As potentially destructive tropical weather churns in the southern Gulf of Mexico, farmers and ranchers across much of Texas are rushing to prepare for what could be a devastating storm that could threaten their farm and ranch operations as early as Friday night and into the long weekend ahead.
As of this writing, the National Hurricane Prediction Center in Miami is calling for a 90-percent chance of a Texas landfall of a tropical system that once was designated as Tropical Storm Harvey before crashing into the Yucatan Peninsula in the late night hours of Monday. By late Tuesday the system had re-emerged in the Gulf of Mexico and was showing positive signs of further development in the warm waters of the southern Gulf.
As with any form of tumultuous weather, agricultural interests from Brownsville on the tip of Texas to the Texas-Louisiana border are in the process of preparing for what forecasters are calling a potential heavy rain event that could bring exceptional downpours to not only coastal areas of Texas but also reaching far inland to northern reaches of the state and as far east as Louisiana.
Depending on whether the system slows it progress in the Gulf, hurricane forecasters say they expect the storm to reach at least tropical force winds before landfall, but warn that the system could become a hurricane before it reaches the Texas coast.
COASTAL RESIDENTS NEED TO PREPARE
Meteorologists at the Corpus Christi National Weather Service are warning coastal residents, including farmers and ranchers, to prepare for exceptionally heavy rainfall in excess of 1 to 2 inches per hour. The system is expected to slow or stall as it reaches the U.S. coast.
NOAA researcher Andy Hazelton predicted late Tuesday that the storm is most likely to landfall somewhere on the northern coast of Mexico near Brownsville to as far north as Houston and Galveston.
"The [storm] track remains uncertain and will partially depend on whether Harvey's current low-pressure center persists or a new one forms in a different location," he said Tuesday.
He said with an otherwise favorable environment of low wind shear and deep warm Gulf of Mexico water, Harvey may strengthen to a hurricane before it makes landfall, bringing the risk of storm surge flooding, high surf with battering waves and strong winds. What may end up being most dangerous, however, is the rainfall flood threat.
Forecasters say Harvey is expected to be caught in a zone of light steering winds aloft this weekend that will slow or stall the circulation on or near the coast. The storm could be wedged between two areas of high pressure aloft, one over the Southwest and a weaker high pressure system over the central Gulf of Mexico. At greatest risk for heavy rain and flooding is the area reaching between Corpus Christi and Houston, unless the storm track changes.
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COTTON IN JEOPARDY
Farmers in the Texas Coastal Bend and the Lower Rio Grande Valley have all but completed grain and cotton harvest for the year and are in the process of securing their farm equipment and buildings. But cotton farmers on the Upper Texas coast, who are just beginning cotton harvest in some cases, are more at risk of serious crop damage. Also at risk are livestock operations up and down the Texas coastline.
Many farmers in the region remember the damages caused by previous storms like Hurricanes Dolly in July of 2008 that destroyed crops and livestock from the Valley to the Coastal Bend, and Ike that stormed onshore near Galveston two months later that same year, destroying homes, damaging crops and stranding livestock.
Other tropical systems that damaged farms and ranches in Texas include Hurricane Umberto, which made landfall near High Island Texas in 2007, Hurricane Rita that hit southeast Texas in 2005 and Hurricane Claudette which made landfall near Port O'Connor in 2003.
Historically, such storms that hit the U.S. Gulf coast have caused millions of dollars in damages to agricultural interests, including nearly $900 million in agricultural damages caused by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.
Farmers and ranchers are advised to collect loose debris such as limbs from pastures and around farm buildings. Objects such as tree limbs can become projectiles and injure animals. Also, check your property and barn structures for loose roofing or other material that could become a threat to structures, equipment or livestock. Check fence rows for weak areas and determine if trees can fall on your fence line allowing livestock to escape.
Some livestock owners will decide to pack horses or show livestock in a trailer to hit the road if the need to evacuate should arise. In this case, livestock should be familiarized with their mode of transportation and should be halter-broken before the hurricane hits.
Regardless of how you proceed with your livestock, make sure all animals have updated vaccinations, including those needed for the evacuation location, and are properly identified. An external visible form of identification, such as a brand, ear tag or tattoo, is ideal. Microchips or ear and lip tattoos will also be helpful.
STORM PREPAREDNESS ON THE FARM
Learn what to do to prepare your farm for an emergency, natural disaster. When you know there is a storm coming, it's best to prepare everything you possibly can to reduce the amount of property damage to your farm and reduce the chance of injury to your livestock or pets.
Ranchers should have enough feed on hand for at least a week, and the same amount of water – up to 150 gallons per horse or bovine.
Heavy farm equipment should be placed under cover and tied down if possible. Also, keep a written inventory of all livestock, including breeding and expense records, with your important financial papers. If you lose livestock, you may need this kind of paperwork for insurance purposes. Do the same for all equipment and supplies that may be damaged or lost. Keep trucks, tractors, and similar equipment fueled and ready to use at a moment's notice.