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Historical Drought & Record Breaking Temperatures Loom Over East Texas

 Historic Drought & Record Breaking Temperatures Loom Over East Texas

East Texas- The great drought of 2010 reared its ugly head and has stuck around in East Texas for nearly a year. The drought has spread across the Lone Star State, burning and choking much of Texas. Texans are facing the second worse drought recorded in the State’s history. The worst drought on record occurred in 1950 and lasted seven years, forever changing the state.

The level of alarm is beginning to rise in the Pineywoods, where historically secure water sources are low and where many streams have run dry for the first time that anyone can recall. Today, nearly 90 percent of Texas is in the two most extreme stages of drought.

Paul Huff a long-time resident of Houston County has never seen such severe drought conditions. Although he recalls the drought of 1980 very well, he says it fails in comparison to the conditions currently looming over East Texas. Huff comes from a long line of farmers and ranchers who have raised cattle in the Pineywoods for the better part of a century.

“I have never seen this creek (Big Elkhart Creek) dry up. I never heard my father mention it, and if he were alive today he would have been 91-years-old,” Huff said.

These longhorns were penned in the Percilla Community and shipped to sale after being sold on Craig’s List several weeks ago.

Huff said his cattle were still in good condition, but he was going to pull the calves off as soon as possible to give the cows some relief. According to Huff, there were approximately 1,000 head of cattle last Tuesday at East Texas Livestock Auction in Crockett, and that number did not include calves. Most ranchers are selling off their 6- to 8-year-old cows ready for slaughter along with younger calves in order to focus their resources on heavier calves and younger cows that still need to grow.

As ponds evaporate, crops fail and the cost of hay rises, Texas ranchers are selling off their cattle in droves, a move likely to cause global ripples. U.S. cattle numbers are at their lowest since the 1950s. Hay production has come to a screeching halt in many areas, leaving ranchers scrambling to feed their herds.The current drought has yielded a record $5.2 billion in agricultural losses, making it the most costly drought on record, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service economists.

The oppressive heat and exceptional drought conditions continue to degrade agricultural conditions. In July one specialist estimated more than 600,000 cows were sold from ranches this year. Sale volumes are reaching record volumes, and in some instances auctions are turning trucks loaded down with cattle away.

The following are losses by commodity:
– Livestock: $2.06 billion (includes $1.2 billion previously reported in May);
– Lost hay production value: $750 million;
– Cotton: $1.8 billion;
– Corn: $327 million;
– Wheat: $243 million;
– Sorghum: $63 million.

This dry creek bed is part of San Pedro creek, located in eastern Houston County. Area residents do not ever recall seeing this water source run dry until now.

According to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M, Aug. 2010-July 2011 is the driest 12-month period in at least 116 years. The last 12 months are worst one-year drought recorded in Texas history.

Texas has broken heat and drought records on several occasions this year. For instance, July 2011 was the warmest month since recording began in 1895, June 2011 was the fifth warmest month since recording began in 1895, and July 2011 was the third driest month since recording began in 1895. The two driest months on record occurred in 1980 and 2000.  In addition to the lack of precipitation, the above-normal temperatures combined with the dryness to augment the devastating drought conditions across most of the state.

In July, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency declared the wildfires in Texas a major disaster. The Drought Preparedness Council is housed in the Texas Department of Public Safety. The State Drought Preparedness Plan provides a comprehensive information source for drought planning and procedure for all levels of government as well as public information. According to the Climate Prediction Center, the drought was expected to persist over the next month or two as Texas was predicted to have below-normal precipitation.

La Nina has been forecasted According to the Climate Prediction Center, the drought is expected to persist over the next month or two, as Texas was predicted to have below-normal precipitation.

Insects have also been choked back in East Texas, due to the lack of weeds and water. The butterfly population is suffering because wild plants are not flowering, along with any other insects that require flowers to collect nectar or pollen. Fire ants have moved down into the soil to gather water and mosquito populations have declined significantly.

The grasshopper population is the only insect that seems to have been little affected by the extreme drought. Usually, wet spring conditions produce a fungus which naturally regulates grasshoppers. However, due to the warm, dry conditions of this past spring that fungus did not make and has give way to an over abundance of grasshoppers in East Texas.

Other bugs have taken to infiltrating East Texans’ homes. Scorpion reports and calls for exterminators have increased this year form frustrated home owners. The striped bark scorpion is the most common in East Texas. It is not poisonous but packs a serious punch if it stings you.

The dry, brown grass crumbles under footsteps.

In the last month, 194 additional water systems have asked their customers to restrict water use by following outdoor water use restrictions. Of these systems, 128 are asking customers to follow a mandatory watering schedule and 66 are asking customers to follow a voluntary watering schedule. Overall there are 687 public water systems that are asking their customers to restrict water use. There are 29 public water systems that have restricted all outside watering.

Residents say walking across the lawn sounds like they are trudging through snow and ice as the crisp brown grass crumbles beneath their steps. Most have quit watering their lawns in an effort to help conserve water, although there are those who continue to drench their yards with water.

Wildlife officials are predicting a dramatic impact on the 2011 hunting season. A bleak-looking dove season is just around the corner, and duck hunting season is expected to be exceptionally bad this year due to lack of water. Migratory fowl depend on normal lake levels in east Texas to support the vegetation they eat. If the drought persists ducks will by-pass East Texas and look for water somewhere else in the Deep South.

TPWD is predicting high visibilty of white-tail deer this fall.

East Texas deer hunters may reap the benefits of the dusty, dry conditions in the Pineywoods this year. Game wardens are predicting more visibility for hunters looking for white-tails. TPWD game wardens say a good hunting season is necessary to avoid starvation, and health issues. Officials are also predicting birthrates among deer to be significantly lower next spring due to the drought.

Wildfires are still an ever present threat to Texans across the state. Texas Forest Service now reporting that a total of 250 of Texas’ 254 counties now have outdoor burn bans in place because of ongoing drought. That’s a statistic never before seen in Texas. The previous record was set in early 2006 when 221 counties in Texas banned outdoor burning. Orange, Jefferson, Willacy, and Zapata counties are the only counties that have not yet ordered burn bans. Since fire season started on Nov. 15, 2010, Texas Forest Service and area fire departments have responded to 19,259 fires that have burned 3,483,516 acres.

Wildfires are still a major threat to East Texans and the rest of the state.

Temperatures above 100 degrees have lingered over most of the state for over two months. Droughts have been recorded as a problem in Texas since Spaniards explored the area. Every decade since 1822 has been marked by at least one period of extreme drought.

Associated with dry times are grasshopper plagues, brush and grass fires, sand and dust storms, crop failures and depression, livestock deaths, disease resulting from insufficient and impure drinking water, and migrations of citizens from parched territory.

Information concerning pioneer-day droughts is sketchy because of the absence of official statistics; but data on some droughts, especially those during the nineteenth century, can be compiled from individual complaints recorded in newspapers, diaries, and memoirs.

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