New York Times:Heavy Rains End TX Drought (Posted By Mike Mecke)

(Boy, now doesn’t that give you relief – when the NYT [or Wall Street] report our Texas drought is officially over!!!   Maybe they think the Wall St. bailout helped Texas ranchers and farmers?   Gulp – someone(s) have not seriously studied long-term Southwestern droughts – I remember a decent year or two during the 50′s I believe – and this has only been 3-5 good MONTHS of late!  We’ll see this next spring and summer – hope they are right.  Stay tuned and report back to us on your status or opinions please.   Another Drought of Record note  at bottom.   Full article below.   Mike)
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Published: January 8, 2010
HOUSTON — The worst drought to strike Texas in the last 50 years has broken, ending a year-and-a-half dry spell in which farmers and ranchers suffered devastating losses, climatologists and agronomists said this week.

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.”

Rachel Marcus contributed reporting.

———————————– SEE  NOTE  BELOW ———————————

NOTE:  NOAA records for San Antonio give an all time rainfall AVERAGE from 1871-2009, as 29.06 inches/yr.   The Median, usually a more accurate number, is 28.53 inches for the entire period.  What you often hear or read in local news reports is the latest rolling 30 year average, which for 1971-2000 was a 32.92 inch average – about 3 inches a year higher than long-term.   I guess that higher number is used as it sounds better to Chambers of Commerce, new prospects and developers?  They maybe don’t think about “sustainable water resources” as much?  The longer the data record is, say 1871 to 2009 - the more accurate it tends to be.  128 years in the history of the earth is a blink of the eyes.  

Here are SA’s rainfall records for 1947 to 1957:

1947 = 17.32″                                        1952 = 26.24″

1948 = 23.64″                                         1953 = 17.56″

1949 = 40.81″                                         1954 = 13.70″

1950 = 19.86″                                          1955 = 18.18″

1951 = 24.44″                                           1956 = 14.31″

                                          1957 = 48.83″

Drought” is often computed as a year in which only 75% – or lessof the annual average precipitation is receivedUsing the long-term average of 29.06″ that would mean any year receiving 21.8 ” or less is a “drought year.”   In the modern period of 1971-2000 a “Drought” would be rainfall below 24.69 inches!   A considerable difference!

For the official Fifties Drought of Record, that would designate in San Antonio’s rainfall  history: 1947, (1948 close), 1949 wet, 1950, (1951-52 close), 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 and officially “breaking” in 1957.

1957 was much like 2009 – it was a hot drought year till fall rains hit.   I can remember thinking of Noah’s Ark in the fall of ’57!   As an A&M freshman who grew up in mostly hot, droughty years, all I really needed for clothes was a raincoat and helmet - especially with no girls around!   So, the timing of rains and intensities, can be as important as annual totals.  You can see, that in the ten year Fifties Drought period, there were years (1948, 1949, 1951 and 1952) that were over the official “Drought” determination level and 1940 was even exceptionally high due to only 3 very high months of rainfall.  So, take drought related articles with a healthy grain of skepticism and check their facts.  Here in early 2010, many of our key lakes are still very low, some aquifers still are down and rivers not up to full strength yet.    This affects not only rural areas, but many cities.   So, we have a lot of catching up to do yet.  In some regions, many pastures and ranges are still hurting and not back in the “black” yet.  Ag income in the “red” for many in ’09.  Drought in Texas and the rest of the Southwest is a way of life and will always be with us- so plan for it in your farming and range plans!  Check and bookmark the drought web site on this blog for reference - and maybe the rainfall harvesting one too for that extra water reserve! 

1 Comment to “New York Times:Heavy Rains End TX Drought”

  1. By David Cristiani, January 14, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

    That is some variability in precip from year to year…I just wish a wet year for us was as wet as SA’s driest in 1954!!

    The NY Times sounds so short-term in their outlook. It is climate, not weather.

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