State Climatologist optimistic about less severe drought for next two decades
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – As far as drought is concerned, for the next 20 to 30 years, State Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, College Station, said he is optimistic.
“And then I turn seriously pessimistic,” he said.
While reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel show an improvement in rainfall during the last six months, Nielsen-Gammon said rainfall patterns are only one of the major factors in drought.
The other factor is evaporation from increased temperature, he said. Global warming has meant an average temperature increase in Texas of about 1.5 degrees since the 1970s. While this may not seem like much of an increase to most people, it’s enough to increase the evapotranspiration of plants and loss of surface water by several percent.
“Any incremental increase of severity of the drought starts having a huge impact,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “It doesn’t matter at all during normal conditions, but when you’re in an extreme drought, it can make the difference between making it through the drought and not making it through.”
Despite the rising temperatures, Nielsen-Gammon remained optimistic for agriculture during the next couple of decades because of an expected increase in rainfall compared to the last 10 or 15 years, he said.
“Over the long-term, yes, there will be a trend to greater evaporation,” he said. “But then there are also short-term trends on top of that long-term trend. Based on how the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans operate, and how they influence our weather, over the next 20 to 25 years, we are probably going to see an improvement in drought conditions, mainly from an increase in rainfall amounts. This is because the two oceans have been working against us for the past decade or decade and half, and that trend tends to flip back and forth every 20 years or so.”
Nielsen-Gammon noted there is another side effect of global warming that rules in favor of crop production. Plants open up stomata to take in carbon dioxide, their basic building material, and to cool themselves by evapotranspiration. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, their pores don’t need to open as much to get the carbon dioxide they need. As a result, they lose less water through transpiration and tend to become more drought-tolerant. When there is ample water, the plants can grow faster, though that growth may be limited by things such as nutrient availability.
In addition to his duties as state climatologist and professor of meteorology at Texas A&M University, Nielsen-Gammon also contributes to a blog on global warming at http://climatechangenationalforum.org.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: All counties reporting had good soil moisture, with rangeland, pasture and crop conditions rated as fair. The region received bountiful moisture in the forms of sleet, rain and snow. More winter precipitation was expected the middle of the first week of March. Travel was hazardous. Producers were waiting on drier and warmer conditions to start planting row crops. While the moisture halted field preparations, it helped maintain soil moisture and stock-tank levels. Livestock were generally in good condition, with producers supplying extra hay and protein.
Coastal Bend: Conditions continued to be cool and wet in most areas, which delayed or slowed planting for many farmers. Recent rains increased soil moisture and improved rangeland and pasture conditions. Many producers were waiting for warmer soils before planting grain sorghum and cotton. Although temperatures were somewhat cool, many did start planting corn and planned to continue unless the land becomes too wet. A few farmers are able to fertilize, spray for weeds and do preplant fertilizer applications. Winter wheat was in good condition, with little foliar disease observed so far.
East: Winter weather took a toll on agriculture. Most counties had freezing temperatures along with rain, sleet and snow. Wood County received as much as 5 inches of snow. All counties had at least adequate subsoil and topsoil moisture, with many reporting surplus levels. However, saturated soils made it difficult for row crop and truck farmers to enter the fields. Clover growth was at a standstill because of the colder temperatures, but ryegrass and small grains were beginning to grow. Cattle lost some body condition, but were generally rated as fair as the spring calving season progressed. Cattle producers were feeding hay and supplements. Hay supplies were fair to good. Feeder calf prices were lower, while the prices of bred cows, cow/calf pairs and bulls remained firm. Pruning of fruit trees continued. Upshur County continued feral hog and gopher control.
Far West: Pasture and rangeland ratings varied widely, from very poor to excellent, with poor being the most common rating. Topsoil moisture varied widely too, from 90 percent very short to 100 percent fair, with adequate being the most common rating. Subsoil moisture varied too, with adequate being most common. Pecan growers were cleaning up orchards, and hedging and pruning. Cotton growers were preparing land for planting. Alfalfa was coming out of dormancy and under irrigation. Limited irrigation water in some areas was affecting planting decisions. Weeds were abundant in the pastures due to the fall and winter precipitation. Terrell County was under a burn ban.
North: Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate to surplus. Winter accumulations of snow and sleet improved moisture conditions, pastures and meadows. Stock ponds were almost full, and lake levels began to rise. Winter forage production improved. Fieldwork, however, was halted by the wet conditions. Hay feeding and supplemental feeding was necessary for all livestock. Several days of cold, snow and ice were hard on livestock, particularly on cows that were calving. Wild hogs continued to cause damage.
