Though this year’s El Niño is now predicted to be a weak one, it still spells more a chance of a wet, cool winter for most of Texas rather than a dry one, according to the Texas State Climatologist.
El Niño refers to warmer-than-average ocean water temperatures off the Pacific coast of South America, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist, College Station. A moderate to strong El Niño usually means more moisture to parts of the Southwest and Southeast during the late fall and winter. El Niño translates as “The Boy Child,” because it usually peaks about the time of Christmas.
“We’ve been waiting for El Niño to develop for about six months now, and it still hasn’t quite happened,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Temperatures in the tropical Pacific have been running above normal for most of the period, and there’s still a great deal of warm water beneath the surface. So the odds still favor at least a weak El Niño developing over the next couple of months and lasting through most of the winter.”
Nielsen-Gammon said it doesn’t really matter whether the official El Niño criteria of “warm enough for long enough” are met. It will still affect Texas weather at least somewhat.
“The expectations from the Climate Prediction Center, based on simulations and past history, are that the chances are more likely of having a cool, wet winter rather than a warm, dry one,” he said.The reason for this optimism, Nielsen-Gammon said, is that the warmer temperatures in the tropics tend to drag the jet stream farther south than normal.
“Since Texas is already normally sitting south of the jet stream in the winter time, this brings us more into the path of winter storms,” he said. “Somewhat paradoxically, even though it may be a cool winter, it’s not supposed to bring any of those remarkably cold spells because in general the jet stream won’t be going far enough north to drag any Arctic air masses down this far.”
This means more cloudy, rainy winter weather, “which many people might find annoying, but that will be good for agricultural production and bring some relief to the drier parts of the state,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Most counties reported soil moisture, rangeland and pastures, as fair. Overall, most crops were in good condition, as were livestock. The region received good rains during the weekend, along with cooler weather, which will slow or stop Bermuda grass growth even with the good soil moisture. The pecan harvest was well underway, with very good quality reported. The cotton harvest was winding down in all areas. Producers continued to plant w inter wheat and oats, and were seeing good emergence so far. Wheat and oat planting usually continues from October through November. Some producers planned to plant after Nov. 15 to avoid Hessian fly infestations. A few producers were already grazing stocker cattle on some oat fields. Despite the rains, the Blacklands region remained drier than normal for this time of year.
Coastal Bend: Soil moisture was good. Rain delayed the last of the cotton harvest, cotton stalk destruction and hay harvesting in many areas. Fall fieldwork, such as disking and bedding, continued throughout the week on fields that had dried out enough. Planting of winter pastures began last week, with continued planting activity expected through early November. Forage producers continued to scout for armyworms. Because of current conditions, some johnsongrass fields tested positive for prussic acid. Early varieties of pecans were being harvested. Livestock were in fair condition.
East: Cooler temperatures halted warm-season forage growth throughout the region. Some hay production was still in progress, but producers were having trouble curing cuttings because of cold nights and morning dews. Hay sales were slow. Producers continued to plant cool-season forages. Topsoil and subsoil moisture were adequate in most counties. Wood County continued to report short both topsoil and subsoil levels. Cereal rye seed was scarce and expensive, and some producers were using seed blends to decrease the per-acre planting cost. Shelby and San Augustine counties reported more than 3 inches of rain. Flash floods with erosion were reported in Trinity County where 4 inches of rain fell. Weaning of calves and culling of herds continued. Livestock remained in good body condition. Armyworms were present. Feral hogs were active, with damage reports rising. Pecan scab reports increased.
Far West: Warm days and cool nights were the norm for the week. Presidio County had their first freeze on Oct. 14. Subsoil and topsoil moisture ranged from adequate to very short. Corn was more than 70 percent harvested. Upland cotton was in good to excellent condition, with most fields having open bolls and from 5 to 15 percent harvested. Nearly all grain sorghum was mature. From 60 to 75 percent of winter wheat was planted. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to poor condition. In El Paso County, 60 percent of Pawnee variety pecans and 10 percent of Western had open shucks.
North: Topsoil moisture was mostly adequate, with some counties reporting surplus. From 2 to 3 inches of rain fell throughout the region. Low temperatures dropped to the mid-60s with the storms. The hay harvest was winding down due to lower nighttime temperatures that slowed warm-season grass growth. The rains delayed planting of winter wheat, oats and winter pasture grasses for a few days. What had been planted before the rain had mostly emerged. Overall, cattle were in good condition, but up-and-down weather patterns were causing them stress. Feral hogs continued to cause damage.
Panhandle: Temperatures were near average for the region. Soil moisture was rated mostly adequate, with a few areas reporting short. The Collingsworth County peanut harvest was nearly done, with yields and grades on irrigated peanuts above average. Cotton producers were spraying defoliants, and harvest should be in full swing in some counties this week. Wheat had pressure from fall armyworms, and many producers were spraying. Deaf Smith County producers were harvesting corn and corn silage. Grain yields were above average, with many acres yet to be harvested. Dryland grain sorghum was ready for harvest, as were sunflowers. In Hansford County, the corn harvest was about over, but a little late-planted corn still needed to be cut. Most of the soybeans had been harvested there, with the average yield about 60 bushels per acre. Ochiltree County wheat planting was winding down. The Randall County corn harvest was completed, and yields were about average. The Randall County grain sorghum harvest was just beginning, with yields slightly above average at about 4,000 pounds per acre. Last week, Gray County received a mixture of rain, large hail, high winds and a tornado. Corn was lodged in some areas, cotton stripped of leaves and bolls, and grain sorghum seed heads blasted. Some cotton was not expected to recover.
