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Drought/Burn Bans/Fire Hazards

County-wide burn bans through April 1

Monthly Change in Drought Monitor Classification

U.S. Drought Monitor, March 3, 2009
U.S. Drought Monitor, March 31, 2009

Mar.1-2 – A fire in dry Bastrop County ignited by a wind-downed power line destroyed 28 homes, 12 businesses, and countless vehicles. This fire has been one of the worst fires in Bastrop's history. The blaze is reported to have consumed about 1,200 acres. Local firefighters report that the blaze is about 70-90% contained, but smoldering logs and forecasted high winds could worsen the situation. As Mar. 8, the fire has been 100% contained.

Mar. 5 – Record high temperatures and a foreboding, ever-eminent fire danger in Texas has prompted an AgriLife horticulturist to conduct a program in Abilene to educate residents on fire-resistant plants and proper placement of these plants around the house. Not since June 2006 has every Texas county experienced some type of drought condition.

Mar. 7 – The Texas Farm Bureau of Waco has created a new website documenting the impacts of the recent drought. It includes stories from around the state that tell of the consequences of the drought in their area from local farmers and ranchers. The website is found here.

Mar. 8 – The first Texas rainwater conference will be held from Mar. 20-21 in Kerrville. Individuals from the Texas Water Development Board, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will discuss how to "green" the state and various water conservation methods.

Mar. 10 – Very dry soil and dead vegetation in the Panhandle sparked a 6,000 acre fire in four counties; locals claim conditions have not been this dire in 50 years. Farmers hope rain will come soon to preserve some of the winter wheat crop vital for feeding cattle. Other fire danger lingers in the area and around several portions of Texas.

Mar. 11 – Though plentiful rainfall has fallen through many parts of Texas, the drought is expected to remain until El Nino conditions form in the Pacific this fall. La Nina (which creates very dry conditions in Texas) will diminish as summer approaches and forecasts point to El Nino forming, which will leave Texas in a wetter, cooler climate.

Mar. 12 - Lakes Athens, Cedar Creek, and Palestine in northeast Texas are nearing their normal levels, as rainfall unofficially reaching 4.5 inches has filled each up to 18 inches.

However, residents lulled into a false sense of security ultimately caused 15 different brush fires in Burnet County alone, from as few as 2 brush piles that were initially lit. A few residents and farms were threatened and the fires consumed approximately 100 acres. Similar fires occurred throughout Texas; this proves that heavy rains do not lessen the threat of wildfires.

Mar. 16 – Texas is looking at a near $1 billion in agricultural losses from the drought. Cattle ranchers have bought supplemental feed or sold their livestock because of dried tank beds. Farmers have added costs up to $30 per acre for irrigation. The Panhandle's wheat crop might be saved by more rain in the area within the next few weeks. Governor Rick Perry has asked the Department of Agriculture for emergency low-interest federal loans for farmers in every county in Texas.

Mar. 19 – Borden and Scurry counties in North Central Texas have conserved water through proper brush control, cattle grazing monitoring, and water management. By ridding the area of some invasive water-consuming trees like the Salt Cedar, farmers have noticed once dry stream beds flowing (and growing) with water.

Mar. 20 – Southeast Texas moved closer toward a non-drought status when the new drought monitor labeled the area as abnormally dry, up from a slightly worse moderate drought label.

Mar. 25 – The Texas Comptroller brings awareness to drought-stricken cities like Austin that leaky pipes in the water system can waste up to 300 gallons/minute. Lack of adequate water, especially with so much wasted water, could cost Texas $9 billion. At this time, nearly 88% of Texas is experiencing some stage of drought, while 18% are experiencing extreme to exceptional drought; the latter generally happens once every 50 years.

Mar. 31 – East Texas is looking green. Therefore, dry areas of Texas are looking to East Texas for a potential water resource area. Central and northern portions of Texas especially look to obtain water from the plentiful East Texas resource, though state legislation requires a water study to determine if such sharing carries few ill effects.

