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January 11, 2013

Drought disaster declared in county

Even as Hunt County was in the middle of receiving its heaviest rainfall in months, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was placing the county and much of the surrounding area under a disaster declaration due to recent drought conditions.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Wednesday designated 597 counties in 14 states as primary natural disaster areas due to drought and heat, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

“As drought persists, USDA will continue to partner with producers to see them through longer-term recovery, while taking the swift actions needed to help farmers and ranchers prepare their land and operations for the upcoming planting season,” said Vilsack. “I will also continue to work with Congress to encourage passage of a Food, Farm and Jobs bill that gives rural America the long-term certainty they need, including a strong and defensible safety net.”

Hunt, Collin, Delta, Fannin, Hopkins, Kaufman, Lamar, Rains and Rockwall counties were included under the designation.

The USDA report indicated the counties had shown a drought intensity value of at least D2 (Drought Severe) for eight consecutive weeks based on U.S. Drought Monitor measurements, providing for an automatic designation.

That was before this week’s rains.

The National Weather Service reported 48-hour rainfall totals, ending at 6 a.m. Thursday, ranged from 2.21 to 2.78 inches in Greenville, depending on the location of the gauge.

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index measures soil moisture. A reading of 800 is the highest on the scale, meaning that it would take eight or more inches of rainfall to bring the soil to saturation.

Monday afternoon, the county’s readings under the index ranged from 207 to 562, with an average across the county of 463.

As of Thursday, the readings ranged between 2 and 383, with an average across the county of 252.

More rain is on tap for this weekend, as showers and thunderstorms are included in the National Weather Service forecast between Friday night and Sunday morning, as a powerful cold front crosses the region.

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