Texas Cattle Country Braces For Another Hot Summer. But Will Drought Return?

Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux
Last summer -- the state's hottest and driest on record -- brought Texas ranchers to their knees. Rains have revived parts of the state, especially the east. But 50 miles west of Fort Worth and further, the drought varies from severe to exceptional.

So, what's in store for us this summer? Unfair Park chatted with Dr. Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Service agronomist and drought spokesperson, about reading the climate-modeling tea leaves and what he's seen in his perambulations across the state.

Will Texas see the scalding temperatures we saw last summer?
The climatic forecast shows signs of a probability of higher-than-normal temperatures for almost all of the southern U.S. for this summer. You can say above normal, but we don't know how high above normal, so we don't have a prognostication on whether it'll be extreme.

What about drought conditions? Do you expect them to intensify again?
The drought forecast for the eastern two-thirds of the state, the model doesn't show anything ... It may be normal; it may be above; it may be below. Right now, much of the eastern third of the state's in pretty good condition, but whether it'll stay that way or not, that's the question. West Texas is still in drought.

Last year, ranches disgorged themselves of many head of cattle and sent them off to the packers and auction barns. Are they restocking, or are they cautious?
We've seen some cows coming in. In East Texas, I see trailers with cows in them. When I'm in West Texas, I don't. Our advice is, make sure you have a good forage base, and that the grass is reestablished after this horrible event before buying cattle. Don't windshield it and say, 'It s green, I'm gonna by cattle.'

What about the hay crop. Ranchers had to truck it in from all over the country after crops failed.
A lot of hay's being cut. I've seen hay harvesting going on all over the eastern part of the state. People out in West Texas don't have anything.

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If you want a real forecast, get a quote for weather insurance for a county in question


drought never left for about 250 counties.  But selling off all the cattle reduced the drain on the water enough so people could shower.

but don't expect ranchers to resupply their herds anywhere near historical levels for many years to come.


Must be a slow news day.  Is this the same guy that said we were gonna have a dry winter/spring?  Yeah, I reminded everyone that la Nina typically brings wet winter/springs.  It's been drier in a way, but when we get rain, it rains.   Winters are easier to predict with the little kids so affecting our weather patterns, but Summer is a crap shoot.  I'm glad he said nothing, cause, the fact remains, we can't much predict what the weather will look like beyond 10 days. 


Those who know climate would not put much faith in prognostications based upon "we had plenty of rain" scenarios. It is all relative.

If it rains 10 inches in ten hours, then most of it just runs off into rivers, and eventually into the Gulf or an ocean (depending upon where you are), but if it rains 10 inches in 45-60 days, never hard, just steady or periodic soaking rains, then there is  a lot of absorption and the aquifers recharge resulting in a very different condition.

Severe droughts are frequently punctuated by periodic torrential rainstorms that do little or nothing to end droughts. And, where the ground is exceptionally dry even a lot of rain may be soaked in quickly and taken far beneath the surface and far below the range where plants take root.

Further, when climatologists and agronomists tell you that it will probably be very hot, then you might want to heed their warning. In reality, nobody can truly and accurately predict weather for more than a few short hours because a shift in barometric pressure can radically change everything in about 5 seconds that up to that point looked predictable, and things can change 180 degrees. Every pilot knows that if you want to know the weather, then look outside your cockpit because that is where the weather is, and it is the ONLY weather that counts.


 You'd be mistaken about West Texas.  The area is served by two giant aquifers, the Ogalla in West Texas, and Edwards in Central Texas.  These aquifers are recharged by the heavy rains, which form flash creeks that often drain directly into the aquifer.  What you describe is a problem, and your consistent rain scenario IS preferable, but so long as there is rain, they can generally get by. 

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