Catastrophic Drought in Texas Causes Global Economic Ripples

The drought map created by University College London shows a number of worryingly dry areas around the globe, in places including East Africa, Canada, France and Britain.

But the largest area of catastrophic drought centers on Texas. It is an angry red swath on the map, signifying what has been the driest year in the state’s history. It has brought immense hardship to farmers and ranchers, and fed incessant wildfires, as well as an enormous dust storm that blew through the western Texas city of Lubbock in the past month…

At the moment, 70 percent of Texas is experiencing “exceptional drought” — the worst classification — along with 55 percent of Oklahoma and significant chunks of Louisiana, New Mexico and Kansas. Northern Mexico is also affected .

Because it covers a huge and economically significant area, the Southwestern drought is having effects across the United States and even internationally, particularly in the food and agriculture sectors.

Some of the farthest-reaching effects may be on world cotton markets. Texas produces about 50 percent of U.S. cotton, and the United States in turn grows between 18 and 25 percent of the world’s cotton, according to Darren Hudson, director of the Cotton Economics Research Institute at Texas Tech University. This year, however, yields even from irrigated crops have fallen about 60 percent on the high plains where the bulk of Texas’s cotton crop grows, Mr. Hudson said. Farmers have given up on their “dry-land,” or unirrigated, cotton crops….

Economists at the Texas Agrilife Extension Service calculated in August that the drought’s cost to Texas agriculture had reached $5.2 billion . The losses have only increased since then.

Scientists expect climate change to worsen the effect of droughts.

“While drought will always be a part of the natural climate variability of the Southern Plains, the impacts of drought in a warming world are likely to become even more pronounced,” David P. Brown, an official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said in an e-mail.

That is the case elsewhere, too, scientists say. Research by Eleanor Burke, a specialist in climate extremes at the Hadley Center of the Met Office in Britain, projects that if global temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) — a fairly high amount — then southern Africa, Southeast Asia, the Amazon and the Mediterranean region would be considerably more prone to drought .

Analysis released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that in the Mediterranean, droughts are already increasingly common during winter, when the region typically gets more rainfall, with part of the cause being climate change caused by humans .

In the U.S. Southwest, the current drought is generally attributed to La Niña, an intermittent Pacific Ocean phenomenon that generally causes dry and warm winters in the region.

But Texas’s state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, also said that record-high temperatures over the summer — Austin, for example, experienced 90 days this year that reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) — dried out the soil and worsened the drought’s effect.

Catastrophic Drought in Texas Causes Global Economic Ripples – NY Times

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