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Dry conditions bring increased wildfire threats to Texas

Dry conditions bring increased wildfire threats to Texas

The Texas Forest Service is warning of “extremely critical fire weather conditions … west of Big Bend, San Angelo and Wichita Falls, including major cities such as Lubbock, Childress, Abilene, Midland, Odessa and Amarillo.” The predictions were based on a combination of conditions, including higher than normal temperatures and winds, low relative humidity and a plentitude of dry grass in pastures and rangeland. The Forest Service reported it put fire-fighting equipment — bulldozers, fire engines and aircraft — in place for the Tuesday threat. Texas AgriLife personnel said South Texas has received less than 25 percent of the normal rainfall coming into March, creating conditions for increased danger of fire.

As drought-like conditions continued for much of Texas, so did the threat of wildfire, according the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Forest Service personnel.

The Forest Service warned that as of about midday, today, there would be “extremely critical fire weather conditions … west of Big Bend, San Angelo and Wichita Falls, including major cities such as Lubbock, Childress, Abilene, Midland, Odessa and Amarillo.”

The predictions were based on a combination of conditions, including higher than normal temperatures and winds, low relative humidity and a plentitude of dry grass in pastures and rangeland.
The Forest Service reported it put fire-fighting equipment — bulldozers, fire engines and aircraft — in place for the Tuesday threat.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the state remained dry, including South Texas.

“Coming into March, South Texas received less than 25 percent of the normal rainfall,” said Dr. Megan Dominguez, AgriLife Extension range specialist, Corpus Christi. “A lot of the farmers and ranchers are concerned, and there’s been some delay in crop planting.”

Dominguez said that though there were some scattered rains in early to mid-March, which greened up pastures and rangeland grasses, but for the most part, there has not been enough moisture to promote vigorous growth.

Despite the rain, the danger of wildfire remains high with numerous red-flag warnings, especially out west, she said, but some ranchers have been able to do control burns when wildfire danger was low.

“This has really helped to get rid of that high amount of weed and grass growth from last year,” Dominguez said. “I would encourage anyone to do the same — if the weather conditions become right.”

Dominguez said there were signs the La Nina current, to which the drought conditions are attributed, is weakening. In the meantime, she recommended ranchers keep stocking rates conservative until they know what the weather is going to do. With cow prices as high as anyone can remember, trimming down herds shouldn’t be too economically painful, she noted.

“Getting rid of cattle this time of year when you’re concerned about precipitation is not a bad deal,” she said.

District Reports

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Central: The region remained extremely dry as growers completed corn and sorghum planting. Most wheat farmers were concerned about the condition of their crop because of the lack of moisture. Ellis County farmers had to replant corn because of feral hog damage. Fruit trees were blooming.

Coastal Bend: Western parts of the district received as much as 1 inch of rain. Farmers completed planting corn and sorghum, and were nearly finished planting cotton. Corn and sorghum stands looked good, but high winds damaged some seedlings. Eastern counties reported warm-season pasture grasses were beginning to green up. Ponds remained low due to lack of rainfall.

East: The region remained dry with very little to no rain received. Ponds and stock-tank water levels began to drop. Winter pastures looked good, but showed little growth due to the lack of rain. However, weeds were growing in pastures, and producers were looking at control options to maximize what forage was available. Livestock were in fair to good condition, with farmers continuing to supply supplemental feed. Spring calving continued. Some feral hog damage was reported.

Far West: The region had warmer days with cool nights. The dry conditions, low humidity, and windy weather kept burn bans in place. Chiles were being planted. A few wildfires were reported. Rangeland and pasture grasses remained dormant, dry and brown. Mesquites were not yet out of dormancy, but many fruit and other tree species bloomed and leafed out. Producers were nearly finished preparing fields for cotton planting. Alfalfa farmers began irrigating, and stands looked good. Some counties have not reported measurable rainfall for more than 165 days.

