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Archive for Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Drought hits Texas, surrounding states

May 10, 2011

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— With much of the nation focused on a spring marked by historic floods and deadly tornadoes, Texas and parts of several surrounding states are suffering through a drought nearly as punishing as some of the world’s driest deserts.

Some parts of the Lone Star State have not seen any significant precipitation since August. Bayous, cattle ponds and farm fields are drying up, and residents are living under constant threat of wildfires, which have already burned across thousands of square miles.

Much of Texas is bone dry, with scarcely any moisture to be found in the top layers of soil. Grass is so dry it crunches underfoot in many places. The nation’s leading cattle-producing state just endured its driest seven-month span on record, and some ranchers are culling their herds to avoid paying supplemental feed costs.

May is typically the wettest month in Texas, and farmers planting on nonirrigated acres are clinging to hope that relief arrives in the next few weeks.

That the drought is looming over the Southwest while floodwaters rise in the Midwest and South reflects a classic signature of the La Niña weather oscillation, a cooling of the central Pacific Ocean.

This year’s La Niña is the sixth-strongest in records dating back to 1949.

“It’s a shift of the jet stream, providing all that moisture and shifting it away from the south, so you’ve seen a lot of drought in Texas,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center in Silver Spring, Md.

He said the pattern is “kind of on its last legs,” and he expects a neutral condition for much of the summer.

Texas is now drier than in 1951, the first year of a six-year drought. But it’s not nearly as dry as 1956.

The parched landscape means the threat of fire is never far away. On Monday, the National Weather Service issued “red flag warnings” — meaning conditions are ripe for fires in portions of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

In Kansas, firefighters have managed to keep a grass fire within the boundaries of the Cimarron National Grassland. The flames have been fanned by winds up to 40 mph and have consumed about 30 square miles since Sunday.

“We recommend everyone be extremely cautious,” Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman Sharon Watson said Monday. “Wind conditions can make things extremely dangerous given the drought.”

In addition to numerous small blazes handled by local firefighters, the state in the past couple of months has battled several large grassfires in parched western Kansas that have charred more than 118 square miles.

Comments

Robert Rauktis 3 years, 7 months ago

"In Kansas, firefighters have managed to keep a grass fire within the boundaries of the Cimarron National Grassland."

Isn't fire a normal condition of the grassland ecology?

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