Drought claims hundreds of millions of trees

Hardest hit area in the state is just west of Houston

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HOUSTON - The Texas A&M Forest Service surveyed the state to come up with an estimate of the number of trees killed by the incredible drought of 2011.  The number it came up with is 301 million. 

That number accounts only for trees in rural and forested areas that died from drought.  Another 5.6 million trees in urban areas were killed.

The Forest Service divided the state into 10 sections for the study.  The hardest hit area, as it turns out, is pretty close to Houston: The Brazos Valley. It's the area west of a line from Bryan to Brenham to Sealy. This area lost a full 10 percent of its trees.  In the Houston metropolitan area, the damage is also significant with losses of between 6.5 and 7.5 percent.  The area east of Houston to the Louisiana border was least impacted, with tree losses of only 1.3 percent.  For a look at how each of the 10 sections in the state fared, check out the Texas Forest Service's website.

While Houston and most of southeast Texas are not currently in a drought condition, 76 percent of the state is still suffering from at least a moderate drought that goes back to 2011. In fact, more than 22 percent of the state is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, the two most severe categories on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale.  That means that trees will continue to die.

Rainfall near Houston has been sporadic, but we've gotten enough to keep us near normal for the year so far. But we're teetering on the edge. Areas to the northwest of Houston, as close as Bryan and College Station, are beginning to slip back into a moderate drought due to below-normal rainfall in the past two months. Houston has been drier than normal so far in September and, if a drier-than-normal trend continues for another month or two, we might find ourselves in a similar situation.

All things considered, we definitely need more rain. Our best chance this week will be Friday and Saturday. We don't expect a significant amount, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch in most spots, but we'll take whatever we can get.  It may put a slight damper on our weekend, but the sacrifice could be well worth it in the long run.

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