Drought across Texas worsens
September 18, 2023
High temperatures and drought conditions have persisted throughout the summer months in Texas, with little rain to provide relief.
While tropical storm Harold brought some relief along the coast of Texas, according to the Texas state climatologist, much of the state has witnessed above average temperatures — 4 to 8 degrees above normal and in the triple digits.
“The coast of Texas and the West Texas mountains were able to find temperature relief from recent rainfall, but most of the state has experienced triple degree weather with no relief expected in the near future,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, Ph.D., state climatologist and Regents Fellow in the Texas A&M College of Geosciences Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
U.S. drought monitor
The Texas drought monitor map, produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, showed increased drought conditions during the last three months and the previous year overall. The Drought Severity and Coverage Index, DSCI, ranges from 0-500 and calculates cumulative drought data for an area, with zero meaning none of the area is abnormally dry or in drought and 500 indicating all of the area is in exceptional drought.
Nielsen-Gammon said current drought conditions are very similar to the summer of 2022.
The only difference between the 2022 and 2023 droughts is that the 2022 drought ended when rainfall started the second week of August,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
To explain his comparisons, the most recent DSCI calculated on Aug. 29 was 281 compared to a DSCI of 251 the same time last year.
Future weather predictions
On Aug. 31, the Climate Prediction Center released the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, demonstrating how the drought will continue from Sept. 1-Nov. 30.
During a typical year, September and October are relatively wet months for Texas; but since rain has been sporadic, September is expected to lack rainfall. The remaining three months of this year have rainfall chances edging toward the west side of Texas as the El Niño progresses.
El Niño occurs when warmer-than-average temperatures in the tropical Pacific affect the weather patterns around the globe. This leads to a cooler and wetter winter season in Texas from late fall to mid-spring.
“The El Niño conditions have been in place in the tropics and are expected to persist in the winter,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Although El Niño typically produces cooler and wetter winters, the outlook of this year’s winter temperatures is normal since El Niño is competing with climate change, and there isn’t a pull of cold air ready to plunge from the northern border.
“The El Niño typically doesn’t produce extreme cold outbreaks because the northern border tends to be warmer during this,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “There isn’t much rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future; hopefully, we will see extreme rainfall as El Nino approaches.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
The district saw a few isolated showers over the past week; unfortunately, it was not enough to break the hot, dry conditions. Temperatures were slightly lower. Irrigated crops were losing water availability and crashing. No dryland crops or fields were productive in some counties. Despite a fair first cutting of hay, there was not enough produced to last very long. Pastures were brown, and stock tank levels were very low. Farmers complained about the lack of elevator storage available to handle the large corn crop this year. In some instances, corn was being stored in totes or augured onto the ground. Another issue was the incidence of feral hogs damaging these totes to access the corn grain. Field preparations were complete in some areas for the fall planting of winter cereals, but the soil was too hot and dry to plant. Trees were showing extreme drought stress. Vegetable gardens that were not irrigated were heat scorched. Cattle were heavily supplemented due to the lack of grazing availability. More cattle were expected to go to the market as producers liquidated their herds.
Extreme heat and dry drought conditions continued throughout the district. Cattle producers were feeding hay due to depleted pasture forages. Wildfires posed a significant threat with the drought severity and abundance of dry grass. Cotton fields were suffering and shedding blooms. Most wheat farmers planned to delay planting until the area received adequate precipitation.
The area experienced hot and dry weather as the drought continued. Historic high temperatures were recorded this summer. Lots of fieldwork started with disking and cotton stalk destruction. The cotton harvest was nearly complete. The first rice crop harvest was wrapping up, and some rice producers were irrigating the ratoon crop. Seed rice fields were being baled for alternative hay. Hay producers continued to hope for rainfall for one last opportunity for a cutting. Pastures were deteriorating rapidly, and hay was in very short supply. Livestock producers continued to cull their herds, trying to hold on to their most productive cattle. Many calves were being brought to the market, especially with the good prices.
A few counties received much-needed rain. Some areas got as many as 2 inches, while others only received trace amounts or none. Much more rainfall was needed to make a difference. Shelby County reported several fires involving multiple fire departments and the Texas A&M Forest Service responded with planes, helicopters and dozers to contain them. Hay production remained at a standstill. Livestock were in fair to good condition, with some supplementation taking place. The cattle market remained strong despite larger than usual numbers due to continued culling.
