Texas Crop Weather: What Happened to El Nino?

    Snow falls on stocker cattle in wheat pasture near Amarillo. While the winter has been dry, El Niño remains strong, and wetter conditions are returning, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Regents Professor at Texas A&M University, College Station. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Kay Ledbetter)

    Most of the state has been drier than normal by 1 inch to 3 inches for the last 30 days, according to the National Weather Service.

    So what happened to the wetter-than-normal winter predicted because of El Niño?

    “It all depends upon what time period you are looking at,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Regents Professor at Texas A&M University, College Station. “It’s been fairly dry since the beginning of 2016, but from October through December, we were generally quite wet.”

    In fact, Nielsen-Gammon said, the October through December period was wet enough to bring the average rainfall total several inches above the average for strong El Niños of the past.

    “While we’ve had a dry winter, the combined fall and winter have been wetter than normal,” he said. “Typically, you get one or two dry months within an El Niño. There’s no guarantee the whole thing is going to be wetter than average. A lot is going to depend upon the weather from day to day or week to week.”

    Nielsen-Gammon said the current El Niño remains strong, with no sign it’s going to weaken until spring or summer. Also, many areas had rain the last week of February.

    “I believe we’re just going through a temporary dry stretch that is soon going to be coming to an end, particularly in western Texas over the next couple of weeks,” he said.

    There have been some reports that the current El Niño is actually strengthening, but it depends upon what metric is used, Nielsen-Gammon noted.

    “It’s gotten a little bit stronger in some ways and weaker in others. It’s basically just holding its own right now.”

    But there are signs of the coming demise of the El Niño, he said.

    Snow falls on stocker cattle in wheat pasture near Amarillo. While the winter has been dry, El Niño remains strong, and wetter conditions are returning, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Regents Professor at Texas A&M University, College Station. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Kay Ledbetter)

    Snow falls on stocker cattle in wheat pasture near Amarillo. While the winter has been dry, El Niño remains strong, and wetter conditions are returning, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Regents Professor at Texas A&M University, College Station. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Kay Ledbetter)

    “There’s a lot of cold water close to the surface in the western tropical Pacific Ocean that is going to be moving eastward over the next couple of months,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Hopefully, the cold water won’t take over and turn into a La Niña by next winter, because that would mean a dry year next year.”

    Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    Central: Soil moisture was mostly rated as fair, though in some areas topsoil was beginning to become short due to lack of rain and warmer-than-average weather. Rangeland, pastures and crops were mostly rated as fair throughout the region. Many farmers started planting corn. Pecan and peach producers were concerned about trees breaking dormancy early, before the last freeze of the winter, which usually comes about mid-March. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued.

    Coastal Bend: No rain was received. Temperatures were above normal with windy days. Topsoil moisture declined. Some producers began planting corn, taking advantage of remaining good subsoil moisture. However, many were waiting to plant, concerned that there might be a late freeze. Grazing quality declined, but cattle continued to be in good condition.

    East: Though some rain was received late in the reporting period, drier conditions were the general rule. Subsoil and topsoil moisture remained adequate. The warmer and drier conditions were not favorable for cool-season grass growth, but most counties reported pastures and rangeland to be in fair condition. Strong winds, dry forages and low humidity have created wildfire concerns. Producers were topdressing winter pastures. Upshur County producers were planning prescribed burns to enhance forage quality in pastures. Vegetable growers were planting onions and potatoes. Fruit trees were blooming. Livestock were in fair to good condition with continued supplemental feeding. Calving season continued. Henderson County producers reported calf losses due to coyote predation. Selling of market-ready calves and cull cows continued. Houston County cattle sale numbers were low, but prices were $2 to $5 higher per hundredweight on calves. Shelby County also had low numbers at the sale barn, but prices there were still down. Feral hogs continued to be a problem.

    North: Topsoil moisture varied from adequate to short. Warm, windy days dried out soils and vegetation. Temperatures reached 80 degrees on a couple of days. Winter wheat responded well to the drier topsoil. Winter pastures were doing well, but some producers were worried the unseasonably warm weather might bring on greenbugs and other pests. Ryegrass began to grow. Livestock were in good condition, and calves were doing well. Hay shortages became common.

