By Robert Burns, Texas A & M Education
COLLEGE STATION – A further strengthening of the current El Niño will likely mean wetter-than-normal conditions continue into spring, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Regents Professor at Texas A&M University, College Station.
“There’s the possibility that this El Niño, although it’s already pretty strong, is actually going to strengthen a bit more because of the wind patterns in the Pacific Ocean,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “You can think of the tropical Pacific as a giant bathtub, and the winds blow the warm water typically over toward the far west end.
“When those winds weaken and even reverse, that’s what causes El Niño. The winds bring the warm water over to the east, toward South America. And recently we’ve had an increase in those west to east winds. That’s going to reinforce the effects of El Niño.”
As for summer conditions, long-range predictions are always a gamble, he said. But there is some evidence that the current super-strong El Niño will be followed by its counterpoint, a strong La Niña that could mean next winter will be dry.
“Eventually, as the winds change, the warm water is going to slosh back,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “About half of the moderate-to-strong El Niños switch over to La Niñas. They basically overshoot the average conditions. It takes several months. The Pacific Ocean is a pretty big bathtub.”
This means the wet winter is going to more than likely continue for another few months, with elevated chances of rain through May, especially in the northern part of Texas, he said.
“Summer in Texas is always a roll of the dice or a flip of a coin, but next winter is almost certainly not going to be as wet as this winter has been. It could be a dry winter if La Niña does develop this fall,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Soil moisture was rated as good across the region. Rangeland, pastures and crops were generally rated as fair. Wet conditions continued to dominate the region’s weather. Wheat and oat plantings were down due to wet conditions during the fall planting season. Rangeland and pastures were in less-than-favorable condition. Producers were applying fertilizer on those wheat fields that weren’t too wet to get into. Many producers were behind on preparing for 2016 crops. Some were pre-plant fertilizing corn ground. Stock-water tanks were full; creeks and rivers were in good shape. The pecan harvest neared completion, with average to below-average yields. Pecan prices were very good. Cattle were in good condition, with producers providing supplemental feed.
Coastal Bend: Wet, cool weather raised producer expectations of having good subsoil moisture for spring planting. Most row-crop fields were wet, delaying fertilizer applications. Winter forages were producing well thanks to the favorable weather conditions. Cattle remained in good condition with prices steady. Most cow-calf producers continued providing hay protein supplements to herds.
East: Wet conditions persisted across the region. Ponds and lakes were overflowing. Pastures and fields remained wet and soggy. Smith County ended 2015 with more than 90 inches of rain. Houston County had rivers still out of their banks on both sides of the county. Temperatures continued to be cold at night and warmer during the day. Warmer weather promoted the growth of some fresh forages. Volunteer ryegrass stands were growing. Producers were topdressing pastures with fertilizer where field conditions allowed. Trinity County producers continued to look out of county for hay to buy. Cattle remained in fair to good condition with supplemental feeding. Cattle in Cherokee County were consuming more hay than normal, which caused concern for producers. Beef producers were treating both internal and external parasites. Spring calving was in progress. Producers continued to sell any market-ready calves and cull cows. Fruit tree producers began pruning. Feral hogs were active and continued to destroy pastures. Beaver control was underway in Upshur County.
Far West: Mild winter weather prevailed throughout the region with nighttime lows in the 30s and daily highs in the upper-50s to mid-60s. Most producers were providing livestock with supplemental feed. Early calving herds began to calve. Rangeland and pastures were in fair condition. Topsoil and subsoil moisture were short.
North: Topsoil moisture varied from adequate to surplus. Fields were still wet. Weather varied from mild temperatures to intermittent freezing conditions. Because of heavy rains received in November and December, wheat and oat conditions were poor to very poor. Since emergence, much wheat had been continually in standing water. In some areas, only about 11 percent of the intended wheat acreage was planted because of rain. Winter pastures that were planted early were doing well, but pastures were not being grazed because soil conditions were too wet. The wet conditions caused cattle producers to have to feed more hay and supplements. Feral hog activity increased. Tornadoes that touched down in northeast Collin County on Dec. 26 caused damage to many farm structures.
