Drought-stricken Texas welcomes Tropical Storm Don

SAN ANTONIO Fri Jul 29, 2011 10:56am EDT

Tropical Storm Don moving northwest toward the south Texas coastal area in a satellite image taken July 29, 2011. REUTERS/NOAA

Tropical Storm Don moving northwest toward the south Texas coastal area in a satellite image taken July 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/NOAA

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SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - As much of Texas suffers through one of its worst droughts, many rain-starved Texans are doing something they thought they would never do -- looking forward to the arrival of a tropical storm.

"Someone's going to get it. We hope that it's us," is how Danielle Hale sums up the situation. She is the Emergency Management Director on Corpus Christi, right in the middle of the area where Tropical Storm Don is expected to come ashore on Friday night.

Parts of Texas are 15 inches short their average rainfall for this time of year. Don's expected 5 to 7 inches of rain and the fact that the storm was not seen bringing damaging winds or a destructive surge, makes it a perfect storm for a state sick of water rationing, brown lawns and dying crops, Hale said.

"We're not anticipating any evacuation orders," Hale said. "The worst we expect is maybe some beach access roads may have to be closed heading into Friday evening.

Dennis Feltgen, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the current track has Don coming ashore at or just south of Corpus Christi on Friday night or early Saturday as a tropical storm or a very minimal hurricane.

"An ideal situation is if it would hit the lower Texas coast and then the system would move northward," he said. "That would give you the more significant rainfall."

Even Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who helped Houston handle the devastation of Hurricane Ike three years ago, isn't worried about Don's approach to the Texas coast.

"We're all keeping our fingers crossed," he said. "It could turn out to be just what we need, a good rain event."

IMPACT ON COTTON CROP

Valero Energy Corp, which operates two large refineries in Corpus Christi, said it was not worried that Don's approach to the central Texas coast would disrupt gasoline production.

"At this point, we have not altered operations at any of our Gulf Coast refineries," Valero spokesman Bill Day said.

But the storm was coming at the worst possible time for the south Texas cotton crop, according to Jeff Nunley of the South Texas Cotton and Grain Association. Texas produces about half of the nation's total cotton crop.

"Cotton farmers here are right in the middle of harvest," he said. "As you can imagine, those unharvested acres have every dollar you can spend invested in them except harvest, so this could be devastating."

He said if wind and rain hit the cotton when it's ready for harvest, it will knock the cotton to the ground, and make it unharvestable. He said the current cotton crop was better than expected in a year with a serious drought.

The tropical storm, however, was not expected to be enough to make much of a dent in the state's epic drought, according to Texas State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon.

"We're looking at five inches of rain, and that is about a month and a half's worth of rain for these areas," he said. "Texas has seen the driest nine months in its history, and many areas are 15 inches below where they would usually be this time of year."

Nielson-Gammon said the fact that the Atlantic and Gulf was seeing its fourth named storm of the season in July was evidence that the La Nina system that has been causing the Texas drought may be breaking down.

"Hopefully we will get more tropical storms and not get hurricanes," he said. "We could use the rain, but not the wind."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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