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Texas drought weakens, some conditions still 'less than ideal'

Much of Texas is receiving rainfall but areas in severe drought remain. While spring rains have been consistent in some regions, it remains sporadic in others as some producers prepare to plant.

Adam Russell, AgriLife media

May 11, 2023

13 Min Read
planter rain field
Wet conditions were delaying field activity in parts of the state, and drier areas were receiving rainfall that has improved soil moisture conditions enough for planting.Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Soil moisture conditions around much of the state improved slightly over recent weeks, and there is hope that drought conditions might break in time to plant row crops and enough to sustain them to harvest, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Emi Kimura, AgriLife Extension agronomist and state peanut specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Vernon, said farmers who caught rain are thankful for the moisture. Some surviving wheat fields looked better over recent weeks and may benefit from the timely rainfall during grain fill and see improved yields. The fresh topsoil moisture may also spur crop plantings that have been at a standstill due to drought. But conditions are still far from ideal.

“Last year, we didn’t have any wheat to harvest, and this year is not good, but at least there will be a harvest,” she said. “It’s bad, but it’s not as bad. Now we just need more rain to have a decent peanut and cotton season.”

Rains improve soil moisture levels

Areas east of Interstate 35 are mostly drought-free and have completely emerged from severe drought conditions. Drought levels in Travis and Guadalupe counties are a good indicator of the dividing line with the eastern edges of the counties showing no drought while their western edges continue to show extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map.

John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist and Regents Professor in the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Bryan-College Station, said so far spring storm systems have been more consistent in East Texas and also in high elevations of West Texas and along the Gulf Coast. Rain in other parts of the state has been more sporadic.

Weather has shifted toward an El Niño pattern that will likely strengthen as the year progresses into fall, he said. El Niño weather patterns tend to deliver above-average precipitation to Texas during the cooler parts of the year.

Fifty weather stations across Texas reported more than 10 inches of rainfall during April, while other parts of the state did not receive measurable precipitation, he said.

Recent rains have reduced the amount of the state dealing with drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report for Texas. But improvement in some locations mirror worsening drought levels in other locations.

A year ago, less than 9% of the state was free from drought, according to the drought monitor. The latest report shows almost 32% of the state completely emerged from drought. The percentage of the state experiencing exceptional drought has also decreased from 23% this time last year to just over 3%. Exceptional drought is indicative of exceptional and widespread crop and pasture losses and emergency-level water shortages in reservoirs, streams and wells.

AgriLife Extension regional agronomists in drought-stricken areas between the Panhandle and Rio Grande River had commented in a recent Texas Crop and Weather Report about the distinct locality of some rainfall over recent months. The spotty rains have put some fields in better shape than others nearby.

For example, Oldham County, which lies west of Amarillo, experienced a wide range of rainfall over the past three weeks. Parts of the county received less than a quarter inch of rainfall while other areas received more than 3 inches.

“What goes up must come down,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “If you have thunderstorm cells that have a lot of ascent in them, producing a lot of rain, there has to be a descent going on somewhere else nearby. That’s also true for larger-scale storm systems, but then you have broader patterns. As we get to the summer convective season, the rainfall tends to be more spotty.”

Sporadic rains spread drought relief

Over the three weeks ending May 5, San Angelo had received less than 0.02 of an inch of rainfall, he said. Lubbock and Amarillo received a little over half an inch, and the Abilene area received 1.37 inches over the same period. Wichita Falls fared slightly better at almost 2 inches.

On the other hand, Nielsen-Gammon said, April rain totals for much of East Texas were impressive. Most areas received multiple inches of rainfall, with up to 13 inches or more recorded in Hallettsville, between San Antonio and Houston.

Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist also in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Lubbock, said the heavier rainfall totals in Oldham County fell mostly in rangeland, which is good for ranchers but improved growing conditions only slightly for farmers.

Half an inch of rainfall or better in some areas could improve surviving wheat yields by a few bushels per acre, Trostle said. Cotton planting was expected to ramp up as farmers take advantage of the topsoil moisture, but daytime temperatures in the 90s and wind are sapping moisture rapidly.

“This rain probably did more good for rangeland recovery, and there may be enough moisture to germinate cotton seeds,” he said. “But we’ll need more rain to establish moisture below that top 3-4 inches. Roots grow sideways when they hit dry dirt. It’s not all gloom and doom. We’ve gotten a little moisture, and that is a good thing; it’s just not enough.”

