'Death ridge' moves westward as temperatures break records

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Heat-wise, Texas had a rollercoaster ride the last days of June and the first week of July.

During the last few days of June, temperatures were extremely high in much of the state, stressing row crops, pastures, rangeland and livestock, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

In some areas, historical records were broken the last week of June. In San Antonio, a 108-degree day was the highest since the 1800s, when records began to be taken, said Aaron Treadway, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in New Braunfels. But during the first days of July, it was record lows that were broken.

“It’s been pretty much a rollercoaster ride of extreme temperatures,” Treadway said. “It’ll warm back up as we get into the middle of July, and we’ll see temperatures back in the century mark.”

Last week, the same high-pressure zone that is blocking cooler air from the north and causing extremely hot weather on the West Coast, was behind the extreme highs in Texas, Treadway noted.

The summer high-pressure zone is what meteorologists call the “death ridge,” he said, as it not only blocks cool fronts but moisture as well.

Death-ridge conditions are not that much out of the ordinary; they just came a little earlier this year, and will likely return mid-July, he said.

The week or so of extremely high, near-record breaking temperatures combined with drought conditions during the last half of June were hard on all crops, said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head.

“Particularly, we had a lot of corn that was just finishing grain-fill here in Central Texas, so I imagine we’ll finish off with lower test weights, a little less starch packed in those kernels, so we’ll have lower yields and test weights,” Miller said.

In much of the Panhandle and parts of the South Plains, the high temperatures and drought were hard on cotton, he said.

“There has been a series of showers go through there,” he said. “If you were where it dropped those 2 inches, you were in somewhat better shape. But if you were missed, the extremely high temperatures and short soil moisture are really challenging you to keep up with irrigation. Virtually, no place in the High Plains do we have full irrigation; we just have supplemental irrigation, and if we don’t get rain to go with it, you can’t keep up.”

There were also places where high winds blew out young cotton plants, and other instances where there was hail damage, Miller noted.

“Latest estimates indicate that there are 13 percent less cotton acres planted this year, with a lot being replanted with sorghum and alternative crops such as sunflower, sesame and guar,” Miller said.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/.


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