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Rain Arrives, but Drought Stays in Texas, Oklahoma

May 27, 1996|From Reuters

AMARILLO, Texas — Rainstorms brought some relief to the bone-dry Panhandle areas of Texas and Oklahoma but were not strong enough to end one of the worst droughts of this century, officials said Sunday.

The scattered storms dumped 6 to 10 inches of rain on areas of northwest Texas and western Oklahoma on Saturday and Sunday.

But while the rains may help corn and cotton crops, experts said they came too late to prevent a disaster for wheat farmers and that much of the rain simply ran off the baked soil.

"Part of the problem is that although [some of the rains] have been heavy, the ground has been dry for so long that the rain is running off instead of soaking in," said David Copley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

He said the storms also brought heavy hail and may even have done more harm than good to the stunted wheat crops.

"I suspect a lot of the wheat out here got pretty smashed by the hail," he said.

Rainfall across much of Texas and Oklahoma is at its lowest level in decades, and officials said one sudden burst is not enough to end the drought.

"Any little bit helps, but it's going to take a lot more than one good rain," Gene Acuna, spokesman for Texas Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry, said Sunday.

Government officials said last week that agricultural losses in Texas alone are already at $2.4 billion and could rise to $6.5 billion, or almost half the state's agricultural economy, if the drought continues.

Officials in Oklahoma are predicting that thousands of farms could fail.

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Perry said this year's weather patterns are similar to those of the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, when farmers and ranchers were ruined by drought and severe soil erosion.

Areas of northwest Texas have had rainfall at about one-eighth of normal levels.

Wheat crops should be thigh-high by now, but many farmers say theirs come up no higher than the ankle, and some have plowed their crop under rather than waste more time and money trying to save it.

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