After a background report on the scorching summer heat, Elizabeth Farnsworth leads a discussion on the effects the temperatures have had on farmers, the elderly, and the people of the south.
KWAME HOLMAN: For 19 consecutive days the mercury has topped 100 degrees in Texas. It's been stiflingly hot there and in several other southern states for more than two months. The situation got even worse last night in Fort Worth, when 6 million gallons of water burst from a broken water line. Today the city's nearly ½ million residents are being asked to conserve water.
DALE FISSELER, Fort Worth Water Department: We're going to have plenty of water for fire protection and drinking water. What we're asking our customers to help us with is the outdoor lawn water. If we can cut those big demands, we should have a lot better chance of meeting our goal of having the system back up by Monday.
KWAME HOLMAN: The blazing heat is blamed for 136 deaths across the United States. Many of those who died were poor, the elderly, and children without access to air conditions. Especially vulnerable are illegal immigrants who try to cross the parched terrain on the U.S./Mexico border. Forty-six have died. Border agents who normally try to catch the illegal immigrants now are trying to save them.
DAVID DIMAS, Border Patrol Agent: Some of them do actually try to trek it at this time, and we see them laid up somewhere, and whenever we catch them, the first thing that they ask for is water.
KWAME HOLMAN: The heat and prolonged drought also have devastated farmers. In Texas, three quarters of the cotton crop is lost. Yesterday, President Clinton pledged $100 million in emergency relief for farmers and others battling the heat. Eleven states will share the aid, with Texas getting about a third of the money.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Today I'm announcing that we are providing disaster assistance to farmers in Texas. The entire state has been declared a disaster area to help those whose crops and livestocks have been ravaged by the drought.
KWAME HOLMAN: Earlier in the week the scorching heat spread to much of the rest of the United States, including New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Since then, a cool front and rain eased the situation there. But there's been no relief for Texas and other southern and western states.
JIM LEHRER: And to Elizabeth Farnsworth in San Francisco.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: More now from Rick Perry, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, and Colin Marquis, a senior meteorologist with the 24-Hour Cable Weather Channel. Commissioner Perry, ¾ of your cotton crop lost, this is a major natural disaster for Texas, isn't it?
RICK PERRY, Commissioner of Agriculture, Texas: Well, it is, indeed, and we're certainly thankful that President Clinton declared Texas the disaster that it certainly is, and unfortunately, if this doesn't break and the meteorologist will probably share with us it's not going to, we may be looking at the largest single natural disaster in Texas history.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Commissioner, what other crop losses are there?
RICK PERRY: Well, livestock-we're the largest livestock-producing state in the nation. And our livestock is being hit extremely hard right now. As a matter of fact, Sec. Glickman will be here Tuesday and Wednesday of this coming week. We'll be meeting with him face to face with some livestock producers in various places across the state asking him to implement a livestock, an emergency livestock feed program not unlike what we had in 1996.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Commissioner, explain why the livestock suffers so. What is the problem? I know that the pasture is very, very dry.
RICK PERRY: Well, certainly when you lose that forage, when you go into a time of no rain at all, I mean, it's just quit in Texas, almost like you turned the faucet off on a date certain in Texas all across the state, and for dairy cattle, in particular, when you see those temperatures going over 100 degrees, particularly for three days, then dairy cattle literally shut down the production of milk.
We've had 17 days in a row, so the dairy industry in Texas has been extremely hard hit. On the beef cattle side, obviously foragewise the heat-cattle are no different than humans actually. They like to get in the shade and kind of cut down on production, so they go off feed. There is no pasture for them. It is a very tough situation for our livestock producers across the state.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Colin Marquis, what is causing this heat wave and drought?
COLIN MARQUIS, Meteorologist: Well, the persisting heat wave actually had its roots, its seeds planted way back in the last half of the spring-April/May time period-when there was a tremendously dry period of weather from Texas right on through the entire Gulf coast and it was a-a shift in the jet stream staying a little bit farther South than it typically would be during that time of year that allowed the drought to begin, and once the drought began, the soil started to dry out, a feedback began in that the drier the soil everything else being equal, the hotter the overlying air is going to be, and so the heat increased because the soil moisture was so dry or lacking there, and the one influences the other. Now we have a feedback between the drought and the incredible heat.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we're showing a graphic-a crop moisture index. Explain what we're seeing there.
