With cotton acres already down as a result of dry conditions from the Rio Grande Valley through the Coastal Bend, it should come as no surprise that the National Weather Service’s (NWS) extended summer season forecast is calling for more hot and dry weather across the South Texas coastal region. The news is disheartening for farmers and ranchers who say water reserves statewide already are at their lowest in 25 years.

Both short and long term weather models were published this week by the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi. NWS meteorologist John Metz staged a conference call Apr. 22 with local government representatives, industry leaders and agricultural stakeholders and told the group there is little chance the Pacific will return to El Niño conditions, a development needed, he says, to change dry conditions that have hampered South Texas in recent weeks.

“It’s not good news,” Metz said. “Models indicate we will get little rain heading into the hot months of summer.”

Metz says the Coastal Bend is on a track to receive about 10 fewer inches of rain this year than the average 22 inches, adding to dry conditions that have prevailed over the last two years. He said Texas is entering the dry summer season with less stored water than it has had in at least a quarter century.

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The Coastal Bend relies on Choke Canyon and Lake Corpus Christi to provide water to Corpus Christi municipal users as well as to industrial and agricultural users. But the reservoir system is currently below 35 percent combined capacity.

“That’s more than 16 percent less than the same time last year, or about 160,000 acre-feet short of where we were last year at the end of April,” Metz said.

The City of Corpus Christi is set to enter a stage 3 drought management plan next month, further limiting residential and commercial irrigation. Officials at the Nueces River Authority say most irrigation districts have already notified farmers of expected water shortages into the summer months.

Tropical season could bring big changes

The disheartening news of water shortages for South Texas could change however, says a team of Colorado State University meteorologists who released their initial 2013 hurricane prediction models last week.

Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach are well known for their annual hurricane predictions. Gray, the senior team leader, has been issuing annual hurricane forecasts since 1984. Though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has yet to release their 2013 hurricane predictions, the Colorado State team says early indications are there will be a 50 percent chance of more tropical activity this year than in normal seasons. If the forecaster team is right, farmers and ranchers across the South, along the Gulf and up and down the Eastern Seaboard could benefit.

The Colorado State forecast includes the entire Atlantic basin including the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Klotzbach says the team is warning city, state and federal officials that there is a reasonable chance of 18 named tropical storms this season, which begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. Of those, he says, there is a reasonable chance that nine storms will become hurricanes.

According to the National Hurricane Prediction Center in Miami, a tropical system becomes a named storm when sustained wind speeds reach 39 mph or more. When sustained winds reach or surpass 74 mph, the storm officially becomes a hurricane. Of the 18 storms forecast to reach tropical storm strength, the team predicts nine of them will become hurricanes, and four will achieve major hurricane strength with sustained wind speeds of 111 mph or greater.

Analysis of the Colorado State forecast indicates the U.S. coastline has a 72 percent chance of a major hurricane making landfall on U.S. soil. Breaking down the forecast further, the East Coast from Maine to Florida has a 48 percent chance while stakeholders along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas have a 47 percent chance of a major hurricane landfall.

Historically, farmers and ranchers across the South and Southwest and even as far inland as the Midwest have benefited from rains associated with tropical systems. But Metz warns that strong storms can also cause serious damage to agricultural operations and says milder tropical weather is much preferred over stronger systems.

While no one living on or near the coast is anxious for a serious storm, most are hopeful the tropical season will at least generate some calmer periods of beneficial rains.