    Panhandle: Temperatures varied widely, slightly above average early in the week, warming to near record highs by late week and back to almost normal by the weekend. No moisture was received. Most producers were preparing fields for spring planting. Rangeland and pasture conditions varied from poor to excellent, with most reporting good to fair. Wheat was generally doing well, but there were some concerns about what the wide temperature swings might have on the crop’s development. In Dallam and Hartley counties, dry and windy weather raised wildfire danger. Alfalfa had good growth in the warmer weather. Spring calving season was underway. Deaf Smith County producers were applying fertilizer, and spreading composts and manures. Wheat was being grazed heavily by stocker cattle. Cattle on dormant rangeland were provided supplemental feed.

    Rolling Plains: Conditions morphed from those of a wet, cool winter to a hot, dry winter in a matter of weeks. Warm weather coupled with plenty of sunshine dried out pastures, rangeland and winter wheat. Topsoil moisture steeply declined, and the threat of wildfires rose. Some commissioners’ courts were reviewing enacting burn bans. With temperatures reaching the high 80s, winter forages and wheat were beginning to show signs of stress. Some wheat producers were sparingly topdressing fertilizer and applying weed controls. Lakes and stock-water tanks remained in good shape.

    South: The region had mild temperatures and high winds, but no substantial rain except in one northern county. In the northern part of the region, corn planting continued, and wheat and potatoes were being irrigated. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued because of poor rangeland and pasture conditions. Soil moisture was adequate in Atascosa, LaSalle and Live Oak counties. Frio County had 100 percent short soil moisture, and McMullen County reported 60 percent adequate subsoil and 100 percent short topsoil moisture. In the eastern part of the region, dry conditions created high risks for wildfire. One fire burned more than 800 acres of brush country but did not claim any homes or lives. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, pastures were moisture stressed. Ranchers increased supplemental feeding of cattle. In Jim Wells County, subsoil moisture was 50 percent adequate and topsoil moisture 100 percent short. Kleberg and Kenedy soil moisture was short. In the western part of the region, highs soared well above 80 degrees. Wind gusts as high as 40 to 45 mph and dry conditions raised the threat of wildfires. The development of wheat and oats slowed due to the lack of moisture. Cabbage and spinach harvesting was light. Rangeland and pasture conditions further declined, forcing livestock producers to continue providing supplemental feed. Soil moisture was short in Dimmit, Maverick, Zapata and Zavala counties. Webb County soil moisture was adequate. In the southern part of the region, row-crop planting was completed and onions progressed well. Supplemental feeding of beef cattle continued. Rangeland and pastures remained in fair condition, and supplemental feeding of cattle continued. Soil moisture was adequate in the southern counties.

    South Plains: Cochran County producers were preparing for spring planting. Soil moisture dropped due to warmer temperatures and high winds. Pasture and rangeland were in good condition but needed rain. Winter wheat continued to progress. In Floyd County, warmer temperatures stimulated winter wheat growth. The crop looked good thanks to adequate subsoil moisture from earlier snows. It could use more moisture over the next few weeks to keep growing. Hockley County producers were also preparing fields for spring planting. Lubbock County had highs in the mid-80s. Trees began to break dormancy and were budding. Field activities included cutting stalks, shaping beds and some disking. Area wheat fields responded favorably to the moisture and warm weather. In Swisher County, continued windy, dry weather worried farmers who were still making planting decisions. Wildfire broke out in several Conservation Reserve Program fields.

    Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely but was mostly adequate to surplus, with adequate being the most common rating. Fort Bend County reported 100 percent adequate levels, while Galveston County reported 100 percent very short moisture. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, being mostly fair to good, with good ratings being the most common. Walker County received light rain, which helped maintain soil moisture levels. Warm weather promoted the growth of small grains, ryegrass and legumes. Brazoria County didn’t get the rain that was forecast, while Fort Bend County producers were expecting rain before the end of the month. Many producers began planting corn last week; some planted sorghum. Livestock were in good condition.

    Southwest: With warm conditions and no cold weather forecasted, some farmers started planting corn. Others were waiting for rain before planting. There was some greenbug and rust damage to wheat. Pastures continue to decline from lack of rain. Livestock remained in fair condition.

    West Central: The region had unseasonably warm, dry, windy daytime conditions with cold nights. The potential for wildfire remained high. Small grains and other forages needed rain to boost growth. Winter wheat somewhat declined due to low topsoil moisture, but was still generally in good condition. Producers were preparing fields for planting spring crops. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved. Some warm-season grasses broke dormancy due to above-normal temperatures. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Ranchers were supplementing cattle with protein cubes and hay. Cattle prices dropped somewhat. Some trees were budding.

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