"It's not very often that farmers and ranchers complain about the rain. For them, not only is water the essence of life, it is paramount to the success of their agricultural operations. But when is too much rain enough?
That's a question more and more farmers are asking in the Texas Coastal Bend as heavy rains have flooded just about every field, with many remaining virtually underwater.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC), the long-awaited El Niño, or Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, is the cause of so much rain across large areas of Texas this spring season. CPC's Michelle L’Heureux agrees sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific remained substantially above average during April and into May. And she says there is still a lot of warmer-than-average water below the surface in the upper 300 meters of the ocean, helping to ensure that the above-average sea surface temperatures will continue for at least the next few months.
El Niño events traditionally can bring heavy rains to parts of Texas and the greater Southwest.
“It tends to cause the jet stream to be farther south than normal, which means we may get more rain events, generally cool temperatures and lots of run-off, which would be good for reservoir levels,” John Nielsen-Gammen, Texas State Climatologist, said.
But he warns heavy and continual rains can, of course, create hardships for the state's agricultural producers and can also cause excessive and damaging flooding in rural and urban areas.
According to NOAA, the atmospheric response to the warmer waters in the equatorial Pacific that began in February strengthened through March and April. That created stronger Trade winds that have been more westerly than average, and upper-level winds that have been weaker than average, generating more rain in the central equatorial Pacific. These are all signs of a weakened "Walker Circulation," which is generally present during El Niño events. Heavy thunderstorms and rain showers across Texas over the weekend are attributed to this type of ENSO event.
The Coastal Bend of Texas and coastal areas in southeast Texas have particularly been hit harder by the developing El Niño event. Over the last week alone, some areas in the Coastal Bend received between 10 and 15 inches of rain, specifically in southeast Corpus Christi, southern stretches of Nueces County, as well as portions of Duval and McMullen counties.
Officially, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Corpus Christi recorded 8.12 inches of rain so far this month, but reporting stations across a wider area of the Coastal Bend registered as much as 15 inches of rain in May so far. These rains followed an exceptionally wet March and April. According to the NWS, as much as 21 inches of rain have fallen in parts of the Coastal Bend over the last 60 days, bringing rain accumulation this year well over seasonal averages.
The heavy rains resulted not only in late planting schedules in recent weeks but many fields are still too wet to work; many fields are not yet planted and may not be this year according to county agents up and down the coast.
Problems associated with heavy rain, however, stretch far beyond the middle coastal region. Parts of Southeast Texas have actually received greater rainfall amounts and even Deep South Texas has seen planting delays and excessive wet fields. In Central Texas up to 17 inches of rain have fallen over the last 90 days; 14 inches in San Antonio, and even Del Rio has received 8.5 inches over the same 90 day period.
Desperately needed rain has also fallen in the Texas plains, in North Central Texas and even in areas desperately parched, like the Wichita Falls area and in El Paso County.
Texas AgriLife officials report areas across the state that were under moderate to exceptional drought have declined from 83 percent last year to about 30 percent according to the latest drought monitor released last week, before the heavy weekend storms.
One of the benefits of the steady rains have been that reservoirs across much of Texas have seen increasing levels from the wet spring. In the Coastal Bend for example, two reservoirs that supply all the water needs for Nueces County have reached higher levels than realized in several years. The combined capacity for Choke Canyon Reservoir (CCR) and Lake Corpus Christi (LCC) Reservoir stood at a capacity of only 34.8 percent on April 17, but jumped to 47.4 combined capacity on May 17 (Sunday), and levels are expected to continue rising early this week. Lake Corpus Christi was expected to reach 100 percent capacity by late Monday (May 18).
Nielsen-Gammon said where rain has been the heaviest, the ground is unable to soak up more rainfall, so with each additional storm, depleted lakes are apt to see rising water levels. And as one lake fills, other watersheds downstream will benefit from the runoff.
“May is normally one of the wettest months of the year, but what we’ve had is even unusual for May,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Too much rain is bad for farming. Crop experts say excessive rain can be as bad as not enough rain when it comes to crop health. An increase in insect and weed pressure and the possibility of fungus can all help to destroy a crop under extreme wet conditions.
Bobby McCool, County Agent in Aransas and San Patricio counties says this much rain is bad for not only those that are trying to plant crops, but also for those that have already planted, a sentiment shared by more than one Coastal Bend farmer.
