Texas drought & its extended, long term economic impacts

(News and Editorial)
[This post is an observation that  ‘another straw has been placed on the camel’s back.’ – Mr. Larry]
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NOAA: warmest summer for USA since 1936
The United States experienced it’s second warmest summer on record, with an average of 3 degrees above normal. The only warmer summer was in 1936, which was at the height of the Dust Bowl.
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1.  Forget Irene: The Drought in Texas Is the Catastrophe That Could Really Hurt
Aug. 31, 2011, Time magazine US, by Hilary Hylton http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2091192,00.html
“…Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico have been caught in a heat wave  that feeds on the drought, according to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. As sunlight hits the ground, Nielsen-Gammon says, it evaporates any moisture in the soil and raises the temperature of the soil. With no moisture, the ground is a virtual hot plate, adding to the misery. That misery is bound to end and the last of the year’s 100-plus temperatures may be recorded this week, but this drought will have a ripple effect that will spread beyond the region in the months ahead, having an impact on the one place Americans do not need to feel the hurt: their pocketbooks.

From beef prices to the cost of a pair of socks, the Texas drought of 2011 will leave its mark on family budgets. “This drought is just strangling our agricultural economy,” says professor Travis Miller, of Texas A&M University’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. Losses, so far, are estimated at $5 billion. Texas has lost a little over half of its cotton crop as parched fields brought back memories and statistics not seen since the great dust bowl of 1933. Texas produces 55% of the U.S. crop and two-thirds of America’s yield is exported to mills in China, Mexico, Vietnam and Thailand, where textile manufacturers drove prices down by reducing their stockpiles hoping to see a glut on the market and hence lower cotton prices, Miller says. However, their effort did not anticipate the drought and now with shrinking supplies, cotton prices are surging.
The effects go beyond this year’s cotton harvest. Ranchers are selling off cattle in historic numbers, Miller says, many of them getting rid of breeding stock that ranchers can no longer feed and water. The state has also lost an entire hay crop, making winter feeding an expensive proposition. While that may mean lower beef prices in the short run as plenty of newly slaughtered cattle hit the marketplace, it likely will mean higher prices down the road since valuable breeding stock is being sold off.

2. Grim predictions say 9 more years of Texas drought possible 
9/29/2011, Reuters, By Jim Forsyth
“SAN ANTONIO — A devastating Texas drought that has browned city lawns and caused more than $5 billion in damages to the state’s farmers and ranchers could continue for another nine years, a state forecaster said on Thursday.

“It is possible that we could be looking at another of these multiyear droughts like we saw in the 1950s, and like the tree rings have shown that the state has experienced over the last several centuries,” State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon told Reuters.

Some 95 percent of the state is listed as being in either “severe” or “exceptional” drought by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor, and Nielson-Gammon said the last 12 months have been the driest one-year period on record in the Lone Star State.

The state’s worst recorded drought lasted from 1950 through 1957 and prompted the creation of artificial lakes all across Texas to supply water to a state that at the time had a population of 15 million – a whopping 10 million fewer than today.

Nielson-Gammon said Texas was now 10 to 20 inches of rainfall behind where it should be at the end of September, usually one of the state’s wettest months.

Rather than being the exception, severe drought could become the rule in Texas going forward, with wet years being more noteworthy.

“We’ve had five of the last seven years in drought, and it looks like it is going to be six out of eight,” he said.

The month is going out the same way it came in, with Texas firefighters on edge. Friday will be another extremely dangerous day for wildfires, with conditions similar to those over the Labor Day weekend when 60 fires erupted across the state, Holly Huffman of the Texas Forest Service said.

On Sept. 4, a gust of wind blew a dead pine tree into power lines east of Austin, sparking the deadly Bastrop Complex Fire. That blaze killed two people, destroyed 1,600 homes, and is now the costliest fire in terms of lost property in Texas history.

The Forest Service this week called in two air tankers from Canada to fight wildfires that continue to burn around Texas, citing a shortage of enough planes to fight the state’s fires.

The long-term weather patterns, including La Nina currents in the oceans, mirror records from the early 1950s, Nielsen-Gammon said. The current drought, which he said began in earnest in 2005, could wind up being a 15-year stretch if patterns hold, he said.

“We’re very lucky that we had 2007 and 2010, which were years of plentiful rain,” he said. “2010 was the wettest year in record. Were it not for last year, we would be in much worse shape even than we are today.”

Conditions in Texas now are far from good. The drought has dried up many lakes built after the drought of the 1950s, and more than 23,000 separate wildfires fueled by dried brush and trees have destroyed 3.8 million acres and with that 2,800 homes, according to the Texas Forest Service.”

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