Probably no farmer or rancher in Texas would complain about a beneficial rain on a drought-stressed field of corn or cotton or any other crop. But when it comes to extreme weather, in spite of the season or how much needed rain can bring relief from a drought, spring and summer showers often come with a downside, especially when they are accompanied by or are a part of a major storm system.
No one, or very few, are complaining about recent and widespread showers responsible for dropping as much as eight inches of rain over wide areas of Central and South Texas. But in addition to the rain, this year's spring season has also brought hail storms, twisters, late winter snows and freezing temperatures to parts of the Southwest that have complicated agricultural operations in at least three states.
Sure, weather happens, and by and large that's a good thing. But many agree that 2013 is shaping up to be a particularly unusual weather year, and along with it have come reports of crop losses, field damage, insect invasion, freeze damage and even warnings of, or at least the potential for, deadly disease outbreaks.
Take a look at some of the conflicting reports from across the Southwest region so far this year. Some are saying, and bolstering claims with statistics, that the late winter season has brought some of the warmest temperatures ever recorded to parts of the region. Other reports indicate that snow packs in Southern Colorado and New Mexico are substantially lower than usual, while a few places in Texas and Oklahoma are reporting record snowfalls for spring, responsible for damaged wheat in the Texas plains.
Then freezing weather hit Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico in early May, not to mention hailstorms that damaged nut trees and chili pepper fields in Southern New Mexico. Strong winds, gale force and above, are being blamed for corn and sorghum damage from the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas to areas all along the Texas coast as far east and north as Beaumont, where some farmers have complained that flash-flooded fields destroyed young crops.
Weather and non-weather events can be a problem
Let's not forget about hail that beat up spinach crops in the Texas Winter Garden, floods in sorghum fields around Houston, and freeze damage to Texas Hill Country peaches and berries. On the other side of the coin, abnormally wet and warm weather has helped many East Texas farmers get a good jump on forage crops and rice fields.
In addition to the types of damage and destruction you might expect from extreme weather events, auxiliary problems often follow. For example, South Texas public health officials are warning residents of the Rio Grande Valley that following excessive rains in late April, mosquito problems are on the rise. To make the problems worse, public health officials just across the border from the Valley are warning residents there of heightened concerns over a rash of confirmed Dengue Fever cases, many of them in Matamoros, across the river from Brownsville, Texas, and Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas.
Dengue Fever infection is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. As many as 100 million people are infected globally every year. Dengue is caused by any one of four related viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. There are no vaccines to prevent infection. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the most effective protective measures are those that avoid mosquito bites. If infected, early recognition and prompt supportive treatment can substantially lower the risk of developing a severe case of the disease.
While no Dengue Fever cases have been confirmed in South Texas this year, officials warn that as a result of escalating mosquito populations, Valley residents need to be concerned over possible West Nile Virus (WNV) cases. Last year Texas reported 89 confirmed WNV cases.
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne illness. Up to 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will have no symptoms and will recover on their own; however, some cases can cause serious illness or death. People over 50 and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of becoming ill if they become infected with the virus.
Efforts to reduce insect problems
Dr. Raul Villanueva, an AgriLife Extension entomologist in Weslaco, says most cities in the Valley are gearing up spraying efforts to help control mosquitoes in urban areas, but warns that rural residents, including farmers and ranchers, should take action to remove standing water and other potential breeding grounds.
Villanueva says other types of damaging insects cause concern after heavy rain events. He warns to be on the watch for both ant activity and termites.
“People will likely observe flying ants and termites in the coming days,” he said. “Ants and termites both will fly from their mounds, mate and find new nests. Homeowners and others should be aware that if they find large numbers of winged termites or ants, they have infestations in their dwellings."
On the brighter side, entomologists say plant bug activity may actually decrease after heavy rains, though most will return quickly. An exception to this includes the Asian citrus psyllid, carrier of the bacteria disease known as Citrus Greening Disease, a major threat to citrus trees. Villanueva warns recent rains will cause citrus trees to send out shoots, which is where psyllids lay eggs and reproduce. He says now is the time to consider another round of spraying in Valley orchards.
In spite of the two-plus years of drought across the Southwest, the old saying remains true, "into every life a little rain must fall." While that rain is a much desired precious resource these days, it is apparently important to remember a host of weather-related problems can easily follow.