Nielsen-Gammon said there are rain chances for western parts of the state over the next two weeks. There is also a potential for Pacific and Atlantic storm systems moving across the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and through the Gulf of Mexico, respectively, to collide over the western half of the state and result in heavy rainfall.

“This coming weekend looks wet for the droughty areas of the state,” Nielsen-Gammon said.  “A single storm is not a drought-buster, but this could be a very good start.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:


Rain across the area ranged from traces to 1.5 inches with spotty hail and high winds. Soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus. Pastures looked good and were improving. Producers were preparing for hay season. Runoff rainfall was still needed to fill some tank levels. Temperatures rose into the 90s toward the end of the week creating very humid conditions. Warm-season pasture growth was delayed with cooler overnight temperatures over recent weeks, but native and improved grasses were starting to respond well. Pasture and rangeland were very poor to excellent. Cattle were in good body condition and grazing cool-season pastures. Livestock fly numbers steadily increased with warmer temperatures. Crop conditions were good to excellent. Some hail damage to wheat, oats and corn was reported. Corn and sorghum crops were developing rapidly. There were some fertility deficiencies in corn with the wet conditions and lack of opportunity to top-dress nitrogen. Wheat was maturing but will need a few weeks before harvesting begins. Excess moisture was slowing cotton growth and delaying replanting. Forecasted rainfall was a concern for rapidly maturing wheat. Corn planting concluded. Pecan growers were applying zinc and some scab sprays.


Scattered and spotty rain was reported. Most areas received enough moisture to improve soil moisture, rangeland and pasture conditions, but more rain will be needed to sustain crop growth and prepare for cotton planting. Stocker calves were starting to be shipped off winter wheat grazing, and many counties were reporting wheat being cut for hay, as well as the first spring hay cutting.


Soil moisture conditions were excellent due to heavy rains over the past week, ranging from 1-5 inches. Row crops and rangeland and pasture conditions were excellent. Scattered showers and windy conditions caused some damage to cotton and sorghum fields. Producers were busy replanting sorghum and cotton acreage due to poor stands and some washed out fields. Corn was in tasseling and silk stages and looked excellent, especially early planted fields. Later- planted acreage was catching up but stands were not as uniform. Sorghum fields planted early also looked very promising. Most sorghum fields were flowering. Cotton needed some sunshine and warm weather to get going. Cotton acreage was a mixed bag, with early planted acreage looking good, but a significant number of acres were lost to wet, windy weather. Rice was doing well; most fields were emerged and some near the flooding stage. Drying conditions should allow fieldwork to resume. Pasture conditions were improving, and producers were spraying weeds. Cattle remained in great condition. Pastures need to dry out so hay baling can begin. Cattle prices were steady to higher. Livestock were in good shape, and calves looked good and were growing.


Many counties received rainfall, and more was in the forecast. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate to surplus. Wet field and pasture conditions continued to be a problem for some producers. Ryegrass and clovers were being cut and baled where possible. Higher nighttime temperatures will be needed to promote warm-season forage growth. Row crops were doing fair to good. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplementation still taking place. Cattle markets were steady to higher. Houston County reported all weight classes ended $4-$7 higher per hundredweight.


Brief showers delivered up to 2 inches of rain. Much of the district was still in desperate need of more rain for a successful planting and growing season. Sunflowers were planted. Farmers were spraying wheat to get ready for cotton planting at the end of the month. Soil temperatures were around 59 degrees, and warmer soil temperatures were needed for cotton planting. Most producers were making plans to start planting cotton in the third week of May. Cattle were still on supplemental feeding as native grasses emerged. Livestock producers were also grazing a significant amount of CRP land because of the forage shortage. 


Parts of the district received scattered showers with totals from 0.5-1.5 inches. Most counties reported very short to short topsoil and subsoil moisture, while a small percentage reported adequate soil moisture. More rainfall was needed to fill the soil profile. Recent rains improved pastures, rangeland and winter wheat and oat fields, but their overall condition was very poor to fair. Livestock were in good condition with supplemental feeding taking place on a small scale. Producers were baling hay fields, while some have turned cattle out on wheat ground. Some producers began planting peanuts. Producers were considering planting cotton with more rain in the forecast. The rain was beneficial to dryland and irrigated small grains in the area.


Pasture and rangeland were fair to good. Both subsoil and topsoil moisture were adequate to surplus for most counties. Conditions were dry and warm with cool nights and rainfall that delivered 1-3 inches. Warm-season grasses were emerging but slowed by cool nighttime temperatures. Most ryegrass was harvested. Fertilizers were being applied to pastures. Winter wheat and corn looked good. Sorghum and cotton were emerging. Leaf rust was reported in wheat. Nuisance flies were very active with the warmer temperatures. Livestock conditions were good and improving.


Overnight temperatures were in the mid-50s with daytime temperatures ranging from the high 80s to mid-90s. Most areas were still experiencing extreme drought conditions. The district desperately needed forecasted rain to improve rangeland and cropland soil moisture conditions. High winds caused soil erosion. Trace amounts of rainfall were reported. Northeastern parts of the district received up to 1.2 inches of rain. Hail generated in storms caused significant damage to cotton and watermelon fields and pecan orchards. Dryland wheat and cover crops were extremely poor. However, irrigated wheat looked decent. Producers were preparing to plant cotton, but acres were expected to be minimal due to drought conditions. Corn made good progress, but watermelons were struggling so far. Upland and Pima cotton in the Rio Grande Valley was planted and mostly emerged. Those fields looked good. Alfalfa farmers were making their first cuttings. Producers cut wheat for hay. Rangeland conditions were not improving, and pastures that received some rain were showing slight improvement. Some livestock were in poor condition, and producers continued to supplement their diets. Calving, kidding and lambing were almost complete. Producers continued to work sheep and goats. Pecan producers were spraying zinc and applying fertilizer.


Scattered rain delivered up to 2 inches, but all areas needed more rain. Conditions in some areas that missed rainfall continued to decline. Hail and high winds were reported. Supplemental feeding for livestock was reduced in areas where pasture and rangeland conditions were improving. Native grasses were breaking dormancy. Weeds were abundant in pastures, and producers were spraying. Bermuda grass producers were fertilizing as well. Producers continued to work cattle. Lambs, kids and calves were being weened early and sold. Cattle prices dropped slightly. Corn and sorghum looked good but needed rain. Cotton planting will begin soon in irrigated fields, and producers were waiting for rain before planting dryland acres. Some fields were prepared for forage planting, and some were dry planted in hopes of rain. Moisture would greatly improve Sudan conditions, but many initial stands looked good. Wheat was maturing quickly, and many wheat and oat acres were baled for hay. Lake and stock tank water levels continued to drop. Pecan producers reported a decent crop set and were monitoring nut casebearers.


Areas received rain, and more wet weather was in the forecast. Soil moisture conditions were adequate to surplus. Rice planting continued, and many fields were emerging. Row crops and gardens were flourishing. Grass was growing well, and some pastures were cut already. The vast majority of ryegrass was harvested or grazed. The cattle market remained strong. Fields and pastures were being fertilized. The warmer weather was expected to speed up forage production. Ponds around the district were full.


Thunderstorms delivered large amounts of rain quickly. Some counties reported hail. Some areas did not receive moisture. Conditions continued to decline. Widespread cloud coverage and relatively moderate temperatures slowed moisture losses, but 100 degree days were reported at the end of the week. Some tanks caught a good deal of water. No major crop or livestock hail damage was reported. Pasture conditions were good in some areas, however forage density in some pastures was not ideal. Producers were spraying weeds and fertilizing improved pastures. Rangelands remained dry, and significant acres were destocked and being cleared of brush to open areas for grazing. Livestock and wildlife were in good shape. Sheep shearing continued. Corn and sorghum fields were tillering and looked good. Some corn started tasseling. All irrigated crops looked good. Oat pastures were maturing with wheat harvesting right around the corner.


Coastal Bermuda grass fields were producing hay bales. Local feed stores reported a significant decrease in hay prices. Rangeland and pasture ratings were improving in most areas, but overgrazed acres were slow to recover. Local beef cattle and livestock producers continued supplementation and have decreased their herds. Livestock body conditions were improving and culling slowed. Local livestock markets reported below-average volumes with steady to slightly higher prices for all beef cattle classes. Producers were busy working cattle. Cotton planting was completed, and peanut planting was underway. Corn and grain sorghum crops looked great, but the cotton crop was behind due to late planting and below-normal temperatures. About half the grain sorghum was headed and about half the corn crop was in the silking stage. Some grain corn and sorghum were laid over by winds but was expected to recover. A few farms were harvesting onions, and other crops like watermelons and cantaloupes were in good condition. Farmers were starting to irrigate their crops again. Very few cotton aphids were reported. Grain sorghum was showing signs of sugarcane aphid in the Elsa area, but all other areas had remained clear.  

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, AgriLife Today

About the Author(s)

Adam Russell

AgriLife media, Texas AgriLife

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