Year in Review: Weather a roller-coaster mix of extremes
When Neilsen-Gammon made the above prediction in March, no one would have predicted the roller-coaster ride Texans, or even the nation, would experience in 2013. It followed the nation’s historic drought that encompassed 71 percent of the United States.
In Texas, 207 counties were declared a disaster by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in early January. The state joined 2,245 counties in 39 states as disaster areas, due to drought and heat.
Tight cattle supplies and the drought were the reasons given for the closure of a beef processing plant in Plainview in January.
The dry spell continued through February in Texas, with “red flag warnings” being posted by the National Weather Service. A red flag warning implies “critical fire weather conditions” and a threat that “accidental ignitions will have the potential to grow quickly into dangerous wind driven wildfires.”
With the ongoing drought, AgriLife Extension specialists reported in March that the Lower Rio Grande Valley might run out of water in April or May and “will not be able to supply municipal water.” Plans were being made to limit the use of water used for irrigation.
These warnings continued in July, with Lakes Travis and Buchanan reduced to record-low levels. Reservoir levels reached all-time lows in September.
Mild winter/late freeze
In March, AgriLife Extension specialists reported the mild early winter in Texas set up the state’s fruit producers for a good crop, due to the number of “chilling” hours, when temperatures remained below 45 degrees. Some specialists were concerned that the trees bloomed too early.
Their concerns were realized when a late freeze in April cut the state’s peach crop by 75 percent in Central Texas, North Texas, and the Rolling Plains regions.
Rhew Orchards of Wilson County reported that its peach crop was spared, however.
Jack Frost continued to visit the Texas Panhandle and other parts of the state in April, with the Northern Plains area wheat taking a hit.
“Freezing weather this late is a rare phenomenon,” said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist, in a May 1 Texas Weather report.
Mother Nature continued the unusual weather, when the area was hit by major hailstorms.
In late April, 92 percent of the state remained in a drought, ranging from moderate to exceptional.
The area received much-needed rainfall in late May, with some parts of the San Antonio area receiving 12 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period on May 25, leading to rivers overflowing from their banks in western Wilson County.
San Antonio was once again in the spotlight when a record 108 degrees was recorded June 29. In early July, new record low temperatures were set.
Meteorologists from the National Weather Service cited a “death ridge” as the reason for the temperature swings. This high-pressure zone blocks cool fronts and moisture.
Pecan growers across the state did not fare well in the drought, including Rhew Orchards.
Frank Rhew estimated this year’s crop was 70 percent lower than normal and attributed part of this to the drought South Texas farmers and ranchers contended with. During June and July, the shell develops, and the meat of the pecan fills out in July through September, Rhew explained. With the heat this past summer, pecans began to mature during a rough time. This year’s crop was the lowest he’s produced since he began growing pecans in the 1980s.
In September, Nielsen-Gammon forecasted “neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific -- no El Niño or La Niña.” He predicted “not enough rain to end the drought, but things not getting worse either.”
As the average rainfall for San Antonio ended close to the normal 30.51 inches per year, Wilson County and the surrounding area was at least 10 inches below the normal yearly rainfall.
According to the Dec. 16 Texas Drought Report, 45 percent of the state is currently in moderate to exceptional drought, versus 88 percent a year ago. While the western part of Wilson County is free from drought-like conditions, the eastern part is listed as abnormally dry -- the lowest range on the drought monitor.