El Niño forecast weaker than predicted
Though nearly 70 percent of the state remains in drought, crops in many areas are doing well thanks to rains over the last month, according to reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel and the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Many AgriLife Extension county agents reported good or even excellent crop conditions, but the consensus was that more rain was needed soon to maintain growth and meet yield expectations.
“We’ve basically had a lot of good rain in areas that had been particularly hard hit by drought,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist, College Station. “But it takes a lot more than that to actually get them out of drought completely.”
July tends to be the driest month for most of the state, he said, and currently there are no long-range forecasts predicting anything much different this year.
“For the time being, it looks like the best chances of (summer) rain are going to be in the north and northwest, which means the Panhandle may get some more relief,” he said.
But what’s needed to give real drought relief is enough rain to recharge the subsoil moisture profile and refill reservoirs and lakes, Nielsen-Gammon said. And the best chances of that come from an El Niño this fall.
El Niño refers to warmer-than-average ocean water temperatures off the Pacific coast of South America, he said. A moderate to strong El Niño usually means more moisture to parts of the Southwest and Southeast during the late fall and winter. El Niño translates as “The Boy Child” because it peaks about the time of Christmas.
In early May, NASA predicted a very strong El Niño, Nielsen-Gammon said. NASA based the prediction on satellite images showing patterns of temperature and ocean height that were similar to those of May 1997, a year of one of the strongest El Niño oscillations of the 20th century.
“But the recent computer model forecasts are not so enthusiastic,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “More likely, we’ll end up with a weak to moderately strong El Niño.”
This means much of Texas could still have a wetter than normal late fall and winter, just not as wet as it might be with a very strong El Niño, he said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of June 9-16:
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported from 1 inch to 5 inches of rain was received, and pastures and row crops were flourishing from the moisture. In some instances, high winds accompanied the rainstorms, snapping trees and damaging buildings and other structures. Local gardeners were having problems with fungus and stunted plant growth. The peach harvest was in full swing with good yields, though fruit size tended to be smaller than average. Producers were taking their first cutting of coastal Bermuda grass hay. Livestock and wildlife may continue to need supplemental feeding as new forage growth from recent rains may be short lived due to wind and high temperatures.
AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported despite recent rains, soils were drying out rapidly throughout most of the district. However, crops showed more promise than in several years for many counties. Cotton looked good but will need another rain soon to hold bolls. Corn and most of the grain sorghum were nearly mature, and above-normal yields were expected. Grass was still available for grazing, but its growth slowed as conditions became drier. With rising temperatures, pastures will dry up quickly, due to poor soil moisture. Grain sorghum producers sprayed for sugarcane aphid as the crop began to turn color.
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.