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Aftermath of rain in Texas Valley

blacklands, clouds, corn
Texas Valley farmers struggling with aftermath of massive rain event, harvest delayed

Excessive rainfall amounts in the agriculture-rich Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas are taking a toll in farming operations, especially as harvest was underway on a number of crop varieties, including cotton, nearing full maturity.

Unofficial reports of rainfall totals ranging from 12 inches to as high as 25 inches over a three-day period last week (June 20-23, 2018) have dampened hopes for a reasonably strong finish to a crop year marred by a later-than-usual spring planting schedule and excessively dry conditions, according to Hidalgo County officials. Rainfall totals for the event reached 33 inches in isolated areas.

"This is going to be the tropical storm that didn't have a name," remarked farmer and retired and respected agricultural broadcaster Jim Hearn.

Hearn and other farmers in the Valley report torrential cloudbursts, associated with last week's deluge, easily rival the worst-ever produced by a named tropical storm.

"Many of our drainage areas are over capacity and many row crop farmers have been dealing with 6-8 inches of standing water in their fields. In the Valley, it takes longer to drain off large volumes of standing water. We have a lot of homes and farms and fields that still have water on them and in some cases, it could be another week or two before conditions improve."

In a radio interview this week, Hearn reported that cotton, grain, vegetables and citrus crops all have been affected by the three-day storm event, some worse than others.

"The cotton crop can take a little water but being totally inundated is another thing. The corn in the Valley was drying down when the rains came and how well the crop survives is another question. [With so much rain] we don't know how much the ears might actually sprout as a result. On cabbage fields, most of the water has been pumped off. For watermelon growers, they had harvested most of their crop but what was left is probably lost. And while citrus trees like water, they don't like standing water," he said.

Valley grain sorghum producers were in the process of harvesting before the rains came and many had completed the task. Others were rushing to harvest just ahead of the rain event. Depending on where their farms were located, some expect to salvage their crop while others must wait and see.

National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters say the heavy rains were the result of several factors. A low pressure disturbance in the eastern Caribbean following Memorial Day weekend failed to develop into a named storm system before eventually pushing its way across the Yucatan Peninsula and re-emerging in the southern Gulf of Mexico. The system picked up speed and headed toward the Texas coast over the next two days, not having sufficient time to develop in the warm waters of the Gulf.

But by the time it reached the Texas coast, the system slowed and sat off the coast 50-100 miles and managed to develop into a large system of heavy thunderstorms. At the same time, Hurricane Bud, which was brewing in Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico, began to influence upper level winds even as a high pressure system over Central Texas prevented the tropical wave sitting off the central coastline to move, bringing heavy rains all along the coast from Brownsville and as far north up the coast into Louisiana.

"In some respects, this helped to create perfect conditions for the formation of heavy bands of rain showers that assailed the Texas coast and parts of Louisiana for several days, fed by tropical moisture rolling in from the Gulf,” reported forecasters at the Corpus Christi NWS station.

The system brought an end to D-2 drought-status conditions across the mid-coast and Lower Valley regions. But it also dropped excessive rains over a short period of time.

"At one point we had reports of over 12 inches of rain falling over a three-hour period in the Valley near the coast," Hearn said.

Officially, rainfall totals in the Texas Coastal Bend were reported at nearly 10 inches at the Corpus Christi airport, but various amounts were reported by farmers and residents who are part of a local reporting system. Upwards of 12-15 inches were recorded in some rain gauges. The same holds true for the Rio Grande Valley where rainfall amounts range between 10 to 25 inches.

Coastal Bend farmers report their fields have been drying favorably over the last several days of sunshine and beneficial winds. While there are similar reports further south down the Texas coast, many Valley farmers say they are still dealing with flooded fields and delays in harvest operations.

A video prepared by Hidalgo County and the Texas Department of Public Safety and published on the Texas Border Business website can viewed at this address:

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