"We don't know if this crop is going to make it or not," said South Texas Farmer Bobby Nedbalek in San Patricio County. "If we have to replant, we're running out of time for that to be reasonable."
Late planting brings with it a host of problems: a bigger insect population, summer heat and missed planting deadlines. The Risk Management Agency (RMA) sets planting deadlines for crop insurance eligibility, and that deadline started as early as March 31 in South Texas.
The amount of precipitation may diminish in the summer months say forecasters but, “in the fall and winter we should return to enhanced chances of above-normal rainfall,” Nielsen-Gammon added, an assessment shared by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
NOAA forecasters say this consistent atmospheric coupling is a change from the pattern we saw throughout 2014, when conditions changed from week-to-week. With a climate phenomenon like the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), forecasters expect to see more of a persistent pattern. They warn this doesn’t mean that the El Niño atmospheric conditions are always present every week, but that they are on average over the season.
Nearly all computer model forecasts predict a continuation of the warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures through the end of 2015." via Lucianne
5/7/15, "Rainfall across Southwest hailed as “million dollar rain”," Southwestfarmpress.com, Ron Smith
"Travis Mires says the 6 to 10 inches of rain that fell on the family farm in Lynn County early this week “came a little fast, but we’ll take it. It was a big one.”
And it was just what West Texas cotton and grain farmers needed to replenish soil profiles that have been depleted for more than four years.
Some producers may be reworking fields, patching spots that washed out in the heavy downpour, or cleaning up following flooding, but the moisture that soaked deeply into the soil provides a reserve they’ve been missing for the last few crop years. They’ll still need some timely rains throughout the summer to make a crop, but it’s the best start they’ve had in a long while.
Rainfall was widespread, according to reports across Texas and Oklahoma areas that have been hardest hit by prolonged drought.
“There is no doubt that we now have the best moisture situation in years for early May,” says Randy Boman, research leader and cotton Extension program leader at the Southwest Oklahoma Research and Extension Center in Altus.
“However, we still have a long way to go to get out of this drought,” he says. “The April 28 Drought Monitor still shows the Southwest corner in bad shape but getting better.”
The area around Altus has remained one of the driest in the Southwest for going on five years. “I think we are up to nearly 6 inches at Altus in the last 30 days based on the Mesonet,” Boman said Wednesday, May 6. “The last 14 days shows about 3 plus inches at Altus.”
Lake capacity, recently at record low elevations, remains a concern, but reservoirs are beginning to fill. “Lugert Lake (a reservoir near Altus that provides irrigation water to farmers in the district) has gone from about 9 percent about 3 weeks ago to over 24 percent of capacity now. The high rainfall up around Erick has fed some runoff into the North Fork watershed.”...
Rain has been widespread across the Texas plains. Texas AgriLife Extension media specialist Kay Ledbetter polled Extension agents and specialist and sent these numbers:
The area around Wellington has gotten roughly 1.5 inches. “Some areas of the county got a little more and some a little less,” says Extension agent Katy White. Cristen Brooks reports from 3.5 to 4 inches in Floyd County. Crosby County reports from 4 to 7 inches with rain still falling in some areas. White River Lake was up 2.5 feet.
Integrated pest management specialist Kerry Siders says Levelland (Hockley County) “received 3.24 inches. “For the month of May we’ve received 3.42 inches and total for year is 8.3 inches. The rest of the county this week ranged from 2.5 to 4.5 inches and have similar totals for the year.”
Tammy Benton reports 2.75 inches in the Hansford, Spearman and Morse/Gruver areas “but some areas got 3 inches.” Austin Voyles, Oldham County, reports 1.25 inches in the last three days, 5.5 to 6 inches in the last 2 weeks.
Jourdan Bell, Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist at Amarillo, reports 1.54 inches of rain at Bushland. “At Amarillo there was about 1.1 inches discussed on the news. Pampa received the greatest rainfall at 3.02 inches. The eastern Panhandle pickled up more rain. I hear that south of Lubbock received 9 to 10 inches.”...
Rainfall across the Southwest region is variable, ranging from just over an inch to a foot or more. Some farmers label it “a million dollar rain,” making prospects for getting cotton and grain sorghum planted and off to a good start more certain that at any time since 2010.
Reports of El Niño’s return seem to be substantiated."