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Drought/Burn Bans/Fire Hazards

County-wide burn bans through May 1

Monthly Change in Drought Monitor Classification

U.S. Drought Monitor, April 7, 2009
U.S. Drought Monitor, April 28, 2009

Apr. 3 – The Tarrant County Water District is partnering with Dallas' counterpart to create a television ad promoting water conservation techniques aimed to cut water usage from all residents. Although the ad exceeds $1 million, officials warn that costs in the long run could reach a much higher range.

Apr. 5 – Intensely high winds, with gusts of nearly 60 mph, created sparks from power lines and ignited an 11,000 acre fire which threatened to destroy the town of Wheeler in North Texas. Because of the high winds, no aircraft could be used to fight the blaze. Low visibility from the smoke caused several accidents on I-40. After the fire had been extinguished, officials report that fourteen homes had been damaged, including two that were completely destroyed.

Apr. 7 – Deep south Texas, including Brownsville, has been under severe drought conditions for several weeks, and parts of the Gulf Coast and Central Texas are under exceptional drought. Reservoirs seem to be adequate, but fire danger remains a dangerous threat.

Soil moisture has been steadily decreasing, which creates a positive feedback and worsens the drought. Farmers across Texas are constantly watching for any rainfall that might saturate their land.

Apr. 10 – Almost 100,000 acres have burned across North Texas including Montague County during the past two days. At least three deaths are attributed to these fires, all occurring within Montague County. Dry vegetation was burned so fully that stretches of land were completely barren. An early morning rain helped to extinguish the large blaze.

As a side result, Central Texas residents became engulfed in a smoky haze several miles away. A similar haze occurred in East Texas including College Station, where smoke from fires near Brownsville traveled hundreds of miles and left the city with low visibility.

Water contamination in the Guadalupe River in Comal County has worried some officials who advise residents to check water quality often if they plan any river activities. Record low levels, nearly 10% of the normal flow, have concentrated pollutants normally at safe levels.

Apr. 16 – Water resource officials in Central Texas have had second thoughts about diverting water from the Colorado river to reservoirs intended for use by San Antonio. The drought has brought water shortage concerns to the area, while implementation costs of such a plan have become nearly double of their initial projected value.

Apr. 22 – A new website from several Texas management agencies, including the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife, posts past and recent information about the drought. Also, links to weather information and news updates are available for interested visitors. The website can be found here:

Ground water must be managed properly so that water will be available for use in the next few decades. Unfortunately, Texas law presently does not address ground water conservation. New management strategies are requested to protect natural recharge zones and promote/enforce wise usage of existing water in aquifers.

Simple water conservation techniques that everyone can use include watering lawns during early morning or late twilight hours, fixing leaky faucets, using water-saving commodes and shower heads, and washing full loads of laundry. Lubbock residents had a chance to learn about how to use make and use rain barrels.

Apr. 27 – East Texas rain has helped to alleviate some of the drought, but much more rain will be needed to replenish stock tanks and give the soil a deep soak. Although East and North Texas have received plentiful rainfall this past month, areas such as Victoria and San Antonio remain in extremely dry conditions. Forecasts point to around average rainfall for most of Texas. Lake levels are still low and farmers are urged not to abandon their restrictive management measures yet.

Capturing rain water has become very popular in Texas, due to the drought over the past several months and in recent history. At least 1,000 gallons of (free) rain water can be captured and stored for later use. The storage tank can hold 16,000 gallons, which can be filled with a three inch rain; not only does it save money but keeps yards very green.

In Southeast Texas, farmers have used a rain water capture system to provide irrigation water to their fruit trees and bushes; thus, they save their well water for domestic uses.

Agricultural Impacts


Apr. 3 – Beef demand has remained solid during this economic period and prices have rose slightly since the mid-March rains came to most of Texas. Ranchers who have sold their stock due to dried water sources have started to buy new herds and those who have held on to poor cattle are breathing a sigh of relief for now.

Apr. 8 – Recent rainfall have farmers questioning whether to treat their cattle for worms. The drought has kept grazing grass dry and without these parasites; rainfall allows them to move onto grass blades where they can be ingested. However, if the dry conditions continue, the costs of treating the cattle may outweigh the benefits.

Cattle ranchers in South Texas have been affected by its exceptional drought conditions: water is running low, hay and feed prices are rising, and cattle prices are down. Experts suggest that ranchers break their herds into units and to keep selling the poorest units until significant amounts of rain arrives.

Although some pastures around Texas have greened from recent rainfall, experts warn farmers to watch their herds and prevent overgrazing, as a precaution for a possibly dry summer.

