Entries in Drought (10)


Drought Affecting Mississippi River Levels and Traffic

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Experts who watch the Mississippi River say they haven’t seen it this low since the 1940s.

These days, the river, which sometimes resembles a slow-motion interstate highway for barge traffic, has narrowed to one lane -- where the water is the deepest.

Outside Memphis, Tenn., crews raced to remove a car from the river.  It had been quietly sitting at the bottom for years but as the water level went down, it was suddenly blocking traffic.

River traffic was backed up for 11 miles Tuesday night as vessels waited for a stretch of the river to be reopened.

Officials say the Mississippi River’s water levels have gone down dramatically -- from Illinois to Louisiana -- because of drought conditions over the last several months.

Like a wreck on the road, a barge that was stuck in the mud blocked traffic as nearly 100 boats and barges waited to move.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it was dredging the river to keep water at least nine feet deep -- any less and authorities said they would be forced to close the river.

Frank Segree, captain of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Dredge Hurley, said there had been some “close calls” with ships hitting the river’s bottom.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

The Mississippi is the nation’s artery of commerce, where more than 500 tons of grain, coal and other goods are moved every year.

More than 400,000 U.S. jobs depend on the flow of river traffic, and each day that traffic on the river stops, the U.S. economy loses $300 million.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Drought Conditions Worst Since 1988

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared an additional 218 counties in 12 states as disaster areas because of damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat -- that means more than half of all the nation's counties have been designated disaster areas this year.

Nearly three quarters of the nation's cattle grazing fields are now in drought. Across the nation, farmers are distraught as crops are being ruined. The Agriculture Department says soybean growth is very poor, matching conditions farmers faced in the drought of 1988.

A government map shows drought conditions from the Mexico border of Texas, north to Wisconsin, from the California coast to Indiana, and in virtually the entire southeast.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


USDA Declares Natural Disaster in 26 Drought-Stricken States

USDA(WASHINGTON) -- As more than half of the U.S. battles through drought conditions, the Department of Agriculture announced this week a series of improvements that will help farmers and ranchers receive federal assistance faster.

The move, which will cut down on the processing time for relief and lower the interest rate for emergency loans, comes as the USDA declared a natural disaster in over 1,000 counties in 26 states.  Those affected areas now qualify for help.

"We need to be cognizant of the fact that drought and weather conditions have severely impacted and affected producers around the country," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

"We do know that people are hurting and people are concerned and to the extent we can do things that can help them get through these tough times we want to do that," he added.

The drought has likely been spurred by hotter than normal temperatures across the country.  According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first six months of the year were the warmest January-through-June period for the U.S. since record keeping began in 1895.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Flash Floods Wreak Havoc on Houston

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Strong winds and flash floods plagued southeast Texas Monday after an unusually dry winter, with rainfall exceeding the monthly average in a few hours.

City roads were flooded and thousands of Houston residents were without electricity after strong thunderstorms hit the area.

The torrential downpour came as a shock to many Texans, after 2011 finished as the driest year on record for that area, according to the National Weather Service.

Houston endured a total of 4.05 inches of rain by 4 p.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service. The monthly rainfall average for that area is 3.79 inches.

A funnel cloud was sighted southwest of Houston and roads flooded across downtown Houston. Flooding shut down exit ramps and lanes on several major highways, wreaking havoc on the Houston area.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Texas Wildfires Rage, Gov. Rick Perry Returns to State

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(BASTROP, Texas) -- The Texas wildfires raging just east of Austin have burned at least 500 homes, scorched thousands of acres and claimed at least two lives.

Dozens of fires, fueled by high winds and drought conditions, have led to a wall of smoke and flames 16 miles long and four miles wide.  More than 5,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes, and five shelters have been set up across the affected area.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry set aside his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to focus attention on the troubles facing the Lone Star State.  He cut short a campaign stop in South Carolina to return to Texas on Monday.

"I'll be real honest with you I'm not paying any attention to politics right now," Perry said.  "There's plenty of time to take care of that.  People's lives and their possessions are in danger.  That's substantially more important."

"I have seen a number of big fires in my life ... this one is as mean looking as I've ever seen," he added.

The massive wildfire began Sunday afternoon in Bastrop County and has so far blackened more than 14,000 acres.

