By Steve Hynd
While the the damage Hurricane Irene left in its wake is still being talled, it is already projected to be one of the top 10 costliest disasters in U.S. history. Estimates put the cost at $7 billion to $10 billion after the storm knocked out power, destroyed crops, and flooded towns throughout the East Coast.
But the cost of the Texas drought, which climate change pushed to extremes, may be greater economic disaster. Earlier this month, Texas Agrilife Extension Service estimated losses to be at $5.2 billion � already greater than the $4.1 billion of losses from the 2006 drought. �This drought is just strangling our agricultural economy,� professor Travis Miller, of Texas A&M University�s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. Losses, told TIME Magazine.
The extended heat wave that has exacerbated the drought is expected to break soon, but without rain, farmers will have no relief before planting winter wheat in September or October. Texas produces one-third of winter wheat in the U.S., so analysts expect price increases if there is not enough rain for the wheat crop. Already from the summer, Texas, which produces 55 percent of U.S. cotton, has lost half its cotton crop. And scant summer rain has led to a scarce hay crop, so some ranchers are selling off cattle herds because they can�t afford to continue providing feed and water. The short-term price in beef may drop, but the long-term implications of losing entire herds will push up the price soon enough.
Some weather scientists are already predicting a recurrence this winter of La Ni�onditions in Pacific waters which caused this extended drought - meaning the winter could be light on rain and next summer would be another dry scorcher.
Texas is already water-poor before such droughts begin. The only way cities like San Antonio can be so large is by plundering aquifers and piping in water from out-of-state. Other areas, like Midland and the Permian basin, must put up with drinking water contaminated to hell and back by decades of leakage from drilling. Texas doesn't much care about water quality and the EPA has been neutered - although Austin would likely ignore anything the EPA said anyway. Most of the state - a sizeable fraction of 25 million people - is in danger of water scarcity making life untenable, and matters will only get worse as climate change accelerates.
The governor, and prospective president, has a simple response. Pray for rain. The rain hasn't come yet.