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Texas breaks record with 59-day dry spell

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DALLAS — A 59-day dry spell surpassing the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression has turned lawns crispy brown, evaporated reservoirs and cost farmers and ranchers an estimated $595 million — and forecasters aren't predicting relief anytime soon.

With not even a hint of rain to settle the dust Monday, the North Texas dry spell that began July 1 set a new record and is expected to stretch into September.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who has declared 153 Texas counties either primary or contiguous agricultural disaster areas, was scheduled Tuesday to look at crop damage at a farm near Fort Worth, about 30 miles west of Dallas.

"We've been in record territory for over a month now," said Mike Williams of the Tarrant Regional Water District in Fort Worth. "I'm not sure you can put enough water on things now to keep them green."

"What we need is a good steady rain," said Polly Drozd, whose family owns a marina on Lake Lewisville near Dallas, where the water level has dropped 15 feet. "Not just a day or two of rain, but a real steady rain for a week or two."

But none is expected. "Even the long-range forecast doesn't look good," said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Fox.

Even cloud-seeding in hopes of bringing rain to the Texas Panhandle was on hold — there weren't any clouds to seed.

"The ninth of August was the last time we've seen anything," said Shea Lea Clower, meteorologist for the "precipitation enhancement" program.

And it's not just dry; it's hot. Monday was the year's 36th day of 100-degree temperatures in Dallas-Fort Worth. The record is 69 days, set in 1980.

"It looks like the middle of winter. Everything's brown," said Rayford Pullen, agricultural extension agent for Montague County, a largely agricultural area along the Red River.

In the town of Throckmorton, hundreds of volunteers spent their vacations digging ditches for a pipeline to bring water from another town because their own reservoir had fallen too low to supply drinking water.

Lou Hyde and her husband, Ted, bought their home at Lake Arrowhead near Wichita Falls so their children and grandchildren would have a place to swim and fish.

"Even the cranes don't go out to fish anymore," she said.

Still, the Dust Bowl years were much worse.

That previous 58-day record, set in 1934 and tied in 1950, was only broken by one-one-hundredth of an inch of rain.

"It was a horrible time," said Bill Green, a curator at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. "Dirt drifted up and covered barbed-wire fences. Conditions were much worse than they are today because we have learned a lot about soil conservation in 70 years."

Despite the dry spell, North Texas has received 21.19 inches of rain since Jan. 1, only about an inch below normal, mostly because of a wet June.

"I think it's kind of an overstatement to compare it with the Dust Bowl," Green said. "We have periodic droughts. Everybody worries, everybody prays. It rains, and everybody gets over it."

On the Net:

National Weather Service: www.nws.noaa.gov