Ranchers who were forced to sell their cattle due to drought are eligible to receive tax breaks for 2-4 years, depending on the "disaster area" status of a particular location. This tax break also includes future expenditures to replace sold livestock.


Apr. 15 – Turkey hunters have had a difficult time finding healthy toms and jakes, since the drought has turned the turkey's mind not to mating but survival. Therefore, even on land with plentiful water resources, the drought has depleted vegetation and thus insects. Consequently, turkeys must spend more time finding insects and less time finding a mate.

In dealing with drought, gardeners in extremely dry South Texas should take every measure in protecting their lawn and gardens, such as installing a slow-dripping irrigation system, mulching wherever you can, and planting drought-resistant plants. These drought-tolerant plants can still bring plenty of color to a dry environment.

Apr. 25 – An invasive water-dwelling plant called the Giant Salvinia has taken over some East Texas lakes. Normally, deep freezes control the spread of the plant; however, during the past decade, deep freezes in East Texas have been infrequent and have allowed it to spread. Boaters and fisherman are asked to check their propellers/boats before exiting.


Apr. 1 – Peach farmers in the Wichita Falls area have seen another set back other than drought; a deep freeze with light snow/freezing rain has killed several of their peaches, though some farmland has been spared. Such low temperatures with freezing rain are not common for the area so late in the year.

Apr. 6 – Dairy farmers are getting around 0.85 cents per gallon of milk, while spending at least $1 per gallon to produce it, due to rising feed costs from record drought. Farmers on large farms have been losing nearly $50,000 per month; however, stores are selling this milk at nearly $3.50/gallon, having farmers and consumers questioning the prices.

Wheat growers in Texas are suffering from dry soil, as the latest report gives 40% of the Texas wheat crop a poor rating. Some cropland has wheat less than half a foot tall, and many North Texas farmers will not even bother harvesting their below average crop.

Apr. 10 – Peanut farming in Texas has been devastated by drought and inclement weather, such as hail and deep freezes. Texas farmers will devote less than two-thirds of the total 2008 peanut cropland to this year's peanut crop. Experts agree that a great fall crop is a must to spark demand and raise prices so that farmers might minimize their losses.

Apr. 15 – Because of the drought, North Texas farmers planted about half the corn acreage they planted last year, though well-timed rain events have kept the planted crop in very healthy condition. However, nationally corn has been delayed in planting and experts at AgriLife say that summer needs to be ideal for the corn to mature before the first frost.

Apr. 21 – The wheat crop in Texas has grown worse, with about 50% of the crop receiving a poor rating; only 1% of the crop is in excellent condition. Warm temperatures early in 2009 caused the wheat to mature, and the late freeze had a more disastrous effect than if the wheat had not matured. Wheat crops north of Amarillo have the possibility to produce fair crop yields, though some farmers have suffered a complete loss of their crop.

Similarly, corn stalks normally about 3 feet tall are barely 6 inches in Central Texas, though pecans will be helped by recent rainfall.

Climate Other Impacts

Severe Storms/Inclement Weather

Apr. 1 – Blizzard-like conditions in the Texas Panhandle were responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,500 head of cattle. In trying to find shelter, the cattle crammed around fences and other barriers, suffocating several in the herds. Farmers estimate a financial loss of around $3 million.

Apr. 2 – Tarrant County in North Texas experienced severe weather, as at least 11,600 residents lost power due to high winds. Gusts of 50 mph in Dallas and other parts of Texas were also reported. In Keller, nearly 400 vehicles were damaged from baseball-sized hail, while areas south of Keller received at least golf ball-sized hail. Residents are asking their insurance agents to provide an estimate for any damage.

Apr. 4 – A dust storm west of Amarillo caused several multiple-car pile-ups on I-40. Visibility on the highway dropped to nearly zero as a huge cloud of dust came blowing toward vehicles; even the winds themselves nearly knocked many vehicles off the road.

Apr. 6– Freeze warnings were issued for North Texas, as 40 mph wind gusts coupled with temperatures as low as the mid 20s created a chilly springtime night for the area. To assess freeze damage to crops, the Hill Country AgriLife Extension Service announced an emergency meeting.

Apr. 10 – An EF-2 tornado touched down in Harrison County in Northeast Texas that was accompanied by golf ball-sized hail; more than 30,000 were without power during the night and into the early morning. At the same time, strong storms in West Texas dropped at least golf ball-sized hail throughout a large area and winds greater than 60 mph blew roofs off of homes and downed power lines.

On the next day, Lubbock firefighters reported lightning had sparked a small grass fire (which was quickly extinguished by heavy rain) and had hit a home antenna, which destroyed some electrical wiring. Odessa residents begin the cleanup process, as the same set of storms damaged airplane hangars and roofs on homes. Unfortunately, some Easter gatherings were cancelled due to abnormally cool air following the storm system.

