The Rains Came...
Going to Extremes
Texas has always been prone to extreme weather events, from floods and drought to hail and tornados. The Texas Almanac lists some of the state’s rain–related records.
|1873||Greatest Annual Rain||Clarksville||109.4"|
|1956||Least Annual Rain||Wink||1.8"|
|Greatest Rain in 24 Hours||Alvin||43.0"*|
* Unofficial estimate of rainfall during Tropical Storm Claudette.
Source: The Texas Almanac
A wet year sparks farm and ranch turnaround
Texas has always been prone to weather extremes, but the old adage never seemed truer than in 2007, when widespread, heavy rains snapped a two-year drought that had cost the state billions.
The cure was worse than the disease for some. Flooding in June prompted Texas Gov. Rick Perry to issue state disaster declarations for 44 Texas counties. Floods were blamed for at least 13 deaths and damage and destruction of at least a thousand Texas homes.
But for most Texas farmers and ranchers, the return of wet weather was nothing short of a blessing, and rebounding harvests will go a long way toward easing the economic strains caused by flooding.
The drought of 2005 and 2006 was one of the worst of the past century. In August 2006, Texas Cooperative Extension estimated that the drought had cost Texans about $4.1 billion in losses of crops and livestock.
“There were some parts of the state, mainly north central and south central Texas, where for one-and-a-half to two years it was the driest period on record,” says John W. Nielsen-Gammon, professor of meteorology at Texas A&M University and the Texas state climatologist.
But are we really out of the drought now? “That’s usually a difficult question, but at this point the answer is yes,” says Nielsen-Gammon. “Even the long-term [rain] deficits are mostly gone at this point.”
Best of all, the rain was distributed fairly evenly across the state, and for a while, at least, the rains perpetuated themselves.
“When we receive rain in the summertime, it makes the soil wet and we get more evaporation, and that leads to more thunderstorms and more rainfall,” the climatologist says. “So the climate system has a memory built into it.”
High Tides and Green Grass
The rains made all the difference for Texas farmers and ranchers. Last year, many farmers saw their crops “zeroed out,” or considered a total loss for insurance purposes. The 2006 harvest of winter wheat — one of Texas’ biggest crops — was the state’s lowest since 1971. Ranchers felt the pinch, too, as pastures turned to cracked earth and the price of hay doubled — when you could find it.
“It’s been a tremendous turnaround, comparing this year to last year,” says Mark Welch, a marketing and policy economist for Texas Cooperative Extension. “And it’s statewide. With the wet weather that moved in over the winter and continued through the spring, it was a very good year for wheat yields, even though they were hampered by wet conditions right at harvest.”
Texas produced about four times as much wheat this year as in 2006. Texas’ production of sorghum for grain nearly tripled in 2007.
“We’ve gone from virtually no crop last year to record crops this year,” Welch says. “It’s just amazing.”
Of course, rainfall measured in feet rather than inches hurt some farmers as well. In some areas, the losses at harvest time were devastating due to flooded conditions, Welch says. “The broad picture, however, is very positive — high prices, high yields. It’s a very good grain year,” says Welch.
“Every Available Acre”
The benefits of this year’s rain will continue.
“Next year, we’re going to have great subsoil moisture conditions,” says Welch. “It looks like things will be very favorable. With prices like they are, and the moisture conditions we have, it appears that every available acre that can be planted to wheat will be done so this fall.” FN
Working the Land
While Texas has become a highly urbanized state, most of its land is devoted to agriculture. According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, 77.5 percent of Texas' total acreage is farm or ranch land.
|Texas Land Area||Acreage|
|Total area, state of Texas||167.6|
|Total land in farms and ranches||129.9|
Source: Texas Cooperative Extension and U.S. Bureau of the Census.