What will it take to break this Texas drought?

By Gene Hall

I haven’t lived on the farm for 40 years, but I am still at heart a “farm boy.” 

Nothing that’s happened in my life could squeeze that out of me. And, for an old farm boy, there is not a more beautiful sight than the torrents of rain that battered my windshield as I drove to work yesterday. Add that precipitation to the 2 inches I poured from the rain gauge the night before and you have “significant rainfall,” enough to soak into our parched land and produce runoff for our sadly low ponds, tanks, lakes and rivers.

I knew there would be calls from the media. The predominant question: “Is the drought broken?” This rain means a lot and farmers and ranchers lucky enough to receive it are saying heartfelt prayers of thanks. But no, the drought is not yet broken.

The effects of a drought are cumulative. This one, stretching over a long, dry and heartbreaking year—and coming as it did on the heels of other droughts—cannot be broken by the string of encouraging rains with which we’ve been blessed this fall and early winter. It won’t be broken by a return to normal rainfall. There’s some catching up to be done.

This rain was thankfully fairly widespread, but my contacts in Lubbock and the Rio Grande Valley report no rain at all. In those places and others, the drought is still a killer beast.

This link  from the Weather Channel was posted in September, when things were much worse than now. But it provides a glimpse of what it takes to break a drought.

In September, more than 85 percent of Texas was in exceptional drought—the worst possible drought condition. On those acres, it would take an estimated 24 to 28 inches of rain over a six-month period to reach drought-breaking potential.

A return to normal rainfall will help, but the actual need is to “catch up,” so that the scarred ground and the vegetation can replenish itself. Farmers count on surface moisture to plant but also on subsurface moisture to sustain crops and pastures.

The best thing about these recent rains is that some areas got quite a lot.  The runoff will help store some water in ponds, tanks and lakes. The ground will store some, too, increasing what is called the soil moisture profile. 

This spring, many farmers can plant with a bit of hope now and the pastures should initially rebound some. But the long-term forecast still looks dry. La Nina is still the predominant weather maker. For Texas, that almost always brings drought.

I have no wish to look this gift horse in the mouth. We are thankful for the best gift Texas could receive. A good bit more like this and we can offer thanks for the breaking of this epic drought.


Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
Follow Gene on Twitter and Facebook.

One Response to “What will it take to break this Texas drought?”

  1. Coleburn Davis says:

    The late author Elmer Kelton explained it very well in "The Time it Never Rained." He said that a drought is not just a period of time with no rainfall, rather it is a period where rainfall is significantly below normal rainfall levels. The dry period that began in the winter of 2010 was bad, very bad, with a combination of no rain, high wind, and scorching temperatures. One really good rain will not break a drought like that, but it does give hope to farmers and rancher that maybe the end of drought is coming.

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