‘Death ridge’ moves westward; high – and low – temperature records broken
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Heat-wise, Texas had a rollercoaster ride the last days of June and the first week of July.
During the last few days of June, temperatures were extremely high in much of the state, stressing row crops, pastures, rangeland and livestock, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
In some areas, historical records were broken the last week of June. In San Antonio, a 108-degree day was the highest since the 1800s, when records began to be taken, said Aaron Treadway, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in New Braunfels. But during the first days of July, it was record lows that were broken.
“It’s been pretty much a rollercoaster ride of extreme temperatures,” Treadway said. “It’ll warm back up as we get into the middle of July, and we’ll see temperatures back in the century mark.”
Last week, the same high-pressure zone that is blocking cooler air from the north and causing extremely hot weather on the West Coast, was behind the extreme highs in Texas, Treadway noted.
The summer high-pressure zone is what meteorologists call the “death ridge,” he said, as it not only blocks cool fronts but moisture as well.
Death-ridge conditions are not that much out of the ordinary; they just came a little earlier this year, and will likely return mid-July, he said.
The week or so of extremely high, near-record breaking temperatures combined with drought conditions during the last half of June were hard on all crops, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head.
“Particularly, we had a lot of corn that was just finishing grain-fill here in Central Texas, so I imagine we’ll finish off with lower test weights, a little less starch packed in those kernels, so we’ll have lower yields and test weights,” Miller said.
In much of the Panhandle and parts of the South Plains, the high temperatures and drought were hard on cotton, he said.
“There has been a series of showers go through there,” he said. “If you were where it dropped those 2 inches, you were in somewhat better shape. But if you were missed, the extremely high temperatures and short soil moisture are really challenging you to keep up with irrigation. Virtually, no place in the High Plains do we have full irrigation; we just have supplemental irrigation, and if we don’t get rain to go with it, you can’t keep up.”
There were also places where high winds blew out young cotton plants, and other instances where there was hail damage, Miller noted.
“Latest estimates indicate that there are 13 percent less cotton acres planted this year, with a lot being replanted with sorghum and alternative crops such as sunflower, sesame and guar,” Miller said.
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/ .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of June 25 – July 1:
Central: The region remained hot and dry with very little rain. Stock-water tank levels in some areas were very low. The harvesting of small grains was completed, with wheat yields reported to be fair to good. The potential for good corn yields was favorable. Hay was becoming scarce, and prices began to reflect it. Cotton irrigation was in full swing but stopped on corn to let the crop dry down. Rangeland and pastures were in dire need of rain. Grasshoppers remained a major issue.
Coastal Bend: Oppressively hot, dry weather settled over the area, causing a rapid decrease of soil moisture, and stressing crops and livestock. Some counties were harvesting corn and sorghum as the triple-digit temperatures sped up the maturation of both crops. Ranchers were still feeding range cubes and hay as pastures deteriorated because of the ongoing drought. There was some rain reported over the weekend, but none was forecast for the first week of July.
East: Only a few counties reported light scattered showers. High temperatures and high winds continued to deplete soil moisture. Parts of Houston County entered severe drought conditions. Farm-pond levels were dropping, and hay production slowed due to lack of moisture. Farmers in some areas were controlling weeds and brush in pastures by shredding or spraying. They were also looking for ways to control grasshoppers in pastures, lawns and hay fields. The fruit and vegetable harvests continued. Cattle remained in good condition though large numbers of horn flies were reported.
Far West: Triple-digit temperatures and high winds were the norm, with a few sporadic thunderstorms bringing from a trace to 2 inches of rain in some areas. Irrigated cotton was doing fairly well, but dryland fields were not it that good of shape. Ranchers continued supplemental feeding of livestock, with cattle consuming large amounts of minerals.
North: Soil-moisture levels were adequate throughout most of June, but winds and hot temperatures brought levels down to short in some counties. There were also reports of stock-water tanks drying up. However, summer grasses remained green due to the early summer rains. Bermuda grass and summer annual hay yields also continued to be very good. Livestock were doing well, and spring-born calves were in great condition. Almost all wheat was harvested and with good yields reported. Sorghum was in good condition, with some fields heading out. Corn was also doing well and in the dough stage. Sunflowers were in good condition. From 70 to 95 percent of oats had been harvested. Grasshoppers remained a heavy presence in some areas, as were feral hogs.