The district was hot and dry, with temperatures in the 100-plus degrees. A few scattered showers delivered trace amounts of moisture. Some silage was cut, especially fields already harvested for feed. All crops were under extreme heat stress. Producers started to plant irrigated wheat for fall pasture. Wheat pre-plant field preparations continued with spraying and tillage. Sorghum was headed out in most fields. Most pastures contained an abundance of weeds.
Temperatures were in the mid-90s over the past week. The cool-off was much needed, with a few scattered showers throughout the region. Counties throughout the area received a little over 1 inch of rain. Some counties remained dry. Corn, sorghum and soybeans were harvested with corn and sorghum nearing completion in some counties. Soybeans were being baled for hay due to the lack of hay production. The condition of the beans had declined significantly with the heat over recent weeks. Grasshopper numbers were high and infestations defoliated plants. Cattle sale numbers were increasing at the sale barn. Ranchers decreased herd size due to a lack of forage and/or hay. Livestock conditions were good and continued to improve.
Temperatures were in the lower-90s to upper-80s, with overnight temperatures in the lower-60s. There was no significant participation reported, but some areas received trace amounts of rain. Heavy rainfall and flash flooding was reported in one isolated area in the southeast edge of the district that received 4 inches of rain. The rest of the district desperately needed rain to improve soil moisture and rangeland conditions. The overall condition of the cotton crop declined quickly. Cotton bolls were extremely immature or prematurely opening due to the extreme heat over the past few weeks. Plants continued to shed squares and bolls to balance the crop load. Harvest will be four to six weeks early in many situations. Corn and sorghum were completely harvested. Pecan orchards looked good, and some trees have yet to fill out as much as others, primarily due to the amount of irrigation, but yields should be good. Rangeland slightly improved in areas that received rainfall. Livestock were in poor to fair condition. Area beef cattle producers were preparing for the beginning of the fall weaning/shipping season.
Triple-digit temperatures continued with no precipitation in the forecast. A few farmers started cutting and baling Bermuda grass fields. Yard trees and landscape were beginning to show drought stress. Some producers were able to gain some relief from sporadic rainfall, which led to field preparation for the fall planting of oats and wheat. Cotton was maturing quickly with minimal bolls set on the plants. Stock tank and lake water levels continued to drop to critical levels. Livestock were being supported by hay and supplemental feedings. Cattle numbers were increasing at sale barns as producers continued culling their herds.
Conditions remained dry, and a burn ban was still in effect for numerous counties in the district. No significant rainfall was reported, and crops, landscapes and trees continued to be affected by heat stress. Dry conditions continued driving cattle to the markets, but prices were holding steady despite the higher numbers of livestock. Ranchers continued feeding their herds hay, which was becoming harder to find. Corn harvest produced 150-180 bushels per acre, and sorghum made 5,000 pounds per acre in some counties. Pasture grass was getting scarce, and pond levels had dropped tremendously.
Extreme drought continued persisted across much of the region, but a few counties received rain. Much more rain will be needed to bring pastures and rangeland around. Bastrop County reported 0.3 inch of rainfall. Cooler morning temperatures brought temporary relief from the heat, however, high temperatures still put pressure on producers. Cattle producers continued culling herds due to dry conditions. Cotton was in terrible shape. Rangelands continued to be extremely dry. Fall shipping was underway with livestock in mostly fair condition. Pastures responded well to the recent rains but needed more. Livestock were also responding to the greener conditions. Burn bans were in place as the wildfire risk remained high. Livestock markets looked strong. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued.
Conditions were hot and dry; pastures suffered from the lack of rainfall. Producers continued culling their cattle herds. Cattle volume sales increased in numerous markets, and prices remained consistent. Producers continued to run pivots on peanut and cotton fields. Turfgrass fields were showing stress due to the hot conditions. Hay producers with irrigated fields continued cutting and baling. Hay prices were rising, and many producers were baling grain sorghum stubble to fill the void and help ranchers hold on to their cattle. Ranchers and deer breeders continued supplemental feeding on the animals they had left. Wildlife activity was plentiful around water sources. White-wing and mourning dove numbers were high in time for the start of the special white-wing season.