2015 brought record rainfall and flooding

HARLINGEN — Last year was an interesting year for weather.

The most significant probably was the rain.

The area saw an average of a little more than 30 to 33 inches of rain, which resulted in lush green plants in some areas and flooding in others.

“Annual rainfall ranked in the top 20 highest on record for the highly populated areas between McAllen and Brownsville,” the National Weather Service in Brownsville reported.

Soaking rains affected the Rio Grande Valley as well as other parts of the state for much of the year.

“Between March and June, the strengthening El Niño would be just one piece of the big puzzle that brought flooding rains across much of Texas, culminating in the disastrous floods in the Hill Country prior to Memorial Day,” the NWS said.

As the rains began, heat from warm and humid air flowed from the Gulf and prolonged the cloud cover at night, which helped bring temperatures above average.

During that time, an upper level pressure made its way in, killing off the rain and drying out soil into early September.

However, that didn’t last.

The rains returned in full force in October, with the most significant flooding of the year across the Lower Valley.

That came as a surprise because the month started out as generally warm to hot. Then the torrential rains came, eventually flooding rural and agriculturally rich regions of northeastern Cameron County and eastern Willacy County, where many homes flooded.

By the close of the month, Harlingen saw close to double its average October rain. But Willacy County was hit harder, with 14 to 18 inches estimated at the end of the month.

That’s up to five times the average in some locations.

“Flooding in late October, 2015, was the capping event of a year remembered for water across the Rio Grande Valley,” the NWS stated. “From ‘Lake Willacy’ to widespread neighborhood flooding in Weslaco, not seen in decades, impacts were sufficient to warrant Federal Disaster Assistance to Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy County.”

Harlingen tallied 6.9 inches of rain for October, ranking fourth highest on record for the month. The average for the month is 3.7

Brownsville also was soaked, receiving rainfall close to 10 inches above normal — 13.68 inches compared to the average of 3.74, the NWS reported.

The rain did contribute in a positive way, classifying the area as being without severe or greater drought.

It’s currently listed as level two on the United States Drought Monitor for the first time since 2007, the NWS stated.

But the weather wasn’t kind to cotton. In the home of King Cotton, heavy spring rains led to a smaller harvest in 2015.

Many cotton growers planted late because of soggy fields while other farmers didn’t plant cotton at all. Those who did plant ended up harvesting their crop more than a month late.

On the plus side, rains that fell throughout the fall are going to help crops going forward, no matter which crop is planted, said Texas A&M AgriLife spokesman Rod Santa Ana in his weekly report.

“Valley growers have to plant something. They try hard to plant the crop that fits their operation and returns the most profit,” he said

For a large percentage, that likely will be cotton.

“We’re hearing that there will be more cotton this year than the 65,000 acres planted in the Valley last year,” Santa Ana said.

The wet year may mean growers will plant more.

“Many growers have good soil moisture to work with this year,” said Brad Cowan, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Hidalgo County.

“That helps get a crop off to a good start, because some years the soil is so dry that it’s a real challenge to grow a healthy crop.”

With improved cotton varieties, higher yields are indeed possible.

“We’ve been having good cotton yields lately, the last two years,” Cowan said.

“Some growers have managed to produce four bales per acre. With each bale weighing about 500 pounds, some have been meeting that 1-ton cotton goal that before the decline in boll weevils was just a dream here.”