Historic Texas drought could leave lasting impact

The damage brought on by Texas' recent drought -- declared the worst in a century -- could go on for years.
CBS News

by Anna Werner

On Tuesday, the drought in Texas was declared the worst in a century, across nearly the whole state. The drought ranges from severe to exceptional.

It is expected to last until next summer. But as CBS News correspondent Anna Werner reports, the damage could go on for years.

At the Mainstay Farm south of Fort Worth, owner Marianna Wilson still takes school kids on hayrides. They can run a maze or cook marshmallows. What they can't do this year is watch someone cut down a fresh Christmas tree.

Video: Drought destroying Texas ranchers' livelihood
Video: Texas drought calling for desperate measures

"Well you're gonna lose trees from year to year," said Wilson when asked how this year compares to last. "But no, it was bad."

Normally Wilson's fields would be filled with customers cutting their own Christmas trees. But this year the farm lost a quarter of its trees -- 1,500 trees that have died in the drought.

"When you turn on an oven for 80-90 days that we had dry," said Wilson, "it's like baking anything that's outside."

"It was basically off the charts," said John Nielsen-Gammon, a climatologist for the state of Texas. "Based on past history, you wouldn't expect to see it happen in maybe 500 or a 1,000 years.

"One more year and we're already talking about probably a drought more severe than anything we've ever had," he said. "This will become for them the drought of record."

The weather phenomenon known as La Nina is expected to continue to keep rain away from Texas. The impact will be felt for years to come.

Already, damage to agriculture is more than $5 billion as ranchers are forced to sell off cattle they can't feed. The state's reservoirs are 40 percent below normal and communities like Groesbeck, Texas may run out of water within weeks.

To replace the trees she lost, farmer Wilson shipped in extra Frasier firs from North Carolina and she's planting more of a drought-resistant strain of Christmas trees. She says they grow well in this climate: they're from Arizona.