Agricultural Impacts


Mar. 8 – Central Texas cattle ranchers feel that they are not receiving proper federal aid from the drought conditions that they have had to bear. Many ranchers have been forced to slaughter or sell their herds from lack of water and feed.

Mar. 14 – Because of the drought, Texas cattle ranchers have lost over $800 million in the past year. High costs of supplement nutrition, failed wheat grazing fields, and dried tank beds have meant huge losses during the past year. An established South Texas rancher estimates that in very dry conditions, it takes around $15/head/week to feed a herd. Newly born calves are being stressed by the rain and some ranchers are giving away cattle from lack of proper resources.


Mar. 7 – Because of the drought, small tributaries in Texas rivers have dried up and cut off major spawning venues for White bass. The fish are full of eggs waiting to find a good place to deposit them.

Mar. 8 – As with most lakes in Texas, Lake Somerville's fishing has been better than normal due to unseasonably warm temperatures that have taken hold of the state. However, trophy fish are not as large and prevalent as they have been historically.

Mar. 11 – Biologists worry that wild turkeys in Texas may be ill-affected by the drought conditions and host a poor showing for the hunting season this fall. The drought could cause little breeding effort and nearly eliminate nesting, especially in South Texas. The drought has stressed hen health. Furthermore, the lack of vegetation on the ground has limited turkey nesting areas.


Mar. 1 – Farmers in Hill County are reluctant to plant their first spring crops, because soil moisture is fair at best for crops to grow. AgriLife estimates suggest that 60-70% of the seeds should take root. The corn crop, planted recently, needs a heavy rain shower within the next couple of weeks for optimum growth.

Mar. 2 – Established Texas farmers recalling the 1950s drought say they are experiencing an entirely different event. Almost 97% of Texas is in some drought, and places like San Antonio and Austin are the driest areas in the country. Unless La Nina deteriorate like forecasters predict, agricultural costs in the coming months could be devastating.

Mar. 6 – Wheat aphid infestations have taken hold in the Panhandle and Southern Plains of Texas. An AgriLife entomologist reports that infestations like this are usual; however, the numbers this year have been unusually high and should be controlled. Crop dusters in the Panhandle say that these aphids thrive in very dry conditions, in which case Texas has been an ideal residence. Farmers must decide to spend the $10/acre to spray the aphids or wait for some rain.

Mar.9 – Unless a steady, soaking rain comes to Texas, forecasts point to extremely low cotton prices, high irrigation and crop maintenance costs, and very dry soil. About 90% of farmers believe they will undergo financial hardships in the next 3 years. Though many are switching to specialty crops, some will grow their usual corn and wheat crop.

Mar. 17 – Farmers producing feed grains have seen huge profits due to so much supplemental feed needed in dry parts of Texas. In fact, one ton of grain costs $300, compared to $200 from 2008.

Mar. 20 – Even though drought conditions have persisted in the past several months, a soil water survey in the High Plains suggests that soil moisture is actually up from the previous year. This means that irrigation costs, even though water is more expensive, will be down.

Mar. 21 – Even though a sold rainfall wetted a dry Texas ground a week ago, it came too late to save much of the North Central Texas wheat crop, of which over 60% is labeled as poor to very poor. Agricultural economists say that cropland needs to produce at least 15 bushels of wheat per acre to counter harvesting costs, and to break even, the price per bushel needs to be at least $6, about $0.75 above its present value.

Mar. 23 – Some Oklahoma farmers say Texas farmers looking to rotate crops should plant winter canola. The crop grows well in dry conditions, like those seen in many parts of Texas and eliminates much of the weed problems found in annually planted wheat fields.

Mar. 24 – Unfavorable economic conditions and severe drought could result in the lowest cotton crop production the Lower Rio Grande Valley has ever seen. Estimates suggest that cotton farmers will plant less than a third of what they usually plant, summing to a low 60,000 acres.

