New York Times:Heavy Rains End TX Drought (Posted By Mike Mecke)
Heavy rains since September have replenished reservoirs, filled stock tanks and quenched huge expanses of parched earth across Central and South Texas, where state officials estimate that farmers and ranchers suffered losses of around $4 billion.
John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, said that while some pockets along the Gulf Coast and in the Panhandle remained drier than usual, most of the state had recovered.
“The back of the drought is broken,” Mr. Nielsen-Gammon said. “It’s still lingering in a few areas, but there aren’t any places right now feeling acute drought.”
The rains came too late for many ranchers in South Texas, who were forced to send to market most of their cattle, including breeding stock. Cotton farmers suffered, too. In Kleberg County, the entire cotton crop failed for the first time since 1904. The yields in two other nearby counties were barely 5 percent of normal.
“Nothing grew, zero,” said Jon Whatley, who grows cotton and sorghum in Odem. Mr. Whatley said the drought seemed worse than an infamous dry spell in the 1950s that his father had lived through.
“In the 1950s, they were always able to get the crop up and growing — the yields weren’t good — whereas in ’09, we couldn’t get it growing at all,” he said.
State officials say the period from September 2008 to September 2009 was the driest on record in the state.
Mr. Nielson-Gammon said the drought owed much to the two winters in which surface water temperatures along the equator in the Pacific Ocean were below normal, a phenomenon known as La Niña. In addition, the tropical storms that raked the Texas coast in 2008 dropped almost no rain inland.
But this winter the Pacific is unusually warm because of the pattern known as El Niño, which generally brings wet weather to Texas, he said. The central region around Austin and San Antonio received 8 to 12 inches more rain than normal from August to October. Farther south, around Corpus Christi, a wave of storms in November and December dropped up to 10 inches more rain than usual, he said.
Austin Brown II, a third-generation rancher in Beeville, said he was so elated to see the rainfall this autumn that he sent out a Christmas card with a picture of his family standing in front of a full farm pond that had been desiccated the summer before.
But Mr. Brown said he and other ranchers were still in dire straits. He was forced to cull 75 percent of his cattle and, with beef prices remaining low because of the national recession, he was unsure when or if he would be able to rebuild.
“It was very devastating, and one that we may not ever get over because beef prices are terribly low right now,” he said. “I’m not anxious to rebuild. By the summer we should know if we are really out of the drought.”
Matt Huie, another Beeville farmer and rancher, planted 1,000 acres of cotton last spring, but the seeds failed to sprout. Now, Mr. Huie said, the ground is moist enough to engender hope of a good crop this year.
“It’s rained more in the last 90 days than it did in all of 2008 combined,” he said. “After two lousy years in a row — one really, really bad — this year had better be a home run, or there are going to be a lot of people out of business here in the ag industry.”