Texas crop, weather: El Niño fizzles, winter not so wet

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COLLEGE STATION –El Niño has fizzled, and you can forget the forecasts of a wetter, cooler Texas winter, said the state climatologist.

Though many agricultural producers may be disappointed in not having a wet winter to replenish soil-moisture levels, there’s some good news mixed with the bad, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and regents professor at Texas A&M University.

“The closest thing to a sure bet is that this won’t be another La Niña winter,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But next year the odds are La Niña will ramp up again, and with them the chances that next winter will be a dry one.”

As recently as late August, forecasters, including those at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, were expecting a stronger-than-average El Niño to develop in the tropical Pacific, he said.

The earlier prediction of a strong El Niño was good news for drought recovery for most of the state, Nielsen-Gammon said. Though an El Niño’s effects are usually stronger in the southern parts of the state and along the Gulf Coast, it generally leads to wetter, cooler weather for the entire state.

Typically, the development of an El Niño begins with warmer ocean temperatures, at least about 1 degree Fahrenheit, above normal, which is what climatologists were seeing during the summer, he said. The situation, once it begins, usually results in a “feedback situation” that further raises ocean temperatures and magnifies the effect.

“As the warm temperatures spread across the Pacific, the winds weaken, allowing the warm water to remain at the surface longer before losing any of its heat,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “However, the feedback failed to develop, and now we are expecting a neutral situation,” he said.

“Neutral situation,” means there are now equal chances of either a wet or dry winter, Nielsen-Gammon said.

“In the meantime, the tropical Pacific is likely to stay neutral, he said. This means a good chance that rainfall this spring and summer will also tend to be close to normal, to the extent that Texas weather is ever normal,” he said.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Central: Irrigated small grains looked good, but dryland fields needed rain. Armyworms were reported in small-grain pastures. The pecan harvest began; most trees had a heavy nut load. Some producers were planting ryegrass and taking their last cutting of warm-season grass hay. Mild weather allowed all types of field work to proceed.

Coastal Bend: Bee County reported unseasonably muggy, warm weather with no rain. Pastures that received rains earlier were still growing and producing hay. Cattle numbers remained low, with continued liquidation of herds. Bee County has the lowest cattle inventories in decades. Washington County reported hay producers were harvesting the last hay cutting of the season as a cool front moved in. Warm-season grass growth was slowing down, but oats and wheat grown for grazing were doing well. Some producers were planting ryegrass. In the drier parts of the county, producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock. Pecans were maturing and some early varieties were being harvested. In Refugio County, rangeland and pastures continued to be in fair condition. The area received light showers throughout the week. In Wharton County, the cotton harvest was completed, with average yields of 2.75 bales per acre reported. Although rice acreage in the county was nearly 20,000 acres down, yields on the 27,000 acres that were planted were outstanding this year.

East: As much as 1 inch of rain fell as a cold front moved through the region. Some areas had a light frost. Producers were taking a final cutting of hay with very good yields. Cooler weather drastically slowed warm-season grass growth. Some producers struggled to find a market for surplus hay. Winter pasture planting continued, with some plantings already emerged and growing. This year, producers were planting more legumes, especially clovers. Cattle remained in good condition. Weaning and selling of market ready calves and cull cows continued. Feral hog activity increased. The pecan harvest began.

Far West: Cooler temperatures arrived, but the drought continued. There was high wildfire danger with the windy cold fronts, but the area was yet to have a freeze, and forbs and grasses were still growing. Cotton producers defoliated fields and were ready for harvest. Winter wheat and oats looked good. Those fields planted early were nearly ready to graze. Hay producers were taking a last cutting. Rangeland and pastures looked better than they have all year but could benefit from more rain before a frost. The pumpkin harvest was going strong. Some late-planted watermelons were being harvested. More pecans were splitting shucks and falling. Livestock producers were scrambling to store hay for winter. Hunters were filling feeders in anticipation of the deer season.

North: Soil-moisture levels were short to adequate. Rain and runoff were needed to replenish stock ponds. All cotton was harvested. Pastures were in adequate condition, and farmers were planting either winter wheat or ryegrass. Livestock were in good condition. Some producers began feeding hay.