Panhandle: Most of the region began the week with a wintery mix of snow, sleet and ice. Temperatures were below-average for most of the week, but later dipping down in the single digits. The weekend brought more snow and ice. Most of Collingsworth County received 2 to 3 inches of snow. Dallam County received 4 to 6 inches of snow in separate events through the week. Deaf Smith County producers received freezing drizzle and 3 to 7 inches of snow. Hansford County received about 6 inches of snow and ice. Hemphill County reported 3 to 7 inches of snow. Warm temperatures on March 1 melted snow and ice, providing soil moisture. Soil moisture continued to vary county to county, with most reporting short to adequate. The wintery weather stopped most farmers from preparing fields for planting. Ranchers were busy feeding cattle and breaking ice so cattle could drink. Those with cows that were calving lost some newborns to the freezing weather. Winter wheat, both irrigated and dryland, was in good shape. The additional moisture from the snowmelt was expected to help the wheat crop well into the spring, raising the potential for good yields this summer. Stocker cattle were being placed out on wheat, with some acres probably grazed out rather than harvested as grain. Some producers were moving stocker cattle off of wheat, but the big runs were yet to start. Producers were still debating what to plant this spring. Ochiltree County reported that though wheat was much improved thanks to a light snow, subsoil moisture was still very poor. Despite the cold weather, tumbleweeds were already springing up.
Rolling Plains: The region received another snowfall, with accumulations ranging from 1.5 to 8 inches. The snow blanketed most of the region, supplying good amounts of moisture. Accompanying the snow were extremely cold temperatures with wind chills dipping into the single digits. The moisture from the snow was welcome as soil moisture was low. Even with the moisture from the snow, subsoil moisture was still low. However, producers hoped the snow will give pasture and rangeland grasses, and crops the moisture it needs to begin this year. Cattle remained in fair to good condition, and livestock producers were supplementing cattle with hay and protein cubes. Peaches were in tight-bud stage. Stock tank and lake levels remained low.
South: Most of the region had colder temperatures and light rains. A cold front made its way through the region, dropping temperatures into the 30s and 40s, with highs reaching into the 60s. Wet conditions halted most field activities. In the northern part of the region, wheat under irrigation was in fair condition and potatoes emerged in good condition. Oats and winter wheat were in fair condition. Cattle body condition scores remained fair, with many herds calving. Producers were supplying supplemental feed at a steady pace. Soil moisture was 100 percent adequate in Atascosa County, 60 to 75 percent adequate in McMullen County, 100 percent short in Frio County and 50 to 60 percent short in LaSalle County. In the eastern part of the region, cooler temperatures and windy conditions with light rain kept most producers out of the fields. Not much acreage was expected to be dedicated to corn and sunflowers in Jim Wells County this year, but most producers throughout have indicated good progress in planting the crops. In the eastern part of the region, winter oats were in good condition. Ranchers throughout the area increased supplemental feeding because of the low temperatures. The cool and dry conditions provided excellent growing conditions for onions, carrots, spinach and small grains. Spinach and cabbage harvesting continued. Soil moisture conditions were mostly adequate in Dimmit, Maverick and Webb counties, and 80 to 100 percent short in Zapata and Zavala counties. In the southern part of the region, harvesting of sugarcane and vegetables continued, but planting was delayed due to wet fields and cold weather. In Starr County, row crops were progressing well, and farmers were preparing to harvest onions. Soil moisture was 100 percent adequate in Hidalgo County, 60 to 80 percent short in Starr County and 70 to 80 percent surplus in Willacy County.
South Plains: Two strong cold fronts brought
extremely low temperatures and snow throughout the region. Snow amounts ranged from 1 to 6 inches throughout the area, with the most snow falling in the northern and eastern counties. Freezing rain, drizzle and freezing fog accompanied the snow. Winter wheat generally improved with the moisture, but there may have been some freeze damage. However, producers were grateful for the moisture but were concerned about being able to get pre-plant herbicides applied in a timely manner. Extremely low wind chills stressed livestock. Rangeland and pastures were in mostly fair condition. The previous week’s moisture followed by some warm days benefited cool-season grasses. During the cold weather, ranchers were providing extra supplemental feed to cattle.
Southeast: Soil moisture varied widely but was mostly in the adequate to surplus range. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, mostly from fair to good, with good ratings being the most common. Walker County vegetable growers were off to a good start with protected plants stored in greenhouses as they waited on warm weather. Cool-season forage clovers started growing. In Brazos County, several nights of freezing temperatures slowed cool-season forage growth. Montgomery County had persistent light rain and cold temperatures. Chambers County farmers were anticipating warmer temperatures so they could begin planting rice. Cold weather and forecasted rain delayed the planting of grain sorghum and corn in Fort Bend County. Livestock were in fair to good condition.
Southwest: There was cold and misty weather throughout the region, with some areas receiving showers that were expected to benefit spring planting. Some early corn was planted. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. Lambing and kidding were underway. Rangeland and pastures looked good.
West Central: Days and nights were extremely cold as an arctic cold front passed through the region. Freezing temperatures and snow and ice accumulations were reported in all areas throughout the seven-day period. There was little to no field activity due to the inclement conditions. Wheat was in mostly good condition and was expected to benefit from the recent moisture. There were some reports of rust on wheat. Rangeland and pastures remained in very good condition. With the arrival of warm weather, a good spring green-up of forbs and cool-season grasses was expected. The icy, cold weather has hard on livestock, and all producers were increasing supplemental feeding of livestock. Some producers had to haul water to livestock. Stock-tank water levels continued to drop. Most ponds and stock tanks needed a hard rain with lots of run-off. Cattle prices continued to hold steady.