COLIN MARQUIS: Notice that the area that's hardest hit is focused on the state of Texas. No big surprise, given all the media coverage that we'd had over the past several weeks. The adjacent states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana are also affected as well, as are parts of the Southeast, but Texas and Florida have had their driest April through June period of record. And those records go back 100 years or a little bit beyond 100 years actually.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Commissioner Perry, how are ranchers and farmers coping with this?
RICK PERRY: Well, certainly it's tough, and one of the problems is this is coming on the heels of the 1996 drought, so we've got a lot of carry-over debt for agriculture producers. It's one of the reasons that I've asked our banking commissioner to intercede with the FDIC, with the OCC. From the standpoint of the regulators dealing with these agriculture producers and having some flexibility as we try to get from the drought of 1996 through this drought of 1998-and certainly we're looking for any relief that we can get-either from federal banking regulators or particularly from the weather.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we read stories about ranchers that have been in business for generations having to sell out because their cattle are so thin they're just having to sell them, especially the calves.
RICK PERRY: Well, again, 1996 we had a great liquidation of our beef cattle herd in Texas. '97 was one of those years when we were going to get back in the business. We bought livestock to start our herds back at a fairly good price, I might add, and now running out of pasture, we're running out of hay.
These tough temperatures, the price is depressed. Today I was in Athens, Texas, as the Livestock Commission, the auction barn, if you will, and they're having record runs at a lot of livestock auctions across Texas. That's not good, and our young herd of livestock is being depleted in Texas.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Commissioner Perry, in Texas, this means all communities are affected, right, because so many people work in agriculture, or work in work related to agriculture?
RICK PERRY: Well, indeed, it does. You know, when you put a human face on this, that's the real tragedy here, is that the communities rely upon agriculture to feed the grocery store, if you will, to feed the-implement dealer to the feed dealer, the local banker. Literally everyone's livelihood rotates around agriculture. When it is depressed, that goes throughout these communities.
So this isn't just about a farmer and a rancher. It's about the individuals who live in our small rural communities. And if we don't see a break in this weather, if we don't see some relief from this, then I'm really concerned about what it's going to do to the rural communities all across the state. And ultimately we've already had $5 billion worth of loss to the state's economy. If this doesn't break, it can really impact our state's budget and economy on into 1999-2000.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Colin Marquis, do you see a break?
COLIN MARQUIS: As far out as we can see, which is about in the time period of five to seven days, all the models that we look at are not showing any change at all. Continuation of the heat and in case of Dallas looks like triple digit heat for those five to seven days, and virtually little, if any, chance of any significant rainfall statewide.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And I know it's hard to look too far ahead, but what's ahead? We keep reading that now there's a La Nina, instead of El Nino with us?
COLIN MARQUIS: Yes. The La Nina, which simply means cooler than average waters across the Eastern Central Pacific Ocean-typically has a couple of correlations that we can make as far as weather patterns across the U.S..
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we've got a map up actually, Mr. Marquis, just so you know, the La Nina weather pattern map.
COLIN MARQUIS: And these hold true for the wintertime months, the cold season. And what you see there is there's a tendency for the southern U.S., particularly from the southern Rockies, right on through the Southeast, and also including Texas and Florida, unfortunately, for weather conditions to be warmer and drier than average.
So here's the real concern is if we continue to have this drought and the heat continuing in the short-term, that is, right on through the summertime months and into the early part of the fall, all indications are that we're expecting the Eastern Pacific Ocean to head into a La Nina. And it could very well be a strong La Nina. That being true, there's a risk that these warm and dry conditions would continue right on through the fall and right on into the winter and perhaps even into the springtime, so that would mean some very devastating effects for parts of the Southern U.S..
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Commissioner Perry, in the brief time we have left-I'm probably wearing cotton from Texas-we eat vegetables from the Rio Grande Valley, so this affects the whole country, doesn't it?
RICK PERRY: Well, it does. The consumers actually in the short run probably will see some beef prices that are depressed, a deal, if you will, for the consumers, but in the year when these prices start having impact on the consumers, that hamburger is going to go up, and I can assure you that great Texas grapefruit that you were going to enjoy for breakfast. No. 1, if you can even get it, it's going to be extremely expensive.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both very much.