El Niño forecast weaker than earlier predicted
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Though nearly 70 percent of the state remains in drought, crops in many areas are doing well thanks to rains over the last month, according to reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel and the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Many AgriLife Extension county agents reported good or even excellent crop conditions, but the consensus was that more rain was needed soon to maintain growth and meet yield expectations.
“We’ve basically had a lot of good rain in areas that had been particularly hard hit by drought,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist, College Station. “But it takes a lot more than that to actually get them out of drought completely.”
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July tends to be the driest month for most of the state, he said, and currently there are no long-range forecasts predicting anything much different this year.
“For the time being, it looks like the best chances of (summer) rain are going to be in the north and northwest, which means the Panhandle may get some more relief,” he said.
But what’s needed to give real drought relief is enough rain to recharge the subsoil moisture profile and refill reservoirs and lakes, Nielsen-Gammon said. And the best chances of that come from an El Niño this fall.
El Niño refers to warmer-than-average ocean water temperatures off the Pacific coast of South America, he said. A moderate to strong El Niño usually means more moisture to parts of the Southwest and Southeast during the late fall and winter. El Niño, translates as “The Boy Child,” because it peaks about the time of Christmas.
In early May, NASA predicted a very strong El Niño, Nielsen-Gammon said. NASA based the prediction on satellite images showing patterns of temperature and ocean height that were similar to those of May 1997, a year of one of the strongest El Niño oscillations of the 20th century.
“But the recent computer model forecasts are not so enthusiastic,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “More likely, we’ll end up with a weak to moderately strong El Niño.”
This means much of Texas could still have a wetter than normal late fall and winter, just not as wet as it might be with a very strong El Niño, he 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 9 to 16:
Central: Generally, rangeland and pastures, soil moisture and crops were all rated as good. Runoff from rains filled ponds and gave forage grasses a boost. Otherwise, it was hot and windy. Field crops improved dramatically. Some low areas and creeks flooded. The peach harvest was in full swing with good yields reported but smaller-than-average peaches. Deer fawns were numerous, but there was no evidence of the turkey hatch starting. Overall, livestock were in good condition.
Coastal Bend: Despite recent rains, soils were drying out rapidly throughout most of the district. However, crops showed more promise than in several years for many counties. Cotton looked good but will need another rain soon to hold bolls. Corn and most of the grain sorghum were nearly mature, and above-normal yields were expected. Grass was still available for grazing, but its growth slowed as conditions became drier. With rising temperatures, pastures will dry up quickly, due to poor soil moisture. Grain sorghum producers sprayed for sugarcane aphid as the crop began to turn color.
East: The region received from 1.5 to 5.5 inches of rain. Mosquito activity was high after the rains. Area lakes and ponds were full. Wheat harvesting was on hold until fields dried out. Corn looked good. Watermelon quality and yields were also good. The harvesting of blueberries, blackberries and peaches was ongoing. Seasonal fruits and vegetables continued to be harvested and sold at local farmers markets. Forage production was reported as better than usual due to the rain. Producers were spraying to control weeds in pastures. Houston County cotton growers were having a hard time planting due to rain. Livestock were in good condition. Horn fly activity greatly increased. Armyworm infestations were reported. Feral hogs were active.
Far West: The region was hot and windy, with some isolated rains, from 0.25 to 0.75 inch. Cotton growers continued planting, with some replanting necessary due to washouts from earlier rains. Some earlier planted cotton was at the six-leaf stage. Fall onions were being harvested, and pecans were developing. Alfalfa growers finished their third cuttings.
North: The region received from 1 inch to 3 inches of rain, and topsoil moisture throughout the region was rated as adequate. Highs were in the upper 90s. Ponds were full to overflowing. The rain slowed harvesting of wheat in Collin County. The first cuttings of hay were completed with some good quality yields. Corn, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers and cotton were in good condition. Corn in Bowie County was tasseling and beginning to silk. Pastures were looking good. Hopkins and Kaufman counties reported large grasshopper populations. Van Zandt County producers were having problems with summer pasture weeds such as bitterweed, silverleaf nightshade, Carolina horsenettle and goat weed. There were reports of spider mites on tomatoes in Van Zandt County.
Panhandle: Weather conditions were near to slightly below average for most of the week. Thunderstorms brought from 0.2 inch up to 5 inches of rain with 7 inches in some isolated areas. Soil moisture improved, but was short to adequate with most counties reporting adequate. The winter wheat crop was maturing. Much of the small grain acreage was expected to be harvested as hay or silage. Generally, corn was in good shape with the exception of some isolated fields that had hail damage. Cotton planting was nearly completed, though some fields had to be replanted due to weather damage to first plantings. Dry, windy and hot conditions dried soils, and blowing sand damaged some cotton. Pastures greened up considerably. Rangeland and pasture were in very poor to fair condition, with most counties reporting fair to poor.