Panhandle: The region had extremely hot days and nights with high winds. Most areas had 100-degree and higher days and higher than normal temperatures in the evening too. Evening thunderstorms rolled through late in the week, bringing from a trace to 2 inches of rain accompanied by hail in some instances. Cotton producers were struggling to get their crop up and growing, but heat, winds and hail were wreaking havoc. Total cotton acres will be down this year. Irrigated corn was doing well, but the high temperatures were already challenging producers to supply enough water to the crop. Grain sorghum was also doing well, with many fields still in the juvenile stage, but will need water soon if the crop is to continue to progress. Insect pressure remained light, with scattered reports of spider mites in some of the stressed cornfields. The wheat harvest continued. Cow/calf producers who held on through the drought were selling out. Runs at the local livestock commission were higher than last year or previous weeks and included a significantly larger number of cows and young calves. The hot weather also adversely affected feeder and dairy production.
Rolling Plains: Rains brought much-needed drought-relief to parts of the region. King County received 8 to 10 inches during the month of June. Counties in the northwest part of the region were green for the first time in a couple of years. However, in other parts of the district, high winds and 100-plus degree temperatures were rapidly taking a toll on crops and rangeland. Most of the green grass that grew after earlier rains was either grazed down or drying out. Farmers were planting guar because of favorable prices but without rain, it was considered unlikely the crop will establish an acceptable stand. Grasshoppers were out in abundance, and farmers were spraying. Cows remained in fairly good condition. Stock-water tank and lake levels continued to drop from lack of rain. Burn bans were instituted in several counties.
South: Rain came to a few counties. Atascosa and La Salle counties received rain, while Frio and McMullen did not. Brooks County received some light, scattered showers. The rest of the region remained dry. Soil moisture conditions were short to very short in the eastern and southern parts of the region, adequate to short in the western parts of the region, and adequate in the northern parts of the region. Generally, soil-moisture levels dropped due to triple-digit temperatures and persistent high winds. Rangeland and pastures were beginning to decline throughout most of the region as temperatures soared into the triple digits, and strong winds were constant. In Frio County, peanut planting neared completion, corn was being harvested and sorghum was turning color. Jim Wells County producers were harvesting hay. Many row-crop fields were being zeroed out by insurance adjusters and plowed under. Zavala County cotton was progressing well, corn was quickly maturing or already drying down, melons were being harvested, while the onion harvest wound down. In Hidalgo County, grain sorghum and corn harvesting was very active. Starr County row-crop producers continued with grain sorghum harvesting, while the harvesting of cantaloupes, watermelons and hay continued.
South Plains: Temperatures were at or above the 100-degree mark for five days of the week. Moisture that was received was quickly lost with the high temperatures and evapotranspiration rates. Irrigated cotton was in fair to good condition, with growth stages ranging from just emerging to one-third square. Much dryland cotton was released by crop-insurance agents. Producers were replanting zeroed-out cotton fields with sorghum and other crops, but some fields lacked enough moisture for replanting. Corn was in good condition and starting to tassel. Peanuts were in fair to good condition; most fields started to bloom. Sunflowers were blooming too, and early planted sorghum neared heading. Pastures were in fair to good condition, having showed improvement from previous rains.
Southeast: Many parts of the area had several days with temperatures above 100 degrees. Despite the dry weather, Madison County cotton was all planted and the conditions were good. In Liberty County, rice was in good condition. In Burleson County, the hot, dry and windy conditions were quickly drying out pastures, and grasshopper infestations were high. Corn was in good condition, as were soybeans. Orange County received scattered showers. Rangeland and pastures were in poor to good condition.
Southwest: The region was extremely hot and dry with record highs. A few counties received showers during the last weekend of June. Some crops were showing signs of drought stress. In other areas, grain sorghum and corn were in good condition, and harvested hay still showed good quality and yields. Cotton was making good progress. The sunflower harvest was in progress. Some sesame was up and growing. Pastures continued to improve where there was rain, but more moisture was needed. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed.
West Central: Hot, dry, windy conditions prevailed. Temperatures were above 100 degrees for several days, which along with the winds depleted soil moisture. A few counties reported good rains for June, but most remained very dry. Spring-planted crops needed rain soon to make it through the season. Producers continued cutting and baling hay. Grasshopper numbers kept increasing. Rangeland and pasture conditions were rapidly deteriorating. Drying up stock-water tanks were a big concern. Livestock remained in good condition, with some producers hauling water to them. Stocker cattle were moved to feedlots or sold in direct markets.