Farmers and ranchers across a drought-stricken McLennan County breathed a sigh of relief as welcome rains fell this past weekend.
“As dry it’s been some of them (farmers) were almost emotional with the rain they got,” County AgriLife Extension agent Shane McLellan said.
Some area farmers reportedly received between 2 to 5 inches of rain over the past seven days, McLellan said.
On Friday alone, Waco Regional Airport’s gauge measured 2.25 inches of rain, bringing weekly rainfall totals to 3.09 inches, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Juan Hernandez.
“Last week, Tropical Storm Gordon contributed to a lot of moisture moving into Central Texas,” Hernandez said. “That cold front brought the necessary ingredients for rain chances. As we start to get into the fall this is going to be more common.”
Thanks to Tropical Storm Gordon, after the driest January-to-August period on record, September is shaping up to be unusually wet. Waco’s past 10-day rainfall total beat the comparable period for the previous four years. Last year, Waco only received .51 inch in the month of September.
But overall, Waco’s annual rainfall is far less impressive: 13.19 inches in 2018 compared to 28.75 inches recorded at the same time last year. A few more heavy rain showers are needed to get McLennan County’s parched land back to where it needs to be for planting season, local agricultural officials said.
As of last Thursday, before the heavy rainfall, the majority of McLennan County remained under an extreme drought, according a weekly report from the National Drought Mitigation Center that has not yet been updated. Area farmers and cattle ranchers are still feeling the effects of the drought.
“Moisture is life-giving,” McLellan said. “Most people don’t understand how important moisture is for (agricultural) production. We got to have it.”
In southern McLennan County, Moody farmer Todd Westerfeld, 31, received just a half inch of rain over the weekend.
“I had friends 10 miles away that had 5 inches and then we got five-tenths at the ranch,” Westerfeld said. “It just hasn’t wanted to rain here.”
But with five days left to harvest cotton, he wasn’t necessarily hoping for rain, he said.
“Once we get the cotton out we’ll be ready for about as much rain as we can take,” he said.
The weather forecast calls for rain chances up to 40 percent every day this week through Friday, but weather officials say that rain is not likely to be the heavy rains farmers need to saturate the topsoil.
“Significant rain chances, I would say it’s not in the forecast,” Hernandez said. “It’s going to be isolated showers; it’s not going to be widespread rain – mainly just here and there, on and off.”
Although the grass is greener, without more frequent heavy rain, residents will likely see evidence of McLennan County’s record-breaking dry year for years to come.
“As far as the drought, trees that were in drought stress this year may continue to decline for six to 10 years,” McLellan said. “Over time that stress may become more apparent. They could rebound or it may be a slow death.”
With a 60 percent chance of El Nino this year, meteorologists say the upcoming fall-winter season may be cooler and wetter, causing a different set of problems for farmers.
But McLellan is not too worried.
“I’ve always told people in Central Texas it seems to be dust or mud, “ he said. “There are so many highs and lows and such risk in agriculture, but farmers are survivors. They deal with what Mother Nature provides.”