Panhandle: The region had above-average temperatures at the beginning of the week, but by the weekend, cooler temperatures arrived, with some areas receiving a killing freeze. No moisture was received, and soil moisture continued to be mostly short. Mild weather allowed harvesting of crops. However, very windy weather postponed some harvesting. The corn and grain sorghum harvests, and wheat planting were all ongoing. Producers with irrigation were watering wheat because of the dry weather. Wheat was in mostly fair to good condition. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in very poor to poor condition. Cattle remained in good condition, with continued supplemental feeding.

Rolling Plains: Some counties had the first freeze of the year. Producers continued planting winter wheat. Most growers judged soil moisture adequate for good wheat stand development, but others needed rain to maintain growth. Hot, dry winds in some areas depleted soil moisture. The cotton harvest was under way, with producers reporting average yields on irrigated acres. Most dryland acres failed earlier in the season and were destroyed. Livestock were generally in good condition. Some cattle producers reported good hay supplies and decent pasture conditions, and there was talk of replacing cattle sold last year. Stock tanks needed runoff water. The pecan harvest began.

South: Soil-moisture levels were short to very short in the eastern and southern parts of the region, and short to adequate in the northern and southern counties. In the northern counties, scattered showers continued throughout the week. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition but forage production remained low. Stock-tank water levels improved, and livestock were in fair condition. Peanut harvesting was ongoing, wheat and oats emerged. Peanut hay was being baled in some counties. In the eastern counties, dry weather continued. Rangeland and pastures recovered somewhat in most of the area. Another long, dry winter was expected. Corn and sorghum had matured, cotton was in fair to poor condition with 100 percent of bolls open, and sunflowers were harvested in some counties. In the western counties, rangeland and pastures improved somewhat thanks to rain the previous week. Webb County livestock producers were feeding hay, molasses and range cubes. Zavala County livestock producers had good grazing, which allowed them to reduce expensive supplemental feeding. Maverick County producers were harvesting coastal Bermuda grass hay. In Zavala County, growers were busy planting wheat, the pecan harvest was finished, and early planted cabbage made good progress. In the southern counties, soils were dry. Preparations for spring planting continued, sugarcane and citrus were being harvested, as were late-planted cantaloupes.

South Plains: Most of the South Plains received a widespread killing freeze on Oct. 27. The region had cooler weather with scattered showers in some areas. Mitchell and Scurry counties reported from 0.6 inch and 1.25 inches of rain, but most counties remained dry. However, humidity was high in the early mornings, which delayed cotton harvesting until around noon most days. About a third of the Lubbock County cotton crop had been harvested. Yields ranged from about a half bale to four bales per acre on some irrigated fields. Many acres were zeroed-out by insurance adjusters and destroyed due to low yields as the drought continued. Winter wheat was progressing well. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in fair to good condition, but needed rain in most areas. Livestock were mostly in good condition.

Southeast: San Jacinto County farmers were planting winter wheat. Already planted wheat was 4 to 5 inches tall. Optimal soil moisture levels were expected to maintain growth. Jefferson County temperatures ranged from lows in the 70s to highs in the mid-80s. Orange County continues to have dry weather, which was good for hay harvesting, but soils drying out were a concern.

Southwest: Some counties received light showers, but more moisture was needed. Fall armyworms were a problem in pastures and small grains, but cooler temperatures were expected to considerably slow the pests’ activity. Cooler temperatures also will put many rangeland plants and grasses into dormancy. Supplemental feeding was still necessary to maintain livestock. The pecan harvest continued. Cabbages were being harvested, and spinach was planted. Oats and winter forages needed rain.

West Central: Days were warm most of the week, then weather turned cold by the weekend. Some areas had the first frost, but the freeze mostly affected only low-lying areas. The cotton harvest was in full swing. Late-planted cotton was trying to catch up. Early planted wheat was off to a good start due to recent rains. Fall planting of wheat and other small grains continued. Fall armyworms were reported in some wheat fields. Rangeland and pastures continued to improve because of warm days and recent moisture. Winter grasses were beginning to emerge, but the early light freeze set them back slightly. Livestock remained in fair to good condition, with the need for supplemental feeding lessening somewhat. The pecan harvest was under way. Some producers reported nuts have sprouted and shucks slow to split. Walnut caterpillars were reported in some orchards.


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