Conditions brewing for warm, dry winter

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COLLEGE STATION – Dry conditions around the state could worsen over the next few months as a warmer, drier winter is expected, said the state climatologist.

Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon said cooler waters in the tropical Pacific are building conditions for La Niña weather conditions to emerge by late November or December. La Niña conditions typically mean rain storms are pushed north by the jet stream. 

Much of the state received average to above-average rainfall earlier in the year, but rainfall has been in short supply for the past month outside of areas drenched by Hurricane Harvey.

East Texas has experienced the second wettest year on record so far with an average of almost 44.5 inches, he said. But lately, there has been very little rain for the northern areas of the region.

Nielsen-Gammon said 30-plus inches of rainfall in the southern portion of the East Texas region skewed totals because much of the northern part of the region did not receive measurable rainfall from that storm system or since.

“Most of the state did not receive much rain over the past month,” he said. “The only other areas that received above normal rainfall were parts of the Trans Pecos region and northwestern portions of the Panhandle. But the northeast, southwest and west central portions of the state have all been very dry. Those areas received less than 25 percent of their normal rainfall for the last 30 days.”

Nielsen-Gammon said average to above-average rainfall during the early summer months meant good conditions for crops, grasses and for replenishing stock tanks, but that dry conditions have turned plant growth into potential fuel for wildfires.

“Wildfires can be an issue when you have wet weather followed by a substantial dry period with high temperatures,” he said. “Warm-season grasses and brush did well with moisture but now arid conditions are turning that growth into potential fuel. That’s the worst possible scenario.”

Short-term forecasts for the western half of the state are calling for possible wet conditions while the eastern half was expected to remain fairly dry, he said.

Long-term forecasts of La Niña are not certain, Nielsen-Gammon said, but are probable given the conditions in the tropical Pacific.

“Hopefully as we transition into winter we’ll see some storms develop, but that’s just a hope at this point,” he said.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Conditions were very dry. Numerous fields were ready for small grain planting but needed moisture. All dryland pastures and meadows were brown and deteriorating. Some brush control was completed. Producers were still cutting hay. Corn harvest was complete. Cotton harvest was going very well. Livestock were in good condition but supplemental feed for cattle on rangelands may be necessary. Most counties reported average soil moisture and overall rangelands and pastures. Nearly all counties reported good crop conditions.

ROLLING PLAINS: Hot and dry conditions continued for most of the area. However, some counties reported receiving 2-3 inches of rain during the reporting period, which helped conditions tremendously. Storms brought high winds and some hail. The forecast called for more rain, and producers were hopeful. Many farmers indicated they were waiting for more rain to start planting wheat. Armyworms emerged in parts of the district. Livestock were in good condition with plenty of grazing.

COASTAL BEND: Scattered showers throughout the reporting period brought small amounts of much-needed moisture. Cotton harvest was complete in most areas with many modules waiting to be picked up as stalk destruction continued. Calhoun County reported those who planted cotton fields devastated by Hurricane Harvey were still awaiting final word on damages. Some cotton was never harvested, and some modules were total losses. Some pastures and hay fields were having fall armyworm issues. Fertilizer was applied to pastures and hay fields in anticipation of rain in the forecast. Winter pasture planting continued. Pastures and cattle were in good shape.

EAST: Dry conditions continued throughout the district, and daytime temperatures were in the high 90s. Smith and Wood counties reported producer concerns regarding the lack of rainfall. Wood County needed moisture for establishing winter pastures. Marion County vegetation started withering. Pasture and rangeland conditions were mostly fair, while Panola and Marion counties reported excellent conditions. Hay production rapidly declined in most counties due to lack of rainfall. Cherokee County producers reported excess amounts of hay. Jasper and Panola counties reported good forage conditions. Producers planted fall gardens in Marion County. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were mostly adequate while Cherokee, Houston, Shelby and Wood counties reported short soil moisture conditions. Gregg County reported very short soil  moisture conditions. Wild pig activity was reported in pastures and hay meadows by many producers in Cherokee County. Bermuda grass stem maggots continued to cause problems in Upshur County hay meadows. Fly control measures started in Upshur County. Smith County reported pest issues in plants and trees. Livestock across the district were ingood condition. Marion and Gregg counties reported fall calves being born. Local cattle markets were active with steadily rising prices reported in Gregg County.

SOUTH PLAINS: Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were short to adequate as some counties received rain. Cooler weather and rain may be detrimental to cotton fields that were trying to finish out and mature, but will relieve overall conditions from the recent dry spell. Dryland cotton bolls began opening, and irrigated fields were finishing up setting bolls. Sugarcane aphids continued to infest grain sorghum and required pesticide applications. Harvest continued for shelled corn. Peanuts were holding up well. Pastures and rangelands remained in fair to good condition. Cattle were doing well.

