Texas Wildfires Related to Drought, But What Caused the Drought?

We have a number of wildfires raging in Texas at the moment, and every report mentions the high winds and dry plant material that helps spread the blazes quickly. The soil moisture content is much lower than normal, and there’s no rain in the forecast. Why do we have these conditions? Apparently, it’s related conditions in the Pacific Ocean. More on that in a moment.

According to the Drover’s Cattle Network, this is the worst drought in 44 years, and it’s having a very detrimental effect on the state’s $10.5 billion cattle industry. There simply isn’t enough feed to go around. Cattlemen are cutting back on their herds by necessity, which is helping to drive up beef prices. Texas is having the least amount of rainfall since 1966-67, and the drought won’t just affect beef prices, but wheat prices as well.

The drought is connected to a “La Nina” effect that over the past year pushed the jet stream farther north than usual, resulting in lower than normal rain in the Southern U.S. Plains, Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said.

From October through March, Texas received about 5 inches of rain on average, the smallest total since 1966-67, Nielsen-Gammon said. Normally, the state gets about 11 inches of rain during that period.

According to Bruce Blythe’s article of April 1, 2011, “Severe Drought Testing Texas Cattle Industry’s Survival Instincts,”

If drought continues for the next few months, “it will have a severe impact” on Texas agriculture…” There’s not a lot of subsoil moisture throughout the state. The amount of rain we get from here on out is going to be critical.”

For the week ended March 27, Texas’ range and pasture was rated in 59 percent poor or very poor condition, according to the state’s agriculture department. The state’s wheat crop was rated 62 percent poor or very poor.

Texas is the No. 2 U.S. wheat grower with 5.65 million acres seeded last year, behind only Kansas’ 8.8 million acres.

Normally, Texas receives about 11 inches of rain from October to March, but this year, due to the La Nina in the Pacific ocean, the jet stream has remained farther north, resulting in less rain. Only five inches fell during that period this year.

Texas has experienced drought conditions for the past five years, and the federal government has declared several counties disaster areas nearly every year since 2008. Nevertheless, Texas is still the nation’s biggest cattle state, raising nearly twice as much as Number 2, Kansas, and the state will, no doubt, rebound from these drought and fires, but in the meantime, we’re going to be faced with higher beef prices for some time to come. I haven’t seen any figures so far on how many cattle have perished in the wildfires. Quite a few, I’m afraid, and at the moment, there’s still no rain in the forecast.


About M.J.Deare

I am a writer, actively researching topics of interest. I am also a graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, with a degree in English, and have a master's degree from the University of Memphis. Born in New Orleans, I lived there until moving to northwest Arkansas and from there to Memphis, Tennessee. My husband and I currently reside in The Woodlands, Texas.
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