Apr. 16-19 – In the Panhandle, stretches of I-27 were matted in hail; snow plows were used to clear the layer of ice that halted traffic and backed up rain water.

Austin residents say they are thrilled to see running currents of water in the city, as the storm system moved through the area. Over 13,000 cyclists were stranded for a day, as the MS 150 starting in Houston and ending in Austin was rained out on Saturday.

Several tornadoes were spawned from the system. A weak tornado near Kress in North Texas left little damage. One tornado east of Lubbock and two others near Abilene were reported, though Abilene's rain totals were officially less than half an inch.

Workers repairing damage from the storm system of late March, which caused more than 20,000 reported vehicle damages and 15,000 home damages, were delayed by the storm system's high winds and intense precipitation. Brenham residents reported damages from the system, from blown-out windows to stripped roofs.

Galveston police pulled at least six motorists stranded by quickly rising flood waters; residents compare such flooding to Tropical Storm Allison of 2001. Unofficially, one tornado was sighted near Scholes Int'l Airport.

In Houston, five children were drowned after an intoxicated man swerved into a flooded ditch. A road in Kingwood in Harris County collapsed and uncovered a sink hole around 25 feet at its widest point. Heavy rain and rushing water contributed to this inconvenience, which affected about 100 vehicles.

Apr. 23 – Of the top 10 most hail-prone areas in the U.S., three were counties in North Texas, including Denton (#5), Tarrant (#7), and Johnson(#10) counties.

Apr. 25-27 – At least three tornadoes have been confirmed from the recent storm system that moved across Texas. One hit east of Georgetown in Williamson County, which lasted for about 2 miles and left about 2,000 residents without power and damaged 15 structures. Another tornado, rated EF-1, hit Corsicana, damaging several trees and at least 10 buildings. Finally, a tornado of unknown strength hit De Witt County in southern Texas, leaving damages of a communications tower.

Lampasas rescue officials deployed a helicopter to aid in the rescue of two men trapped by rising flood waters. Unofficial weather reports suggest funnel clouds might have formed in the area, though no confirmations have yet been made. Heavy rains in Houston have been blamed for the collapse of a roof; because of major flooding, sections of the Beltway were closed and disrupted traffic flow. A senior-living complex was evacuated for fear of rising water. Nearly 7 inches of rain fell in some parts of Galveston County, causing major flooding problems on area streets, though no damage had been reported.

Beach visitors experienced very strong, persistent winds through the weekend, increasing the fire danger for coastal areas.


Apr. 7 - The bluebonnet show around Texas has been an average-low turnout according to an AgriLife Extension Service official. East Texas areas that received relatively large amounts of rain, compared to areas in Central Texas and the Hill Country, have a fairly thick population, but the drought has taken its toll on the Texas wildflower season.

Apr. 14 – Substantial rainfall has fallen in some eastern and central portions of Texas. Botanists say that late bloomers, like the Indian Blanket, will thrive and show well in areas that receive significant rain now. Early bloomers will also perk up as beneficial rain falls on them. When collecting seeds, which have become more available from more abundant rainfall, make sure to obtain seed from plentiful species and allow less common species to establish themselves before collecting them.

Bird Species

Apr. 1 – Residents are asked to report sightings of whooping cranes as they migrate to Canada. Almost 20% of the Texas flock have not returned or perished since last year. Very dry conditions, leading to very salty water and a lower blue crab count, have caused much stress to the cranes.

Hurricane Impacts

Apr. 15 - Sea Rim State Park in Southeast Texas, after near direct hits from Hurricanes Rita and Ike, will be destroyed and no plans for rebuilding are imminent.

In Galveston, leafless trees soaked by the surge from Hurricane Ike have not shown any life as Spring continues; officials fear that if leaves have not appeared already, the trees are probably a lost cause. Those with 50% or more canopy showing will remain, while others will have to be removed for safety reasons using city funding. A survey from 40 experts in one week will show which species of trees are well and which will probably not live.

Apr. 22 – Southeast Texas blueberry farms have suffered from the effects of Hurricanes Rita and Ike. One berry farm has lost 800 blueberry bushes from Rita and 400 others from Ike. As a result, pick-your-own-berries businesses have incurred clean-up costs and have lost much of their business this year from the lack of blueberries. Other farmers who have lost fences can participate in Operation New Fences to free tools and fencing materials to replace those fences destroyed by Hurricane Ike.


Apr. 18 – Allergies in Northeast Texas have not only started earlier this year but have been prolonged from particles caused by grass fires, high winds, and dust. Little rain has come to any part of Texas to help keep allergens out of the air.

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