Drought outlook: Grim
Wednesday, April 02, 2014 9:02 AM
“Pray for rain.”
Those were the words of local AgriLife Extension agent Scott Russel on the current state of farming in Terry County, currently off to the worst start in memory for moisture levels.
Through the first quarter of the 2014 calendar year, the City of Brownfield has seen just 0.58 inches of precipitation.
That’s less than was received in the opening three months of 2011, the driest year ever recorded locally.
Compounding the problem, the first quarter of 2011 followed a very wet year in 2010, resulting in deep sub-surface moisture available for that planting year.
This year’s dry start is on the heels of an abnormally dry 2013, with the most significant rainfall last December measuring 0.90 inches.
A refreshing, but all too brief shower last week, dropped .48 inches on Brownfield, according to the Texas Tech Mesonet site just south of the city.
“We are extremely dry,” Russell said. “The only place there is any moisture in the ground is under pivots where they have been pre-watering. Things are pretty grim.”
The agent said pre-watering is useful, to a point, but that studies show the water is more wisely used at the time of planting to encourage germination.
“Your better off saving your water until the time you really need it,” he said. “Get the upper two or three inches moist and put the seed in the ground.”
From that point until bloom, irrigation can fill the void as far as moisture is needed, he said.
But once the plants bloom, Mother Nature is the only one who can provide enough water for a crop.
“We have learned over the last several years that you just can’t run a pivot hard enough to make up for rain,” Russell said. “Growers are going to have some very difficult decisions to make very soon. The sub-surface moisture is not there, so they have to decide how much to invest in planting a crop with no promising news in short-term or long-term forecasts. Right now, everyone is just holding their breath. All we can do is just pray for rain.”
Amounts vary throughout the area, but no locale on the South Plains has received even an inch thus far in the year.
Seagraves has seen 0.71 inches of moisture, while Seminole has recorded only 0.16 inches.
In Lamesa, gauges have registered 0.96 inches, with half that amount -- 0.48 inches -- recorded in Tahoka.
Lubbock’s total rainfall for 2014 is only 0.32 inches through the end of March.
Precipitation totals around the Texas Panhandle, South Plains, Permian Basin and eastern half of New Mexico don’t differ much, and possibly won’t, according to the lasted drought projections released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) late last month.
“Drought is expected to persist or intensify in California, Nevada, most of interior Oregon and Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, southeast Colorado, western Oklahoma, and most of west Texas because of below-average rain or snow this winter and the onset of the dry season in April,” said a NOAA press release over their spring/early summer drought prediction released March 20 on the NOAA website. “If the drought persists as predicted in the West and Southwest, it will likely result in an active wildfire season, continued stress on crops and livestock due to low water levels, and an expansion of water conservation measures.”
With the drought conditions, recent dust storms rolling across the area also prompted some concern about a return to Dust Bowl days, a threat that Texas State Climatologist Dr. John Neilsen-Gammon says is unlikely, at least for now.
“Over the past few weeks, the dust seems to be mainly picked up from southeastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico, so we’re not having a problem with widespread soil loss in Texas so far, but it’s something that could happen if conditions don’t allow for spring green-up, which they haven’t yet,” said Neilsen-Gammon in a recent article published by Texas AgriLife News publication.
Having received under an inch of precipitation thus far this calendar year, the entirety of Terry County is under a “severe drought” designation according to the March 25 drought report issued by the U.S Drought monitor.
Much of the South Plains is under “severe drought” designation by the multi-resource agency, which includes the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, National Drought Mitigation Center and NOAA.
Drought designations range from no drought, to “abnormally dry,” to “moderate drought,” “severe drought,” “extreme drought,” and “exceptional drought.”
In total, over 85-percent of the State of Texas remains under some form of drought designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
There hasn’t been green-up of grasses because December through February have been the tenth driest on record in the last decade, Nielsen-Gammon said.
And March didn’t turn that trend around.
“The last time it was drier (the first quarter of the year) was in 1996, which was the start of this string of droughts that we’ve been having,” he said.
The other issue that continues to hover critically on the horizon is a possible battle between towns and agriculture over extremely limited reservoir levels, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“Reservoir levels are lower this time of year than they have been previously during this drought,” he said. “If we don’t see summer months of more than average rainfall, we will likely see conflicts between agricultural and municipal/industrial uses.”
On a good news note, according to the Texas AgriLife News article, the Southern and Southeastern parts of the state are doing much better, he said.
And parts of West Texas have gotten some decent rains during the past year.
“But most of the Panhandle has averaged less than 50 percent of normal for the last three years,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Considering the current drought conditions, Terry County has implemented outdoor burning restrictions.
According to a Monday report from the Texas Forest Service, 84 Texas counties, all primarily west of the Interstate 35 corridor, are under outdoor burn ban restrictions. Immediately surrounding Terry County, Yoakum, Lynn, Garza, Howard, Andrews and Winkler counties are all under outdoor burn bans.