Mar. 30 – Peanut farmers in Texas have been hit hard this year, not only from extra costs in crop maintenance due to drought but from public fear of peanut disease. Therefore, peanut crop prices are barely above the federal loan amount which the farmers pay. In fact, even if the peanut price rises $20 to $375/ton, farmers could expect a loss of $150/acre even with as much as 2.25 tons of peanuts per acre.

Other Climate Impacts

Severe Storms/Inclement Weather

Mar. 8 – Public safety officials urge all residents to prepare their emergency survival kit now that severe weather season has begun. This can include non-perishable food items, water, and a battery-powered NOAA weather radio.

Mar. 10-12 – Heavy rainfall in Dallas caused 3,800 power customers to be in the dark for several hours. The first major rain in several months fell in Texas from a stalled system over the South.

A College Station farmer read 2.5 inches from his rain gauge, roughly the same as the officially recorded precipitation for the area.

Central Texas cities received from about half an inch to an inch of rain over a three day period, causing the burn ban in Williamson County to be temporarily lifted for a few days and coastal Jefferson County to rescind its burn ban.

Mar. 15 – A man from Ransom Canyon died after reportedly being struck by lightning on a beach near Port Aransas. This news comes as a grave warning to all residents to stay inside when lightning is in the vicinity.

Mar. 17 – At least 20 multiple-vehicle wrecks occurred on I 35 near Waco in a 24 hour period in only a 5 mile stretch of highway due to thick fog. TxDot suggests that drivers travel at speeds below the speed limit during foggy or rainy days. Fog is also blamed for a major 20 vehicle pile-up that occurred on Texas 6 in Brazos County , injuring at least 9.

Mar. 22 – Austin's flood awareness week reminds all residents that flash flood conditions, even during a drought, can occur with little notice. Of all storm-related deaths in Austin, 90% of them are flash flood fatalities. Less than 2 feet of water can wash a car off the road; so remember, turn around; don't drown.

Mar. 23 – With wind gusts around 40 mph, truck drivers across Texas have a difficult job on the road; though gas mileage can actually increase if traveling with the wind, it can also decrease dramatically if traveling against the wind and cause fuel expenses to rise.

Mar. 26 – Severe storms that raged through Texas. Among the many severe weather reports of high winds, cloud-to-ground lightning and up to softball-sized hail, there is at least one confirmed tornado reported in Cooke County north of Dallas.


Mar. 5– Texas Department of Transportation officials project a less than spectacular wildflower showing this spring because of very little rain in the fall. East Texas may be slightly more colorful, but the Hill Country, although not completely barren, will have significantly fewer buds.

Mar. 24 – Although recent rainfall has greened a very browned roadside, wildflowers are determined to make a small showing throughout Central Texas. East Texas, which received adequate rainfall, will be colorful; the College Station area has already seen a large showing of bluebonnets.

Bird Species

Mar. 25 – Whooping crane mortalities rates are very high, since 7.5% of the population died this past winter, bringing the estimated flock numbers to 249. Migration to Canada is expected to be normal, but mortality rates during the migration could be slightly high due to malnutrition; low water levels have caused blue crab numbers, the main source of food for the cranes, to decrease.

Hurricane Impacts

Mar. 23 – Because of recent hurricane hits to the Texas coast, legislators are considering a bill which would limit or deny windstorm insurance to many coastal property owners and increase the cost of insurance by as much as 60%. Coverage for residences would drop to $0.25 million from $1.7 million and commercial property coverage would drop from $4.1 million to $1 million. Outcry against this bill has come from much of coastal Texas.


Mar. 17 – Bowie Airport will implement a new weather system which will enhance their ability to navigate safely and make decisions about any potential weather hazards. The new system will have real time weather which will help pilots to land and take off much easier.

Mar. 18 – Counties around Texas, including Dallas County, will receive $327 million over the next three years in an attempt to cut energy costs (and thus greenhouse gas emissions by improving deteriorating house conditions. Workers will install new windows, for example, that will seal houses better.

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