November 17, 2006
By Bobby Horecka
A brewing weather event over the Pacific Ocean will likely see some higher than normal rainfalls over much of Texas during the next few months.
But just because forecasters are predicting an El Niño winter, they're also urging farmers and ranchers to not get their hopes up too much.
El Niño, which literally translated from Spanish means "the infant," describes a weather phenomenon in the Central Pacific which historically has brought above average rainfall for the Lone Star State.
But higher than normal in a drought year isn't saying much, said National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Patrick McCullough in San Angelo.
His part of Texas saw hardly more than a sprinkle through much of the year, breaking finally in September. Now with little more than a month left in 2006, the Concho Valley is still about 4 inches behind its average rainfall of 20 inches per year.
"In general, the El Niño occurrence will raise rainfall amounts only slightly," he said.
As rainfall typically increases from west to east, the excess rainfall anomaly through the three-month period is about 1 inch in the Panhandle to approximately 3 to 4 inches in East Texas and Southeast Texas, according to Victor Murphy, NWS climate service program manager in Fort Worth.
"That amount of rainfall will do little to help us replenish our lakes and reservoirs, but it will help us when it comes to ground moisture," McCullough said.
And after as dry a year as 2006, that's welcome news to farmers and ranchers, said Galen Chandler, Texas Cooperative Extension director in the Rolling Plains area.
A lot of wheat was planted and it needed some moisture, he said. Plus, additional El Niño rains will put the wheat in good condition as it moves toward harvest next year.
Some of the recent rains caught peanut farmers during harvest, Chandler said, but after visiting with a few farmers, he said the timing didn't prove too poor.
"Obviously, it will help the range and pasture situation," he said. "It will help fill up some tanks. It really came at a good time."
But the greatest El Niño affect of all could come next spring, particularly in the Concho Valley area, McCullough said.
Although he says data on the subject is rather rudimentary, the increase of ground moisture over El Niño winters has typically brought more moisture farther west as thunderstorms brew in late spring and early summer, resulting in larger areas of the state receiving more rains.
"The statistics don't really support that for the state overall, but it is an observation we've made in our area over the last decade and a half," McCullough said of the longer-term El Niño rain prospects.
"It's really best to look at this as no guarantee of anything," he said. "But after as dry a year as we faced already, I'm willing to bet our farmers and ranchers are happy with anything they can get to put them on the right track for next year."
For more on long-term forecasts and climate information, visit the NWS website at www.weather.gov and click on the map of Texas.