Rolling Plains: Cotton harvesting was about to begin in some areas where producers had already defoliated. Temperatures continued to stay warm enough to help cotton finish maturing. The region remained dry. Some wheat was emerging but stands were skimpy. Armyworms were infesting early planted wheat. Pastures and rangelands were thriving on past rains in some areas; in others, pastures were drying out and turning brown. Hay was available for sale, and prices were reasonable for those who needed to provide supplemental feed. Livestock were in fair to good condition. The pecan harvest began, but was not yet in full swing. Stock tanks and lakes still needed runoff water.
South: Daytime temperatures were mild with cool nights. Only Brooks County reported a light rain. Rangeland and pastures were in good condition. In the northern part of the region, peanut harvesting was in full swing, hay cutting and baling continued, and wheat and oat crop producers continued planting. Fall armyworms were reported on improved Bermuda grass pastures in the McMullen County area. Grazing conditions improved in many areas, but additional forage production was needed during the next couple of weeks in order to have adequate grazing for the winter season. Cattle body condition scores improved with most herds in fair condition. Soil moisture was mostly short throughout the area, with the exception of Atascosa County where it was 90 to 95 percent adequate. In the eastern part of the region, oak trees appeared to be slowly recovering from the drought. Landowners continued to supplement wildlife and cattle. Fall armyworms were a big problem throughout Kleberg and Kenedy counties. Soil moisture was 60 to 80 percent adequate in Brooks County, 50 percent adequate in Jim Hogg County, and 60 percent short in Jim Wells, Kleberg and Kenedy counties. In the western part of the region, coastal Bermuda grass growth slowed because of cooler temperatures and lack of rain. Stock-tank water supplies remained good with low evaporation rates, and ranchers continued trying to rebuild herds. In Zavala County, dry conditions kept producers busy irrigating recently planted wheat, oats, onions, cabbage and spinach. Pecan harvesting was light, cotton ginning continued at two facilities, and supplemental feeding was minimal. Also in Zavala County, cooler temperatures stimulated growth of cool-season grasses and forbes on native range and pastures. Soil moisture ranged from about 60 percent adequate to 100 percent very short. In the southern part of the region, most Cameron County fields remained too wet to work. F all corn was progressing well, forages were good, as were livestock. In Starr County, fall vegetable crops were progressing well, and hay baling continued, though there were reports of armyworms. Soil moisture ranged from 100 percent adequate to 80 percent short.
South Plains: Bailey County had a light frost with temperatures at 31 degrees for one hour on Oct. 14, but very little freeze damage occurred. Soil moisture was dropping due to higher temperatures and recent winds. The silage and corn harvests continued, as well as the grain sorghum harvest in some counties. Early planted crops were already out of the field, but later-planted fields needed a couple more weeks before ready. Peanuts were being dug and combined. Pasture and rangeland remained in good condition. Producers were starting to defoliate cotton in preparation for harvest. However, there were still a large number of cotton acres that needed another week or two before they will be ready. Cotton gins took in a first few bales over the weekend. Lubbock County received very light, spotty showers this week, with cotton harvesting beginning there. No reports of grades were received from the Lubbock classing office yet . Wheat was rapidly progressing thanks to good soil moisture. Swisher County producers continued to harvest haygrazer and grain sorghum. Test weights across the county were considerably lower than predicted.
Southeast: Soil moisture was mostly in the adequate to surplus range, with Brazos and Hardin counties reporting 100 percent adequate. Rangeland and pastures varied from fair to good, with fair ratings being the most common. Livestock were in good condition. With the recent dry weather conditions in Brazoria County, hay cutting and baling was anticipated to increase. The rice harvest in Chambers County was over except for a few late-planted fields. The ratoon – second crop – rice looked very good, though warm weather was needed to keep the crop progressing. A side note to the expected good second crop was there was already lack of storage for the first crop. With the market sluggish and the lack of grain being sold, there was a back-up at the dryers and mills. In Montgomery County, the seasonal temperatures and no rainfall allowed for winter annual pasture plantings begin. Armyworms are affecting warm-season pastures.
Southwest: Fall conditions were above average, but the warmer weather helped grow some much needed grass for grazing. Rangeland and pastures were in very good shape. However, there were major outbreaks of armyworms in small grain and improved pastures. White grubs also infested some newly planted small grain fields. Lots of winter weeds emerged after earlier rains. The condition of wildlife and livestock was on the upswing. Quail numbers and deer antler growth looked good. However, deer body condition scores were below normal but improving.
West Central: Days were warm with cool nights, and many areas received rain over the weekend. There was some hail damage to cotton in the northern tier of counties. Producers were planting small grains. Wheat sowing was well underway. Cotton was rapidly maturing, and most fields were sprayed with defoliant. In general, cotton harvesting should start in the next few weeks. Some early planted cotton was already harvested with reports of above average yields. Armyworms infested many small grain fields. Some producers were able to take another cutting of hay due to the recent rains and warm temperatures. Rangeland and pastures were in good condition as the recent rains helped improve growth of winter grasses and forages. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Stock-tank water levels continued to decline and were becoming a concern. The pecan harvest should pick up in the next few weeks. Some hand harvesting was already underway on smaller, younger trees.