PANHANDLE: Temperatures were above normal for most of the reporting period. Some moisture was received late in the reporting period. Dry, warm weather helped cotton fields. Soil moisture was mostly short to adequate. Rain was needed throughout the district. Pastures looked good, and cattle conditions were good. Rains in Oldham County helped planted wheat come up. Rangeland and pastures benefitted from the recent rains as well.

NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short, with some counties reporting very short. No rain was reported and temperatures ranged in the upper 80s to mid-90s. The last good rain was over four weeks ago and pastures were getting very dry. Producers were cautious about fire. Soybeans and cotton still looked good. Sorghum and corn were close to the end of harvest in most counties. Grain elevators were filled to capacity, and deliveries to elevators were limited. A lot of ground was planted with winter wheat and oats or soon will be. Cattle were still looking good, and grass was still green but starting to go downhill. A good rain was needed soon to perk it back up. Fly and mosquito numbers were up, and wild hogs caused a lot of damage in some counties.

FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the 90s with lows in the 60s. Rain amounts were 0.45-1.5 inches for the reporting period. Pima and Upland cotton looked very good. No major issues were reported in the far western portions of the district, but cotton fields in the northeastern portions received a lot of damage due to hail and high winds. Pawnee pecans should be ready for harvest soon. Alfalfa farmers should get a good final cut in late October, weather permitting. Bird hunters were around. Birds have not been around as much as when the season started. Rains were supposed to move into thearea, and more bird movement was expected. Producers continued to feed livestock and wildlife.

WEST CENTRAL: Weather conditions were hot and dry with above-normal temperatures. All areas needed rain. Stock tank levels were dropping, and soil moisture was drying rapidly. Armyworm problems continued. Field preparations for fall planting continued. Some small fields were dry planted, but most producers were waiting for moisture before planting. Cotton crops were in mostly fair condition with bolls starting to open. Some dryland fields were sprayed to prepare fields for harvest. Cotton harvest was nearing. Hay producers were finishing up final cuttings. Rangelands and pastures continued to look good and were in fair condition but will need moisture soon going into fall. Forages were slow growing due to dry conditions. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. The local cattle market slipped a little. Markets were still good for calves and yearlings. Supplemental feeding will begin earlier than producers would like without rain. Pecan crops remained fair. Some evidence of pests was reported.

SOUTHEAST: Livestock in Fort Bend County were in good condition. Cotton producers were back in the field picking the remaining fields, but recent rains and spotty showers delayed picking again. Some cool-season forages were planted. Portions of Walker County received light to heavy rains that helped to maintain soil moisture conditions. Spraying for mosquitoes followed after Hurricane Harvey. In Jefferson County, pasture and livestock conditions continued to slowly recover from Hurricane Harvey. Livestock were hurting worse than pastures. Some producers began their third hay cutting. Soil moisture levels throughout the district ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate being most common. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely, from excellent to very poor with good ratings being most common.

SOUTHWEST: No rain was reported, and conditions were warm and humid. Ponds and rivers needed runoff. Pasture and rangeland conditions were decreasing with lack of moisture. Rain was in the forecast. Some counties reported armyworm infestations. Livestock conditions remained decent. Fall calving was underway.

SOUTH: Hot, dry weather conditions and very short moisture levels were reported. Some scattered rains were reported with amounts ranging from traces in Webb County to 2 inches in Dimmit County. Cotton harvest was completed in some areas and continued in others. Peanut fields were under irrigation and still a few weeks from harvest. Field work increased in preparation for wheat planting. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline due to the lack of rainfall. In McMullen County, soil moisture level conditions remain very dry and very short. Rangeland and pasture conditions were dry and deteriorating in areas that did not receive rain. Supplemental feeding was at a steady pace and body condition scores on cattle remained fair. Irrigated crops including Coastal Bermuda grass, watermelons and cantaloupes were in good condition. Pecan orchards were also in decent shape and expected a good season. Oat planting was 90 percent complete but no emergence was reported due to the lack of rain. Wheat, oats, spinach, cabbage and onion harvests were also active. Above-normal offerings of beef cattle were reported at local auctions including 1,000-1,500 head sold each week for the last three weeks. Prices remained steady for feeder steers and heifers, but cull cow prices slipped about $10 per hundredweight due to an oversupply in the market. Winter vegetables were planted in Hidalgo County. In Cameron County, irrigation and land preparation continued for fall and spring planting.

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