems off the Mexican Pacific coast. Riding on the winds of a sub-tropical jet from the west and with a steady inflow of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico streaming inland, these storms have dropped significant rainfall across parts of the state over the last 10 days.
Nueces County Agent Jason Ott reports deep soil moisture levels are the highest they have been in the Coastal Bend area in over four years. Hidalgo County Agent Brad Cowan agrees soil moisture levels are good across the Lower Rio Grande Valley as well, but says steady rains throughout winter have caused problems for sugarcane and citrus growers. Wet fields are causing late planting problems for onion producers.
Most county agents in costal regions of the state are reporting farmers have been delayed by steady and often heavy rains and say an extended period of sunshine is needed to dry out fields enough for farmers to get seed in the ground.
Some corn has been planted in parts of Deep South Texas and more recently in the lower Coastal Bend, and a few sorghum fields in the Valley were planted during short breaks between rain showers over the last two weeks. But concern is growing for some farmers who fear more planting delays could force them to consider switching from corn to grain sorghum or even from sorghum to cotton.
Meanwhile, cotton growers fear possible delays in planting schedules could cause a late harvest that could conflict with a state-mandated Sept. 1 boll weevil and cotton stalk destruction deadline. It could also cause producers problems related to crop insurance.
Weather forecasters say exceptionally active periods of rain in the fall and winter have helped to ease drought conditions in parts of Texas, especially in eastern areas of the state. While East Texas has benefited the most from consistent rains since last July, all coastal areas and much of south central Texas have seen increasing soil moisture profiles since early fall last year as well.
In Corpus Christi, 5.35 inches of rain has fallen so far in the month of March, and nearly 9 inches of rain so far this year. In the fall, from September through December last year, Corpus Christi recorded nearly 15 inches of rain. This year alone Nueces County is over 4 inches above average rainfall for the winter season.
With standing water in many fields and two to five inches of rain expected this weekend, farmers say even if the rains stop completely by Sunday, it could still be more than a week before fields would dry enough for planting operations to resume.