Texans Seek Relief From Heat Wave

It's hot across the Midwest, South and Southwest United States. Really hot. If temperatures aren't in the triple digits, the heat index is. From Florida to Arizona, people are sweating it out.

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Water is a limited resource this summer from Arizona all the way to Florida, and there is more than enough hot weather. Nowhere is drought hitting harder than in Texas.

And from member station KUT, Mose Buchele has that story.

(Soundbite of tractor)

MOSE BUCHELE: As he steers his tractor in triple-degree heat, farmer Mike Randig(ph) isn't harvesting so much as salvaging what he can from a field of milo. Lately, the only thing sprouting at his feet are the deep cracks opening up in the parched farmland north of Austin.

Mr. MIKE RANDIG (Farmer): Look at that crack there, how big it is. Say, that bugger is, what, about 3 inches wide and probably 6 foot deep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BUCHELE: Randig turns 50 this year. He's farmed this land his whole life, and he's never seen conditions this bad. The U.S. Agriculture Department backs that up. Its drought monitor shows almost all of Texas is in drought, and three-quarters of the state is at the highest drought level. The loss of crops brought by the weather means the price of feed has gone so high that ranchers like Randig can't afford to keep their cattle - that's if they have water for them.

Mr. RANDIG: The old-timers are talking about this drought going all the way through to fall now. And if it goes that far, there ain't no way even I'm going to survive with all my cows. I'll sell them all.

BUCHELE: In some cases, whole communities are at risk. The small hill country town of Llano is expecting its water source, the Llano River, to stop flowing completely. So Llano Mayor Mike Reagor and a well digger used witching sticks, also known as dowsing rods, to look for a new well.

Mayor MIKE REAGOR (Llano, Texas): He did it, and I did it. And we both hit the same spot so that's where we tried and we hit.

BUCHELE: Even with the new well, Reagor says the town will only have 90 days of water if the river dries up.

Mayor REAGOR: It looks to me the way the weather conditions are right now that we will experience zero water flow in the next couple of weeks.

BUCHELE: And it's not just the drought afflicting Texas and the middle part of the country. Meteorologist Bob Rose says it's also the heat.

Mr. BOB ROSE (Meteorologist): It used to be, for example, in Austin, that on average we'd see 12 to 13 100-degree days per year. But we've already seen 30 100-degree days this year, and people are just kind of taking it like, oh, this is normal.

BUCHELE: Rose works for the Lower Colorado River Authority, a state agency that oversees water in Central Texas. He attributes the drought and the heat to weather patterns thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean.

Mr. ROSE: What we've seen historically and what we're seeing even this time with the current drought, the drought itself starts to self-perpetuate. In other words, sort of feed back on itself, where when you create these very warm temperatures, it also warms the atmosphere above us, which makes the atmosphere very stable.

BUCHELE: A stable atmosphere means no rain and more heat. Rose says the best hope is if a tropical storm could blow some moisture in from the south. Whether that will come soon enough for Mike Randig is an open question.

Mr. RANDIG: We're even thinking about maybe moving up the country or something, you know, if we can find work. But I doubt that there's going to be much grain to haul in the United States this year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BUCHELE: Even if he moves north, he won't find better conditions. Today in Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin issued a ban on outdoor burning in most of the state because of the drought.

For NPR News, I'm Mose Buchele in Austin, Texas.

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