East Texas rancher James Kolek is among the fortunate — he's been rained on.
Precipitation fell Thursday morning and a couple of times the past week on land Kolek manages in San Jacinto County, one of nearly two dozen counties in the eastern part of the state no longer in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday.
"We really are blessed," the ranch manager at Trinity River Land & Cattle Co. in Shepherd said. "It's not very wet in too many places right now."
Parched conditions elsewhere have deteriorated and dim prospects for rain in April don't bode well for Central Texas and the Hill Country, where the worst drought categories — extreme and exceptional — persist.
Parts of deep South Texas, which hasn't seen ample rains for about six months, slipped from moderate to severe in the Brownsville area since last week.
Foot of snow equals inch of rain
In the Panhandle, even a snowstorm that dropped nearly a foot of snow this past weekend didn't improve conditions.
"Snow is really the best moisture you can have," said Travis Miller, a drought specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. "But a foot of powdery snow is equivalent to only about an inch of rain."
Burn bans continue in 161 of the state's 254 counties, with most of those without prohibitions in the eastern third of Texas.
April, May and June are the wettest three months in Texas but ranchers and farmers will have to hang on a while longer, officials with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said.
"We're looking at short-term pessimism — a dry April — but more optimism in the long run with increased chances for normal to above normal precip in May and June," meteorologist Victor Murphy wrote in an e-mail. "The reason for this is that the La Nina conditions in the Central Pacific along the equator — which bring colder than normal sea surface temperatures — continue to weaken."
$1 billion losses so far
In mid-March state agriculture officials estimated ranchers in the nation's largest cattle-producing state had already lost nearly $1 billion because of Texas' ongoing drought.
Officials said then cattle raisers had lost $829 million since last summer, $569 million of that since November. Those losses will rise, Miller said.
State officials are awaiting approval of drought designation for all 254 counties from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Texas Gov. Rick Perry requested the designation March 6.
It's too late for crops already planted along the Gulf Coast to mature, Miller said.
"I can't imagine rain setting in and making a normal crop," he said.
South Texas cotton producers have planted but because of drought "there's not a whole lot of hope of it coming up or a making a stand because they haven't had any rain," said Steve Verett, vice president of the Plains Cotton Growers, which serves a 41-county region on the South Plains.
Producers on the South Plains are in a little bit better shape. Rains about six weeks ago gave growers enough soil moisture to prepare fields but there's not enough now for seedlings to germinate after planting.
'We need the thunderstorms'
There's deep moisture but it's needed 4 inches to 5 inches below the surface to give seedlings a chance.
"This is pretty typical," Verett said. "We don't typically get a lot of rain in January, February and March. It's from this point forward that we need the thunderstorms."
Kolek's father ranches in Colorado County, just west of Houston, where two-tenths of an inch fell Thursday morning.
"That's a tease," he said, adding that ranchers he knows in Lavaca and Gonzales counties are facing severe financial struggles. "Those people there are really in desperate shape. They're at the end of their ropes."
Livestock producers continue to make supplemental feed purchases or sell cattle and calves in a declining market, officials have said.
In 2006, drought-related crop and livestock losses were the state's worst for a single year, totaling $4.1 billion.