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In the liveoak country near Leakey pastures are normally green and lush. The drought has burned everything until summer pasture looks like winter. Livestock mercifully have been moved off this pasture.  Photo by Gary Cutrer. By Gary Cutrer
Published August 2011

Texas bakes under a drought that has depleted or hurt surface and ground water supplies, exacerbated spring wild fires and sent hundreds of thousands of head of livestock to market. Many ranchers have had to sell all or most of their stock because what little grazing was left from last year’s rains and sporadic moisture earlier this year is now gone. A few holdouts hang on, feeding their core herds and flocks with price-inflated feed. Only far east Texas escapes the killer “dry spell” that some say is the worst they’ve ever seen.

Ranchers pray for a hurricane—not to damage coastal communities, but to whip needed moisture upstate and water the parched pastures. Weather news is important news, even more so now than usual, and all eyes scan the newspaper, TV weather reports and the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center websites.

Why don’t the clouds come? Global weather patterns and phenomena, La Nina among others, have anchored a high pressure ridge over Texas like a devil’s hot footprint. Promising moisture coming in from the west rides the jetstream up and around the devil’s foot and ends up dumping rain on the already soaked Mississippi watershed.

Fortunately, the livestock sell-off coincides with record high lamb and kid prices as well as terrific feeder cattle prices at auction. But those prices will likely remain strong next spring when there will be few producers with the livestock available to send to market.

Consumers will likely see a very short dip in beef prices as the fat steer inventory fills up, then a long period of inflated prices when the regional shortage of feeder cattle hits home and cattle feeders scramble to fill feedlots next year, and the year after.

Despite his dislike of, or, perhaps, competition with Gov. Rick Perry, President Obama and his administration have declared Texas a disaster area which could clear the channels for some monetary relief, provided the federal government has money to offer. 

With no water from the skies, cities and towns relying on surface streams and reservoirs are watching as their levels decline. Some shallow underground aquifers, such as the Lipan Aquifer around San Angelo, are drying up and leaving water wells pumping air.

Some say this drought is as bad or worse than the extended drought Texas experienced in the 1950s. Official word is that it’s Texas’ third worst recorded drought. What do they say about Texas weather? If you don’t like it . . . wait a while. Let’s just hope (and pray) it’s a short wait, and “a while” brings the kind of moisture that hangs around and hits the ground.

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