Texas Drought’s Global Ripples
November 1, 2011
Think Climate change won’t effect you? The catastrophic Thailand flooding described here yesterday is affecting the price of everything from sushi, to hard drives. Add cotton and cattle to the list.
AUSTIN — The drought map created by University College London shows a number of worryingly dry areas around the globe, in places including East Africa, Canada, France and Britain.
But the largest area of catastrophic drought centers on Texas. It is an angry red swath on the map, signifying what has been the driest year in the state’s history. It has brought immense hardship to farmers and ranchers, and fed incessant wildfires, as well as an enormous dust storm that blew through the western Texas city of Lubbock in the past month.
“It’s horrible,” said Don Casey, a rancher in central Texas who sold off half his cattle after getting only about two inches of rain over a one-year stretch and may sell more. “Even if it starts raining, it’s going to take so long for the land to recover”
Because it covers a huge and economically significant area, the Southwestern drought is having effects across the United States and even internationally, particularly in the food and agriculture sectors.
Some of the farthest-reaching effects may be on world cotton markets. Texas produces about 50 percent of U.S. cotton, and the United States in turn grows between 18 and 25 percent of the world’s cotton, according to Darren Hudson, director of the Cotton Economics Research Institute at Texas Tech University. This year, however, yields even from irrigated crops have fallen about 60 percent on the high plains where the bulk of Texas’s cotton crop grows, Mr. Hudson said. Farmers have given up on their “dry-land,” or unirrigated, cotton crops.
World cotton prices, which had been at historic highs, have fallen recently, Mr. Hudson said, but that is mainly because the sluggish economy and other factors have outweighed the loss of supply.
John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist, featured in the video above, blogged in August:
Can you spot the outlier? The year 2011 continues the recent trend of being much warmer than the historical precipitation-temperature relationship would indicate, although with no previous points so dry it’s hard to say exactly what history would say about a summer such as this one. Except that this summer is way beyond the previous envelope of summer temperature and precipitation.
A devastating Texas drought that has browned city lawns and caused more than $5 billion in damages to the state’s farmers and ranchers could continue for another nine years, a state forecaster said on Thursday.
“It is possible that we could be looking at another of these multiyear droughts like we saw in the 1950s, and like the tree rings have shown that the state has experienced over the last several centuries,” State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon told Reuters.
Some 95 percent of the state is listed as being in either “severe” or “exceptional” drought by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor, and Nielson-Gammon said the last 12 months have been the driest one-year period on record in the Lone Star State.
The state’s worst recorded drought lasted from 1950 through 1957 and prompted the creation of artificial lakes all across Texas to supply water to a state that at the time had a population of 15 million – a whopping 10 million fewer than today.
The long-term weather patterns, including La Nina currents in the oceans, mirror records from the early 1950s, Nielsen-Gammon said. The current drought, which he said began in earnest in 2005, could wind up being a 15-year stretch if patterns hold, he said.
“We’re very lucky that we had 2007 and 2010, which were years of plentiful rain,” he said. “2010 was the wettest year in record. Were it not for last year, we would be in much worse shape even than we are today.”
As the video above, made in late summer, mentioned, the biggest fear was that a double-dip La Nina event could stretch this drought for another year or longer. Now the dreaded double has come to pass.