U.S. Forest Service official Mike Ferris said that weather patterns are to blame for Bastrop County's raging fires.

"The weather [Monday] is at its worst.  We had a red flag warning issued this morning for strong gusty winds from anywhere from 15 to 30 mile per hour, in addition to reduced or lowered humidities," he said.

The emergency is not limited to the one fire about 30 miles east of Austin.  Roughly 35 other fires are actively burning across this drought-stricken state.

Many Texans prayed Tropical Lee would bring rain, but instead only gusty winds made Texas' most active fire season ever that much worse.  The state is experiencing its worst drought since the 1950s.

Since Sunday, 251 of Texas' 254 counties were under outdoor burn bans.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Drought: People and Animals in 100 Degree Heat

Burke/Triolo Productions/Comstock/ Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Texas state officials are planning how to evacuate several endangered species at risk because of the record drought. The state is home to 86 threatened species.

Parched skies and relentless 100 degree heat are turning this summer into one of the worst in history for parts of Texas. Joggers run in the early morning before the heat intensifies; people working in downtown Houston seek shelter in the city's underground tunnel system rather than venturing out on the scorched city sidewalks. Football players practice in the morning to beat the heat, and children spend recess in air conditioned gyms at school.

The heat has driven wildlife into the open -- one homeowner southwest of Houston, who was wondering what was happening to his disappearing watermelon crop, set up a camera, and snapped a photo of a coyote in his backyard, stealing a watermelon.

Lynn Cuny is the director of the Wildlife Rescue Center in Kendalia, near San Antonio. Her group is running rescue services around the clock -- at last count she had 81 baby deer in her sanctuary. Her advice to homeowners encountering wildlife in their backyards: "Please be patient, these animals are desperate for water and often backyards are the only source."

Deer are roaming in the middle of the day down Texas roads, and calls are coming in to animal control centers about raccoons, feral hogs, and other animals straying into yards in a desperate hunt for water that is not falling from the skies.

Droughts aren't new in Texas -- one in the 1950's set records -- but this one could beat that. Rain was so rare back then that when it finally rained in West Texas on April 25, 1951, the event was noted on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse in San Angelo.

Hopes are pinned on a tropical disturbance out in the Gulf of Mexico, which the National Hurricane Center says will be named Lee.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Drought Unearths Long-Lost Slave Cemetery

Comstock/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- One of the worst droughts in Texas history is helping archaeologists unearth a small piece of American history, a graveyard for freed slaves.

While the heat may be taking a toll on crops, livestock and people's livelihoods, it has helped archaeologists uncover two graves that are believed to have been buried for more than a century.

"This grave was actually uncovered by erosion from the water. It was several feet deep years and years ago," Sgt. Hank Bailey of the Navarro County Sheriff's Office told ABC News Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA-TV.

Cemeteries were marked and moved before the Richland Chambers Reservoir in Navarro County, Texas, was filled in the 1980s, but this small cemetery without tombstones went unnoticed.

Human remains were initially discovered in 2009 by boaters when the water level was low, but the water rose quickly and archaeologists and historians have been waiting ever since for the reservoir to reveal the cemetery again.

"It's not one of the great finds of history, but it's important to us on a local level," Bruce McManus, chairman of the Navarro County Historical Commission, told WFAA-TV. "It's one of the lost cemeteries we've been looking for."

The remains that have been found will be reburied elsewhere. For now, investigators are keeping the cemetery's location a secret because they are afraid of looters.

The record heat is not only adding to the local history books, but also to the stress placed on energy providers. The electrical grid is under so much stress that companies are bringing old power stations back to life.

Texas is not alone. Four of the eight largest power grid operators in the U.S. and Canada have set all-time records over the last two weeks.

In Dallas, the heat is supposed to keep on coming. Forecasters predict Dallas will see triple-digit temperatures for at least another week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tropical Storm Don Headed for Southern Texas

NOAA/National Weather Service(DALLAS) -- Tropical Storm Don is currently moving across the Gulf of Mexico, forecast to make landfall in southern Texas by this week's end.  And with it, locals hope, will come some much needed heat relief and rain to the drought-ravaged parts of the Lone Star State.