Rolling Plains: The region received more much-needed rain. One- to 3-inch accumulations were reported. Water levels in some stock tanks rose. The rain slowed the wheat harvest. Grain producers who were trying to get the last of their wheat harvested were getting bogged down in the Blacklands. The rains were very good for corn, grain sorghum and soybeans, as well as for pastures. Pecan and fruit orchards not damaged by the late freeze were in great shape. Livestock also were in good condition. Grasshopper reports picked up along with an increase of cotton fleahoppers and horn flies. The first armyworms were reported by producers. Head moth spraying of sunflowers continued. The first cuttings of hay were nearly finished, with good quality and yields.
South: Highs ranged from the 90s to well over triple digits – especially in the western part of the region. The high temperatures stressed rangeland, pastures and livestock but benefitted some crops. In the northern part of the district, the hot, humid weather and high winds took a toll on soil moisture. Some areas also had light showers. The harvesting of wheat and oats was completed. The potato, hay and watermelon harvests continued. Rangeland and pastures were in fair condition in Frio County, but poor in McMullen County. Supplemental feeding of livestock was at a steady pace in areas running short on forage. Producers were culling cattle and weaning calves early, and cattle body condition scores remained fair. Extremely hot weather in the eastern part of the district dried out soils, rangeland and pastures. However, most pastures remained green. In Jim Wells County, hot dry weather helped crops mature. Fields that received ample moisture in the past still were improving, but those that missed recent rains were beginning to show signs of stress and maturing early. Soil moisture was 50 to 60 percent adequate in Brooks County, 75 to 100 percent adequate in Jim Wells County, and 40 to 60 percent short in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. In the western part of the district, soil moisture ranged from 80 to 100 percent surplus. Bermuda grass hay producers were busy baling hay. Grain sorghum was fully emerged. Farmers were irrigating cotton, corn and sorghum, which were in critical developmental stages. The cabbage and onion harvests were both nearly finished. Supplemental feeding of livestock was light with moderate stocking rates and slow restocking in some areas. In the southern part of the region, cotton was flowering and setting bolls, and sorghum was turning color and maturing. Corn was also doing well. In Starr County, the harvesting of late-season melons continued. Soil moisture throughout the area ranged from 70 to 100 percent down to 50 percent adequate.
South Plains: The region received more rain, with most counties reporting widespread showers. Hail was reported in some areas. Hale County reported 25 percent crop losses from last week’s hail storm. Hockley County reported as much as 20 percent of the cotton crop as damaged or gone. Corn fared better during the storms. Damage reports were still trickling in. Rainfall totals this week ranged from 0.75 inch to 4 inches. Swisher County noted that though the soil moisture profile was improved, there were some drawbacks of the 7 inches of rain received there in the last three weeks, including root rot in early seedling development of cotton. Cotton, corn and sorghum planted after Memorial Day were in better shape than earlier planted crops. Field activities included emergency tillage to prevent blowing sand and replanting acres destroyed by previous storms. Having missed the planting window for cotton, some producers were switching to alternative crops. Livestock were mostly in good condition with no supplemental feeding reported.
Southeast: Soil moisture was reported as being mostly in the adequate range, but there were wide variations, with some counties reporting from 50 percent short to as much as 100 percent adequate. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from fair to excellent, with good ratings being the most common. In Brazos County, the harvest of small grains was completed. Grasshopper numbers there were increasing in pastures and hayfields. In Walker County, most ponds were full, and grasses and gardens were growing well. Some low areas and creeks flooded. In Waller County, the frequent rains made hay harvesting a challenge. Brazoria County pastures and hay fields looked good from the past rains. A few areas were showing signs of armyworms. In Chambers County, rice farmers were rushing to complete planting by June 15 to meet crop insurance deadlines. In Fort Bend County, temperatures ranged from the low 70s to the high 90s, with little to no rain forecast. Galveston County received some heavy thunderstorms, and Orange County received scattered showers.
Southwest: From 1 inch to 5 inches of rain was received, and pastures and row crops were flourishing from the moisture. In some instances, high winds accompanied the rainstorms, snapping trees and damaging buildings and other structures. Local gardeners were having problems with fungus and stunted plant growth. The peach harvest was in full swing with good yields, though fruit size tended to be smaller than average. Producers were taking their first cutting of coastal Bermuda grass hay. Livestock and wildlife may continue to need supplemental feeding as new forage growth from recent rains may be short lived due to wind and high temperatures.
West Central: Days were hot with warm nights. Some areas received rain, hail and damaging winds. The wheat harvest was mostly complete with yield reports of 10 to 20 bushels per acre. Most wheat was grazed out. Grain sorghum was in great condition. Cotton and corn were off to a good start, thanks to good moisture and warm, sunny days. Cotton planting was slowed by recent rains but will continue as soon as conditions allow. Rangeland and pastures rebounded and were in good condition. Livestock were in good condition. Producers slacked off supplemental feeding as pastures greened up. Stock ponds caught some much-needed runoff. Pecan and fruit orchards were in great shape.