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La Niña weather pattern expected through spring

Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

Farmers and ranchers in areas of Texas where drought already exists should expect it to get worse over the next few months, and the rest of the state should expect to get drier, as well, according to climatologists at the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).

The prediction is based on a La Niña climate pattern, which is expected to linger throughout the winter and spring, TWDB Manager of Water Availability Program Dr. Nelun Fernando said.

During a La Niña event, the Pacific jet stream is north of where it typically traverses our state. As a result, we will likely not get the storm systems that we would get if the jet stream was located farther south, so it is likely that this winter and spring will be drier and warmer than normally expected.

Texas has had La Niña conditions develop several times over the past decade, with the winter of 2017-2018 being the most recent.

We did have some drought that year, but it didn’t last very long due to some rain events and storm systems that came through. There are other weather systems that can occur and relieve drought. We had a La Niña for two consecutive years in the winters of 2010 and 2011, and in the second year, the drought broke in a couple of places because they had regional rainfall. So, it’s not impossible for things to improve in some areas.

Impacts of La Niña patterns are most pronounced in Texas during the winter and spring. In addition to drier weather, an a La Niña event brings higher temperatures.

The change in the jet stream means that there could be less cloud cover over Texas, and more solar radiation can reach the land surface, leading to sensible heating and warmer temperatures.

Several counties in the Panhandle, West Texas and Far West Texas are experiencing exceptional drought, the most intense category on the National Weather Service’s (NWS) drought scale. Most counties in those areas are experiencing at least moderate drought.

Other parts of Texas are listed as abnormally dry, but currently, 52 percent of the state is not experiencing any drought conditions.

Unfortunately, it’s not looking too good as it stands right now. Predictions for the next three months show it is very likely the existing areas of drought will remain, and it’s likely the drought will extend.

Windbreaks have variety of uses in rural, urban settings

Windbreaks are common across rural Texas, where the dense foliage surrounding homes and fields is the first line of defense against punishing winds and blowing dirt.

But there are practical applications in suburban and urban settings, too, according to John Begnaud, a retired Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist from San Angelo.

“Back during the Dust Bowl days in rural areas, windbreaks became a real big item because of the blowing dust and the wind, and we saw a lot of them. Then, they fell out of favor and weren’t really planted by the next generation of farmers and ranchers and homeowners, but now they’re becoming more popular again,” Begnaud said in an interview with the Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network. “Now, since it’s planting season, it’s a great time to plant or consider windbreaks. But windbreaks and plantings like this are not always just for climate. They can also be for views and noise and serve a lot of other purposes.”

Considerations when designing a windbreak include the setting, soil type, water availability and water quality. Begnaud noted plant variety selection is dependent on those factors, but evergreen plants are the mainstays of windbreak plantings.

“Pines, junipers and arborvitaes—there’s a whole host of these types of plants, and they should be adapted to your environment. We call those the anchors, these evergreen-type plants,” he said. “They don’t always have to be the tallest tree in the world. They can be a large shrub that only gets 7-10 feet tall. It depends upon how far you put them away from the protected area, your patio, your home, whatever, as to the height that is necessary.”

Factoring in aesthetics of not only the plants, but the location’s surroundings, is important when planning a windbreak, Begnaud said.

“Don’t forget views. If you’re sitting on your back patio and all of a sudden you have a whole host of wind turbines now that you don’t necessarily want to look at, you can design and sculpt a planting with mainly evergreen shrubs because you want the views blocked year-round,” he said. “Or maybe someone that lives right off the interstate, you want to block the noise or make it less prominent, but you also don’t want to see all the traffic. So, you have a reason to plant these types of plants that serve you best in a landscape, because they focus your eye away from those ugly views or they contain noise.”

He noted the best windbreak designs are not one straight line of all the same variety of plants or trees.

“Windbreaks serve a variety of purposes. They can block wind. They can block dust. They can lessen the heat during the summer in Texas,” he said. “But remember to layer them. Don’t just make one single row. They don’t have to be in a straight line, and they can be sculpted. You can make it a beautiful part of your landscape.”

More information on windbreaks, including types of windbreaks and planting advice, is available from the Texas A&M Forest Service.