Hurricane Forecaster Daniel Brown with the National Hurricane Center says the storm "will be approaching the coast of Texas late Friday or Friday night."

Don, however, may not bring enough rain to compensate for the summer's heat since, as Brown says, it's not expected "to gain too much strength over the next day or so. It looks like once it makes landfall it will weaken rather quickly and likely dissipate within a day or so of landfall."

Still, Texans have their fingers crossed.

"We'd love to see the tropical storm that would bring plenty of moisture, not only wind, [that] would hit the spot," says rancher Skeeter Stoles, whose water source for his cattle -- a once 12-foot deep pond -- has run dry.

For now, the streak of consecutive, 100-degree days stands at 26.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Scorcher! Parts of US Remain Near, At, Triple-Digit Temperatures

File photo. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- Although the Northeast will get some relief in the coming days from the heat wave that is baking half of the U.S., states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas will continue to cook with very little relief from thunderstorms and cooling temperatures.'s expert senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said the high pressure system keeping parts of the country near or over 100 degrees -- from the New York metropolitan area to Kansas to Texas -- would likely be around for a while.

"We are entering the hottest part of the summer, traditionally, from mid-July to the first part of August," he said of the "dog days" of summer.

Sosnowski said the heat was really taking its toll on places that had been suffering from extreme heat since early June, but that many communities in the core of the high pressure system causing the heat would likely remain oppressively hot through July.

"It's really getting out of hand," Sosnowski said. "We really don't see anything big to change this weather pattern."

In Tennessee, where Nashville was enduring its second day of triple-digit temperatures, Justin Bruce, the morning meteorologist at ABC affiliate WKRN-TV, said that the city's temperatures had reached 100 degrees Monday.

"When you factor in humidity, the heat index was 114," he said. "We talked to the National Weather Service and they could not recall any time in the last several years when the heat index was 114."

On Tuesday, the city's temperatures were back around 100 with a heat index of 105-115. "It's pretty stinky," said Bruce, who added that typically the average high in Nashville was around 89 degrees.

Kraig Roozeboom, a crop production specialist at Kansas State University, said the heat combined with a drought that has been around since last fall, was affecting the state's corn crop. In Wichita, temperatures hit 111 Sunday, the National Weather Service said.

Tuesday's temperatures were in the 90s. The weather service issued an excessive heat warning through the evening for much of the state's northeast and several southern counties.

Kansas is the nation's sixth-largest corn producer, harvesting 581.2 million bushels last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The service rated about 18 percent of the corn in poor to very poor condition this year, with 31 percent rated as fair. Only 8 percent was rated excellent.

"We always have heat," Roozeboom told ABC News. "One of the issues is it's getting hotter much earlier and staying hot."

Roozebum said that some of the corn crop was a "total loss" and that this year much of the state was suffering.

"This is a pretty bad year. Worse than normal," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gov. Rick Perry Asks Texans to Pray for Rain

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(AUSTIN) -- As wildfires continue to scorch the state of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is asking for prayer.

The unprecedented droughts, strong winds, and low humidity are to blame for the severe conditions spreading throughout Texas. Hundreds of homes have fallen to ashes and the once lush acres of trees have turned into charred sticks.

Since the beginning of the year, wildfires have burned over one million acres of the drought-stricken state.

Perry says the dangerous plumes of more than 8,000 wildfires are engulfing land and lives -- and it is time for Texans to join together in prayer. He has declared the next three days as "Days of Prayer for Rain" in Texas.

Perry made the proclamation on his website, stating: "I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life."

Perry is not the only state lawmaker to ask for prayer. In 2007, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue hosted a prayer service for the southeastern drought.

Perhaps it's working. The first day of prayer began on Good Friday, and is forecasting isolated thunderstorms Friday and Saturday -- with a 30 percent chance of rain in Fort Worth.

Several public pages have popped up on Facebook over the past few days. One event named "Pray for RAIN in Texas!" has 306 participants so far who plan on praying for precipitation.

The page's wall drew several comments, not only from people in cities across the state of Texas, but also New Jersey, the Caribbean, and Morocco. One person posted, "Lord, please send us rain to quench the land, relive our firefighters, and help our ranchers and farmers. You are great O' Lord and you hear our cries."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio