COLLEGE STATION – State Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon said there's a chance that an El Niño might develop later this year, but even if it does, its effects will not be in time to offset another dry, hot summer.
"Most of the forecast models are pointing in a positive direction for an El Niño. It's still way too early to say, but there's a potential for it," said Nielsen-Gammon, College Station.
But even if with a strong El Niño which usually brings more moisture to parts of the Southwest and Midwest it's effects would not be felt until this fall, he said.
As for this summer, there's been a trend for hotter summers in the last several years, and that's likely to continue.
"That's not good for drought conditions, because that means more evaporation and more water demand," Nielsen-Gammon said.
The recent wet fall has been followed by a fairly dry December and an especially dry January, he noted.
"The thing about the dry winter is that we've had some fall moisture issues already," he said. "Depending upon how much rain we get in the spring, that basically determines how rapidly things dry out in the summertime. Even with a normal rainfall, summer is a time in just about all areas of the state when we're water stressed because evapotranspiration is so high. So we're going to hit the summertime dry conditions earlier than normal, unless we make up this winter moisture deficit in the next couple of months."
And making up that winter deficit in February and March seems unlikely at this time, he said.
"We still don't have a good jet-stream pattern to bring us plentiful moisture, and there's no sign of it developing."
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: The region had extremely cold weather with freezing rain and drizzle. Temperatures fluctuated from the mid-60s to teens. Oats and wheat went dormant in response to the cold weather. Pecan producers finished harvesting, but many had to store pecans that were not sold early because of low prices. Livestock were in good condition with forage supplies holding despite a lot of hay being fed because of many days of weather at or below freezing. Stock water tanks and rivers were full. Because of an improved moisture profile, producers were looking forward to greener and more productive pastures this spring.
Coastal Bend: Cool weather persisted across most of the area, with some counties having well-below-freezing temperatures at night, warming into the mid-40s during the day. Light rain and mist were reported along with some sleet, but there was not enough precipitation to make a difference in soil moisture conditions just enough to postpone planting. Cattle continued to need supplemental feed and hay.
East: Cold weather halted winter forage growth. Many areas received freezing rain and sleet. Producers were feeding hay and supplements. Hay supplies were becoming short in some counties. Producers marketed feeder calves. Beef cattle remained in good condition, though there were reports of cattle lice. Weather and soil conditions permitting, truck farmers worked seedbeds for planting early in the spring. Orchard owners were pruning fruit trees. Demand for firewood was up. Feral hog damage continued to be a problem for many landowners.
Far West: The area had extremely cold temperatures, with highs in the 20s and lows in the single digits. With no precipitation and high winds, pastures were dry. Livestock were in good condition with continued supplemental feeding and minerals. Calving continued.
North: After a cold and wet week, topsoil moisture across the region ranged from short to adequate. About 0.5 to 1 inch of rain was reported across the counties. A few counties even reported a little snow. Most wheat, small grains and winter pastures needed rain. A few producers were able to apply fertilizer, but more rain was needed to soak it in. Livestock producers continued supplemental feeding of cattle. Franklin County reported spring calves were starting to arrive. Some areas reported livestock stressed due to the cold and windy weather. Titus County reported problems with coyotes and hogs.
Panhandle: The region had extremely low temperatures and high winds, with from a trace of snow to as much as 5 inches or more in some areas. Lipscomb County received 8 inches of snow. The subzero temperatures and wind chill factors depleted soil moisture and halted farming activities. Deaf Smith County producers were putting out fertilizer in preparation for spring planting. Some liquid fertilizer was being applied to irrigated wheat fields after grazing. Stocker cattle numbers remained low due to the lack of wheat for grazing and very scant native pasture forages. Ranchers were very busy putting out feed and busting ice. Unfortunately, some cow/calf herds were calving in the subzero weather, with Dallam and Hartley counties reporting that ranchers were warming calves in pickups and barns.
Rolling Plains: There were reports of up to 10 inches of snow across parts of the region, which brought much-needed moisture. Along with the snow came sub-freezing temperatures, with lows in the single digits. Wheat remained in poor condition, but was expected the snowmelt will improve the upper soil moisture profile. Livestock remained in fair condition with continued supplemental feeding. Some producers were breaking ice daily, while others continued to haul water to cattle due to the drought. Runoff water was needed for lakes and ponds.
South: Throughout the region, cold temperatures continued without much rainfall or other precipitation. In the northern part of the region, soil moisture was short to very short. In Atascosa County, all oats and wheat emerged, and the pecan harvest was completed. In Frio County, wheat and oats were in good condition and being grazed, and potato planting continued. In Live Oak County, nearly all oats and wheat had emerged and were both in good condition. Range and pastures remained fair to poor, and livestock producers continued supplemental feeding at a steady pace. In the eastern part of the region, cold temperatures kept crop producers from planting spring crops. Winter wheat in that area was reported to be in fair condition. In Kleberg, Kenedy and Jim Wells counties, very windy conditions dropped soil moisture to short to very short. In the western part of the region, daytime temperatures were in the 50s to 60s, with nighttime lows in the mid-to-lower 30s. Soil moisture varied considerably, from 60 percent adequate in Maverick County to 100 percent short in Zavala County. In Maverick County, oats were 100 percent emerged and in good condition. In Zavala County, despite the cold weather, cabbage, onions and spinach were doing well. Livestock producers were providing supplemental feed to cattle on native range and pastures. In the southern part of the region, soil moisture ranged from 85 percent adequate in Willacy County to 80 percent short in Starr County. Cold weather brought planting to a halt in Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. Spring planting preparations continued in Starr County. Rangeland and pastures were in fair condition.
South Plains: Temperatures continued to fluctuate widely. The highest temperatures were in the 70s, and the lowest in the single digits, with below zero wind chill. Some counties received substantial amounts of snow, while others received just enough to make travel difficult. Areas such as Garza County that received 5 to 9 inches of snow were in pretty good shape. The rest still need precipitation to maintain pasture, range and winter wheat. With bitter cold weather, most producers did not go into fields, but some were preparing for spring planting by cutting stalks and shaping seedbeds. With the cold, wet weather, livestock had to be fed on a regular basis.
Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region varied widely, with most counties reporting adequate, but with some reporting from 60 percent short to as much as 80 percent surplus. Rangeland and pastures varied widely too, from poor to excellent, with poor to fair ratings being the most common. Some counties received precipitation, but it was scattered and light. Temperatures ranged from mild to near freezing throughout the week. Summer pastures remained dormant. Brazoria County received some precipitation, but it was lost quickly to dry weather and high winds. Livestock were in fair condition and pastures remained dormant. In Chambers County, topsoil moisture drastically varied part of the county to another due showers. Fort Bend County had scattered showers early in the week with temperatures in the low 30s and high 60s. Cold and cloudy conditions in Montgomery County increased livestock need for hay. A few producers had oversold their hay supplies and were now looking for hay to buy. Harris County farmers pulled rows together for corn and sorghum planting.
Southwest: The region had cold, wintery weather with very little moisture. A few counties reported freezing rain, sleet and snow, stopping fieldwork for several days. Overall, winter wheat and oats remained in good condition, however recent hard freezes and the lack of rain caused some minor crop damage in some areas. Dry conditions persisted across the region. Livestock were in fair condition and supplemental feeding continued.
West Central: Temperature fluctuations were hard on all livestock. There had been no significant rainfall or moisture in more than 60 days. The extremely dry conditions further increased wildfire danger. Producers were able to get some fieldwork done over the weekend as temperature rose for two days before the cold weather. Some producers continued to plant winter wheat. Earlier planted wheat was in good condition. Some producers were having problems with deer grazing the wheat down. Rangeland and pastures continue to decline. Forages had very little growth and were showing signs of drought stress. Livestock remained in fair condition. Stock tank levels were dropping and producers had to break ice for livestock due to continual freezing weather. Wheat and oats were providing little to no supplemental grazing. Livestock producers continued heavy supplemental feeding of protein and hay.