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Monday, February 11, 2008

Texas`needs the rain

Texas cotton prospects dimming

By BETSY BLANEY, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 51 minutes ago
LUBBOCK, Texas - The region has gone 60 days without significant rain, humidity has been low and windy conditions have prevailed since early January. The gusty conditions — with winds sometimes blowing more than 65 mph — have sucked valuable moisture from fields.

"Right now we couldn't plant at all," Hlavaty said. "I could use a rain, a good rain."

It's still about 10 weeks until farmers start planting in the world's largest contiguous cotton patch, but the arid, windy conditions already have them fretting.

While lack of rainfall isn't entirely unusual for the South Plains this time of year, the heavy winds don't usually come for another month or so. The wind robs moisture on the soil's surface, damaging the subsurface moisture that newly planted cottonseed needs to germinate and grow.

"We're starting to get concerned about the top layer of soil crusting and turning to sand when strong winds blow," said Roger Haldenby of the Plains Cotton Growers, which serves a 41-county region on the South Plains. "Without future rain, that drying continues to deepen."

Last year, heavy rainfall throughout Texas, the nation's leading cotton-producing state, led to the second-largest crop on record last year: 8.1 million bales, 5.3 million from the South Plains.

Dry conditions are worse for dryland cotton producers, who rely on rainfall only to grow the plants. But switching to other crops such as corn doesn't make much sense because those crops would need more water.

"Cotton is kind of an arid-tolerant plant, and it's the ideal crop choice for this area," Haldenby said. Still, "Whatever you're going to plant you're going to need moisture."

For irrigated cotton producers, who have the capability to pump water as a supplement to precipitation, a lack of rain "is just going to cost us more money," Hlavaty said. They'll have higher input costs to pay to pump water from the Ogallala Aquifer, the main source of agricultural water in West Texas.

Hlavaty plants half dryland, half irrigated on his 5,000 acres in Lubbock.
With a strong La Nina influencing weather patterns, the chance of heavy rain isn't good, weather officials said. The last significant rainfall came Dec. 11, dew points have dipped below zero, and humidity has reached single digits.

"So we're below normal, but not that much below normal," National Weather Service meteorologist Justin Weaver said. "There's plenty of time to catch up."

If conditions improve, it will help Texas growers who are expected to account for about half — 4.8 million acres — of the nation's 9.5 million acres planted this year, the National Cotton Council announced Friday.

Texas' tally is a drop of 2.3 percent from last year; the U.S. number is a 12 percent decrease from 2007.

On the Net:
Plains Cotton Growers:*
National Cotton Council:*

Meanwhile, Houston will get drenched tonight:

Feb. 11, 2008, 6:59AMRain expected to move into Houston area later today
By KEVIN MORANCopyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Most Houston-area commuters will see dry roads to work this morning but showers and thunderstorms will pass through southeast Texas this afternoon, forecasters said.
"We've got an upper-level low pressure system that's going to move over out of south Texas," National Weather Service meteorologist Kent Prochazka said today. "It going to bring some showers and mainly isolated thunderstorms during the afternoon."
By late afternoon or early evening today, the rain should abate in most of the metropolitan area but another round of storms -- some possibly severe -- is expected to crop up in mid- to late-morning Tuesday, Prochazka said.
"It looks like we could have a whole line of showers and thunderstorms Tuesday," Prochazka said. "There's certainly the potential for severe weather Tuesday."
That line of weather will likely be in the College Station area around sunrise Tuesday and will likely move through Harris County a few hours later, Prochazka said. So far, it appears Tuesday commuters could be spared from heavy rains going to work and heading home, he said.
By the time the Tuesday rains move over the coastal counties, many parts of the Houston area could see up to an inch of rain, Prochazka said.
High temperatures in the Houston area today are expected to be around 70 degrees, with lows in the low 60s tonight.
The chance of rain today was pegged at 40 percent before sunrise but Prochazka said the chance could increase.
The chances of showers and thunderstorms Tuesday is pegged at 70 percent, he said.
Winds today and tomorrow are expected to run at 10 to 15 mph, with gusts into the 20-mph range.

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