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Agriculture Today

Wetter winter predicted for much of Texas

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Robert Burns
August 29, 2012 | 3,306 views | Post a comment

COLLEGE STATION -- An El Niño currently developing in the tropical Pacific could mean an improved agricultural outlook for all of Texas, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and regents professor at Texas A&M University.

“An El Niño refers to unusually high tropical temperatures which shift the pattern of tropical convection, and usually leads to a cool and wet winter for Texas,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

Though an El Niño’s effects are usually stronger in southern parts of the state along the Gulf Coast, it generally causes shifts in weather patterns for the entire state, he said.

“It’s a nice switch from the last couple of years, which were La Niña events which generally favor dry conditions,” he said.

La Niña episodes are when the tropical Pacific temperatures are lower than average, he said.

Unfortunately for the Midwest and Mississippi Valley, an El Niño generally “signals” a drier-than-normal winter, according to Nielsen-Gammon.

Currently, tropical Pacific temperatures are about 0.5 to 1.0 degree Celsius (0.9 to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal, Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Right now, it looks like a weak to moderate one,” he said. “It would have be 1.5 to 2 degrees (2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal to get a strong one.”

But even a weak-to-moderate El Niño should have a pronounced effect of this fall’s winter weather, he said.

“I just want to emphasize that wet conditions from an El Niño are not a sure thing, just like dry conditions with La Niña are not a sure thing,” he said. “Last year, we saw La Niña conditions, but we ended up having above-normal rainfall across the state.

“For the sake of West Texas, I hope this El Niño comes through for us and gives us wet weather, but there’s no guarantee of that.”

North Atlantic temperatures are still running high, which is “a strike against us, especially for summer or fall,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But sometime around November, statistically the Pacific starts to take over, having a bigger effect on our weather.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of Aug. 14-20:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported some areas received from 1 inch to 3 inches of rain, improving some pasture conditions. Dry conditions persisted in other areas. The sorghum harvest began, but where there was rain, the cotton harvest was temporarily on hold. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were nearly done. Pastures continued to decline under hot and dry conditions, and the danger of wildfire was high.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported most of the area received some much-needed rain, from 0.25 inch to 4 inches. Despite the rain, hot, dry conditions remained the rule. In areas where cotton was yet to be harvested, growers were using growth regulators in a struggle to keep ahead of vegetative growth. Sesame was maturing rapidly. The rain meant many hay producers might be able to take one more cutting of hay before fall. Winter wheat was being planted. Pecan tree limbs were breaking due to the heavy crop load. Cattle were in fair condition with herd numbers holding steady. Producers were still supplementing cattle with hay and protein.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the South District, including Atascosa County, reported most of the region reported short to very short soil-moisture levels, with the exception of a couple of counties that received some rain in the last week. Atascosa County got 1.25 to 6 inches and Willacy County got an average of 1.25 inches. Atascosa County had 100 percent adequate soil moisture levels and Willacy County 75 percent adequate. In much of the area, however, rangeland and pastures continued to be in poor to very poor condition. As a result, livestock producers had to continue to provide supplemental feed. Hay and other feed was becoming more costly and difficult to find. In Atascosa County, cotton harvesting began, and peanuts were progressing well.

Robert Burns has nearly 30 years’ experience writing about agriculture and agricultural-related research. He writes about Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service activities at the Overton Center and centers in Stephenville and Temple.

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