Drought-like conditions and the threat of wildfires continue in much of Texas, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Forest Service personnel.
On Tuesday, the Forest Service warned of “extremely critical fire weather conditions west of Big Bend, San Angelo and Wichita Falls, including major cities such as Lubbock, Childress, Abilene, Midland, Odessa and Amarillo.” The elevated threat was due to higher-than-normal temperatures and winds, low relative humidity and a plentitude of dry grass in pastures and rangeland.
Meanwhile, much of the rest of the state remains dry, including South Texas.
“Coming into March, South Texas received less than 25% of the normal rainfall,” says Megan Dominguez, AgriLife Extension range specialist in Corpus Christi. “A lot of the farmers and ranchers are concerned, and there's been some delay in crop planting.”
The Southwest Texas region is about 8” below the long-term average for moisture accumulation since Aug. 1, and some counties in the far western part of the state haven’t reported measurable rainfall for more than 165 days.
Dominguez says some scattered rains in early to mid-March greened up pastures and rangeland grasses, but for the most part there has not been enough moisture to promote vigorous growth. Despite the rain, the danger of wildfire remains high with numerous red-flag warnings, especially in West Texas, she says, but some ranchers have been able to do control burns when wildfire danger was low.
“This has really helped to get rid of that high amount of weed and grass growth from last year,” she says. “I would encourage anyone to do the same – if the weather conditions become right.”
Dominguez says the drought conditions are attributed to La Nina, but there are signs the Pacific Ocean phenomenon is weakening. In the meantime, she recommends ranchers keep stocking rates conservative until they know what the weather is going to do. With cow prices as high as anyone can remember, trimming herds shouldn’t be too economically painful.
“Getting rid of cattle this time of year when you're concerned about precipitation is not a bad deal,” she says.