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Rains help break heat wave in deep South Texas

Soaking rains in portions of the Lower Rio Grande Valley have busted up the record-breaking heat of summer and knocked the drought down a notch, according to the National Weather Service.

“The drought is not over by any means, but it has been dented a little bit,” said Barry Goldsmith, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Brownsville. “The good news is that the worst of the heat is over as the nights get longer and evenings cool off quicker. In fact, we’ll soon start to see dew on the ground again.”

Hot temperatures may still be in the near future but not as relentless as they have been the past few months, he said.

“The September sun is not as intense as the June sun; plus, there are no high winds forecast during the next week to dry things out faster,” Goldsmith said.

The official explanation for the long-awaited showers is “a moisture shield related to the subtropical jet stream,” which Goldsmith said created an unstable, rain-prone atmosphere.

But so far, it hasn’t been enough to end the drought of 2009 that has seen virtually no cases of widespread, soaking rains in the area for almost a year.

“Until we get a more thorough soaking in the soil, we’ll remain in a severe- to extreme-drought classification in the Valley.”

The meteorological conditions that promoted the soaking rains likely won’t persist for the Labor Day weekend and beyond, but the potential for afternoon sea breeze showers on some days will help moisture levels as the area enters what is normally its peak rainy season, he said.

Regardless, the rains were a welcome sight for many, especially agricultural interests, who have taken a major hit from the heat and drought.

Texas Agrilife Extension Service economists peg the state’s losses so far this year at $3.6 billion and estimate they could top $4 billion by year’s end.

“These rains are a blessing, but they were just too late for our cotton, corn and grain crops this year,” said Dr. Enrique Perez, an AgriLife Extension agent in Cameron County.

Luis Ribera, an AgriLife Extension economist, said cotton, corn and grain losses to the drought in the four-county area are currently at $11 million but could reach $27 million when final tallies are tabulated in October.

“We could use more, but at least now we have some moisture in the ground,” he said. “That will help our winter vegetable crop of onions, cabbage and some tomatoes which are now being planted,” he said.

Perez said the rains will also help the area’s irrigated citrus and sugarcane crops that are harvested throughout the fall and winter.

“Rains help size up our citrus crop and add much-needed biomass and tonnage to our sugarcane,” he said.

Dr. Juan Anciso, an AgriLife Extension vegetable specialist in Weslaco, said the rains are a welcome sight for everything that grows here.

“Rains can green up an area like nothing else can,” he said. “Irrigation water has been a lifesaver for many in this drought, but we need rains to leach the soils of the salts that build up from continual use of Rio Grande water. And that helps plants everywhere, at home and on the farm, to take up the nutrients and moisture they need.”

Goldsmith said the rains soaked portions of counties from Zapata east to Cameron County, but mostly missed the still-parched Coastal Bend areas, including Kleberg, San Patricio and Nueces counties.

Cotton and related losses this year to Kleberg County alone, home of the legendary King Ranch and its cotton acreage, totaled $50 million, according to Texas AgriLife economists.

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