Panhandle: Wet and cold conditions prevailed since the first of the year. Scattered snow cover remained in some areas. Winter wheat was doing reasonably well in most locations. Some cotton was left in fields due to wet conditions, stalling harvesting. Yield grades were expected to be lower due to the snow and moisture. Producers were planning for the spring planting season. In Deaf Smith County, total cattle losses from the recent snowstorms were still being calculated, but individual producers lost from five head to hundreds. The high losses were generally associated with dairy producers. Livestock producers were supplementing cattle on rangeland and wheat pasture.
Rolling Plains: Wet conditions continued. The cotton harvest was completed in some counties, while producers in other counties were waiting for fields to dry out. Livestock continued to recover from winter storm Goliath. Some losses were reported. There were some reports of blackleg, a potentially fatal disease in cattle. Small grains showed significant growth when days were warm and sunny.
South: Conditions throughout the region remained cloudy and mild, with high daytime temperatures in the 70s and nighttime lows in the 30s. The northern and eastern parts of the region received varying amounts of rain. Soil moisture was rated as adequate throughout the region. In the northern part of the region, pastures remained in good condition. Potato and wheat planting began. In the eastern part of the region, pastures remained dormant, and livestock were being fed hay and other supplemental feed. Most row-crop farmers were preparing for the upcoming planting season. In the western part of the region, growing conditions were great, pastures were green, and oats and wheat made good progress. Harvesting of cabbage and processing spinach began, and carrots did well with no insect pressure. In Zapata County, fever ticks affected wildlife and livestock. In the southern part of the region, vegetable, citrus and sugarcane harvesting continued in Hidalgo County. In Starr County, fall vegetable crops were in good shape. Livestock producers were providing some supplemental feed as native rangeland and pastures grasses remained dormant.
South Plains: Winter storms brought moisture but made conditions difficult for producers. More snow in fell in Floyd County, but it didn’t stay long. Soils were extremely saturated from a December blizzard. Winter wheat looked good. In Hale County, wet and cold conditions were particularly challenging for producers with livestock. In Swisher County, weeks after the winter storm Goliath, large snowdrifts had still not melted. More than 95 percent of the cattle that were roaming after the storm were accounted for, but death losses were expected to be high. Wheat planted in September fared well and was benefiting from the slow melt. Later-planted wheat was lost due to high winds. Cochran County moisture levels were good with the additional moisture from the recent snow. All fall crops were harvested, and producers were preparing for spring planting. Pastures and rangeland were in good condition. Daytime temperatures in Lubbock County were mild for this time of year — 67 degrees on Jan. 14. However, there were still many snowdrifts left from the earlier blizzard. Wheat continued to recover from the snowpack and cold nighttime temperatures. In Garza County, temperatures were moderate with highs in the 60s earlier in the week. Later in the week, highs dropped to the 40s and nighttime lows were in the upper 20s. Most cotton was harvested, but a few producers were not able to complete their harvest before the return of wet conditions. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in good to excellent condition for this time of year. Mitchell County producers were still harvesting cotton. There was still a lot of cotton on the ground, however. The Scurry County cotton harvest was expected to be finished soon.
Southwest: Soil moisture remained good, and recent precipitation benefited winter pastures and native rangeland. Several borderline freezes caused some brush and tree species to go dormant, but there were many species that were still green. Crops were harvested, and fields were being cultivated. Some wheat and oats were in good condition and were being grazed. Livestock and wildlife were in good condition but will still need supplemental feed through the winter.
West Central: Conditions were cold and windy, but turned mild later in the week. Soil moisture continued to be very high. Most producers reported winter wheat was off to a good start with excellent growing conditions. A few noted that their wheat was not growing and appeared yellow. Some fields still had standing water. No major insect problems at this time. Cotton harvesting neared completion but slowly due to wet conditions. Ginning was wrapping up. Cotton yields were generally fair but grades were low. Growers were preparing fields for spring planting. Rangeland and pasture conditions were fair to good for this time of year. Cool-season grasses provided good grazing for livestock on much of the rangeland. Livestock remained in fair to good condition.