‘Multimillion-dollar’ rains save crops but barely budge drought

Posted Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A “multimillion-dollar” rain that soaked much of Texas last week rejuvenated parched crops and greened up lawns, but it put only a small dent in the unforgiving drought that has blanketed the state for three years.

“It was a lifesaver. I told them in church on Sunday it was the best rain I ever remember having,” said Payton Scott, a Cisco farmer.

Travis Miller, a drought specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, called it a “July blessing.”

“It came just in time because we really needed it,” he said. “It was a multimillion-dollar rain. It will make a huge difference in the cotton crop. It was perfect timing for the corn crop.”

The unusual July soaking dropped 1 to 10 inches across the state, but most of that moisture was sucked up by bone-dry ground and never made it to Texas’ depleted reservoirs.

Statewide reservoir storage was at 64 percent Thursday, down 2.2 percentage points from a month ago and 10 percentage points from a year ago, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

Reservoirs in the Tarrant Regional Water District were 70.5 percent full Thursday, down from 71 percent July 19, according to the district’s website. The district implemented outdoor watering restrictions June 3 when supply fell to 75 percent.

One exception to the low-water trend was Lake Cisco, about 100 miles west of Fort Worth. It went from “way, way down to nearly filled up,” said Scott, who got 6 inches of rain on one of his fields and 10 inches on another.

Lake Cisco was 35 percent full a month ago and is now at 63.5 percent, according to the Water Development Board.

“I had some neighbors who swore they got 14 inches. We were sucking wind with our hay but with this big ol’ rain, we’re going to make a hay crop which we haven’t done in two years,” said Scott, who sells produce at the Fort Worth Farmers Market.

But the downpours barely moved the Texas drought meter, with 99 percent of the state still abnormally dry and 67 percent mired in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.

The biggest relief was in the extreme and exceptional categories, both of which fell by 6 percentage points to 28 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

“We had some generous rains, but it wasn’t a drought-buster. It was more like a brief reprieve,” said Tom Bradshaw, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth.

Another cool front arrives in North Texas on Friday with a chance of rain across the region into the night and possibly early Saturday, he said.

Saturday will also be cooler, with temperatures in the high 80s or low 90s.

“Unfortunately, once you get past that point, it’s looking pretty warm. We’ll return to normal summer conditions next week with another upper-level high building over us. It’s heralding August,” Bradshaw said.

The Climate Prediction Center projects above-normal temperatures in August and expects drought to persist across much of Texas through October.

Nonetheless, the rains, which allowed some farmers to shut off their irrigation pumps for a few days, were particularly beneficial for cotton, hay, sorghum and corn, the state’s top cash crops, Miller said.

“If you get 3 or 4 inches of rain, it makes a huge difference. Some people really benefited. An inch and a half of rain will last two or three weeks, and then they’ll need another one,” Miller said.

“But at this point, I think everybody will take anything they can get, especially in July,” he said.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp

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