US Drought May Persist Longer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The drought that has turned Texas and parts of the central United States into a parched moonscape of cracked earth could persist into next year, prolonging the misery of farmers and ranchers who have endured a dry spell that is now expected to be the southern state's worst since the 1950s.
The US Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that the La Nina weather phenomenon blamed for the crippling lack of rain might be back soon, just two months after the last La Nina ended. If that happens, the drought would almost certainly extend into 2012.
The extreme dry conditions have been made worse by week after week of scorching temperatures, which have caused reservoirs to evaporate, crops to wither and animals and fish to die off by the thousands.
"The suffering and desperate need for relief grows with the rising temperatures and record-breaking heat that continue to scorch Texas with each passing day,'' state Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples said.
Even the state's feral hogs are hiding from the heat, postponing a new reality TV show about Texans gunning them down from helicopters.
Texas saw less than an inch of rain statewide in July, and more than 90 percent of the state is already in the two most extreme stages of drought.
Also on Thursday, the state climatologist declared this the most severe one-year drought on record in Texas. Officials expected to declare soon that it has become the worst drought since the 1950s.
A newly updated weather map showed the drought holding firm - if not intensifying - through at least October.
In Dallas County, officials say at least 13 people have died from the heat this summer. The high temperature Thursday was expected to hit 109 degrees Fahrenheit (42.8 Celsius), which would be a record for the date.
Statewide demand for power was expected to approach the maximum Thursday for a fourth straight day. Some large industrial plants were forced off the overburdened electric grid, requiring them to shut down or rely on their own power reserves.
And for the first time this summer, utilities warned residential customers of the potential for rolling outages.
Beleaguered farms and dead pastures have been hurt the most. The agriculture industry, which accounts for nearly 9 percent of the Texas economy, may be headed for the biggest single-year losses ever _ potentially as high as $8 billion, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. …