North: Soil-moisture levels ranged between short and adequate. Excessively high winds depleted topsoil moisture. In some areas, soils were becoming so dry that farmers were unable to plant. Farmers and ranchers were trying to get fields ready to plant and sprig Bermuda grass and native grasses, but were concerned that the tillage needed to prepare good seed beds would further promote the drying out of soils. A few farmers started planting corn in fields and preparing to plant soybeans where soil moisture was adequate. Small grains and winter pastures showed good growth, but could use some rain. Wheat looked very good, and ryegrass was doing well. Dairymen were cutting small grains and ryegrass for silage. Peach trees looked good. With milder temperatures now, it was hoped the need for winter feeding would end soon. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Feral hogs continued to be a major problem. Rangeland and pasture conditions ranged from poor to good.

Panhandle: The region was warm, dry and windy. Soil-moisture levels were short to short, with most reporting very short. Wheat varied from very poor to good condition, with most reporting poor. Farmers were heavily irrigating wheat and preparing land for spring plantings. Rangeland conditions varied from very poor to good, with most reporting poor. Cattle were in good condition. The wildfire danger was high.

Rolling Plains: Daytime highs ranged from the upper 80s to low 90s. Most counties were in desperate need of moisture. Combined with the windy weather, the wildfire threat remained very high, and most counties kept burn bans in effect. Pastures began to green up a little, but grazing was still short. Livestock were in fair condition, but producers were forced to provide daily supplemental feeding to keep body condition scores up. Cattle producers were slowly pulling their cattle off the wheat to allow it to recover. Brown wheat mites posed a problem for some producers. Those farmers who judged they still might have a chance to make a crop were spraying for the mites. Others were waiting another week for rain before further investing in the crop. Some wheat farmers are top-dressing fields with fertilizer, while others were grazing theirs out.

South: Throughout the region, rangeland and pastures, already in poor condition, continued to decline. The threat of wildfires remained a great concern. Perennial grasses greened up some, but overall, grass production was at a standstill due to the persistent strong winds and lack of moisture. As the calving season progressed, livestock producers continued to supply supplemental feed. Cattle body condition scores remained fair. In the northern part of the region, wheat and potatoes progressed well under irrigation, and corn planting was ongoing. In Zavala County, producers were irrigating cabbage, corn, onions, cotton, sorghum, wheat and oats. Also in that area, spinach harvesting was very active, and newly planted cabbage was doing well. In the southern part of the region, the sugarcane, citrus and vegetable harvests were ongoing. Also in that area, farmers were planting corn, grain, sorghum and cotton. The onion harvest began.

South Plains: The region was warm, and most counties remained dry. A few isolated areas received from a scattering to 1 inch of rain. There were also reports of hail — from pea- to golfball-size — but no crop damage. Farmers were pre-watering and otherwise preparing fields for planting. Livestock still required supplemental feeding. Winter wheat was in poor condition, and rangeland grasses were extremely dry. The potential for wildfire was very high, and burn bans remained in effect in most counties. A small tornado touched down northeast of Abernathy (north of Lubbock) on Saturday.

Southeast: Some counties received rain, from 0.2 to 1 inch, but the area remained mostly dry. Rice farmers were planting, using no-till drills to limited windblown soil erosion because of the dry conditions. Pastures continued to deteriorate without rain. Livestock were in fair condition.

Southwest: The region remained dry, about eight inches below the long-term average for moisture accumulation since Aug. 1. High, dry winds, along with afternoon temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s, further dried out soils. There was a conspicuous absence of spring flowers such as bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, which normally begin to appear along roadsides in March. Reports of roadside fires were very high. Also, the frequency of wildlife being killed on highways was high as animals sought grazing in right a ways, usually at night. Farmers planted irrigated corn and sorghum, and both crops made good progress. However, dryland crops needed rain very soon to make any progress. The harvesting of cabbage and spinach was ongoing. Onions were doing well. Farmers gradually gained momentum planting irrigated cantaloupes, watermelons, green beans, sweet corn and cotton. Most pastures and rangeland grasses remained dormant due to the dry spell. Forage availability was below average.

West Central: Days warmed up, and extremely dry, windy conditions continued to deplete soil moisture. Wildfire dangers were high, and red-flag alerts were frequent. Some farmers were working fields for planting summer annuals. Wheat suffered from drought stress, but irrigated crops were doing well. Rangeland and pasture grasses greened up. Stock-tank water levels were low.

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