News / USA

Fires, Drought Trouble Texas and Other US Plains States

A volunteer firefighter fights a fire which began outside Marfa, Texas, and was carried by winds to nearby Fort Davis, April 9, 2011
A volunteer firefighter fights a fire which began outside Marfa, Texas, and was carried by winds to nearby Fort Davis, April 9, 2011
Greg Flakus

Drought conditions and high winds have fueled destructive wildfires in northern Mexico and the southern U.S. plains states, especially Texas, where dozens of homes have burned in recent days.  The dry weather is also having an impact on agriculture that is likely to cause some food prices to rise.

Fast-moving wildfires scorched around 32,000 hectares of land in the west Texas ranch country around Fort Davis on Saturday and Sunday, killing cattle and horses, and leaving pastures charred and smoky.  The fires reached populated areas near Fort Davis, destroying 24 homes.

Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Jim Fowler says the people whose homes burned escaped unharmed and are in temporary lodging.

"The Red Cross Disaster Relief people are handling that effort.  They are giving out hotel vouchers and food vouchers and a number of hotels here in town are offering free housing for those people," he said.

Fowler says some cows and horses were caught in the wildfires and were not able to escape.  He says rescue teams patrolling the scorched rural terrain found animal remains in several places.

Fowler says high winds make it difficult for firefighters trying to contain the blazes and that the dry, windy conditions could last several more weeks.

"This time period, in the springtime, is traditionally when we have high winds and dry weather, so this is our normal fire season.  The long-term forecasts we have looked at and the weather information we have researched indicate to us that we won't get much rain at all until our normal rains start in July and August," he said.

Texas State Climatologist and Texas A & M University Atmospheric Scientist John Nielsen-Gammon says the conditions that normally bring danger to far west Texas are now present in many other parts of the Lone Star State.

"March was the driest month on record for the state and springtime is when we get the strongest winds.  So everything is coming together to make for extreme fire danger for Texas this year," he said.

Firefighters have gotten control of a wildfire that started this weekend near Midland, Texas, but not before it destroyed more than 30 homes and burned more than 6,000 hectares of ranch and farm land.  The air quality along the U.S.-Mexico border was affected by smoke coming from a large wildfire in Mexico's northern state of Coahuila.  As strong winds blow over much of Texas, fire departments and emergency management teams are keeping a close eye on areas where dry brush could fuel a blaze.

State Climatologist Nielsen-Gammon says the drought also is affecting some of the state's best agricultural areas.

"We are certainly not off to a good start.  The conditions in east-central Texas, which right now are the hardest-hit drought areas, it is looking like the middle of summer already and so we missed spring entirely.  It is going to depend a lot on how much rain falls in the next couple of months because May and June are typically among the wettest months of the year for the state," he said.

Nielsen-Gammon says much of the Texas wheat crop has already been damaged by the drought and that food prices are likely to rise.  He notes that the average rainfall during the past five months in the state was only 12 centimeters, the least amount of rain since 1967.  Texas is the largest producer of cattle in the United States and the second-largest grower of winter wheat.

Nielsen-Gammon says there is evidence that the droughts that periodically hit Texas coincide with changes in the water temperature in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America.

"Most of the droughts that we receive occur during a La Nina event, when equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures are colder than normal, and that keeps the jet stream farther north and the storms away.  But a lot of it is just the randomness of the weather and where the storm tracks end up setting up.  Since the beginning of October, in fact, we have been getting one dry month after another," he said.

The Texas state climatologist says global warming might also play a role in that overall temperatures in the summer months in Texas have been trending higher during the past few decades.

The drought conditions are also causing problems for many other southern plains states including New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma as well as the Midwestern state of Kansas.  Wheat prices on the Chicago futures market have risen by about 50 percent during the past year, partly because droughts in Australia and Russia have cut back global supply.

While drought conditions prevail in the U.S. southern plains, there has been too much rain in some areas further north.  Experts say the flooding of fields in North Dakota and Canada, combined with drought damage in the south, could push prices even higher.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs