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Tropical storm could have silver lining for parched Texas

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Tropical Storm Don could reach Texas by Friday night
  • The agriculture commissioner is "looking forward to Don as much as Friday night football"
  • The storm should lower temperatures for a day or two
  • ExxonMobil is evacuating its offshore facilities

(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Don is near the center of the Gulf of Mexico and moving "briskly" toward Texas, according to the most recent statement from the National Hurricane Center.

Don showed little change in strength over the course of the day Thursday, the statement said, but it could strengthen slowly over the next 36 hours. The storm is expected to keep moving northwest and make landfall along the Texas coast Friday night or Saturday morning, the statement said.

It's not often that news of a tropical storm is welcomed, but Don's expected heavy rainfall may prove to be a silver lining for Texas, which is the most drought-plagued area of the United States.

"Some parts of Texas are more than 15 inches below average (for rainfall). This storm will likely not be a drought-buster, but could at least put a dent in and around where the storm makes landfall," CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said Thursday. If Don "does not intensify into a hurricane, this is likely a good thing."

Any rain would be a welcome relief for many Texas farmers, who are suffering from the third worst drought in recorded history, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said most farmers have adopted an "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude when it comes to predicted rain.

He also noted that even with the drought, this rain might not be a good thing for cotton farmers in coastal regions.

"We needed the rain during the growing season and we're getting it during harvesting -- it's the complete reverse here," he said.

"Along the Gulf Coast they're harvesting cotton and it could add insult to injury because the rain lowers the quality and makes harvesting difficult," he said. "All of this results in higher prices to the consumer because our supplies will be more limited."

Despite the drawbacks for the cotton industry, Staples said there's no denying the state desperately needs the rain.

"Unfortunately, no part of Texas has escaped the damage of this drought," he said. "We welcome Tropical Storm Don as much as we're looking forward to Friday night football."

Don could bring benefits beyond the rain itself. "It will also cool the temps down for a day or two as far north as lower Oklahoma," HLN meteorologist Bob Van Dillen said. "We'll see how strong he gets and what the weather will be like for the western Gulf over the next few days."

Blogger Jerry Wofford on the Tulsa World website referred to Don on Thursday as "our newest friend that was just born Wednesday near the Yucatan Peninsula."

The National Hurricane Center described Don as "a small tropical cyclone" with tropical storm-force winds extending 45 miles (about 73 kilometers). The center was expected to move through the southern and central Gulf of Mexico later Thursday "and approach the Texas coast on Friday," the weather service said.

Maximum sustained winds remained near 45 mph (about 73 kph) with higher gusts.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Texas coast, from the mouth of the Rio Grande northward to west of San Luis Pass. A watch means tropical storm conditions are possible within the area, generally within 48 hours.

A storm surge is expected to raise water levels by a foot or two in coastal areas where Don makes landfall, the hurricane center said. The surge is forecast to be accompanied by large and damaging waves.

The storm is could also bring up to seven inches of rain in some areas, the center said.

Corpus Christi, Texas, resident Aubrey Carter, 87, has been diligently waking up at 3 a.m. to water her grass during the designated for her by water restrictions. "We are looking forward to Don coming because the drought has been so severe and everybody needs rain," she told CNN.

MaryJane Crull, marketing director at the South Texas Botanical Gardens in Corpus Christi, told CNN, "We're excited about it if Don remains a low-key tropical storm. ... We can handle six to eight inches of rain without a problem."

Wetlands on the property need the rain, Crull said. "This will put water back in them and this will make birds and wildlife on our property happy and make visitors happy as well."

Companies with personnel along the Texas coast were quickly preparing. ExxonMobil began evacuating nonessential personnel from offshore facilities in the path of the storm Thursday, spokesman Patrick McGinn said. Gross production of approximately 8,000 barrels per day of liquids and 50 million cubic feet per day of natural gas was shut down.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a warning Thursday afternoon, urging people to plan and prepare ahead of the storm. The statement cautions residents to stay clear of beaches, to take action early -- including securing boating equipment and hazardous materials -- and to evacuate as necessary.

CNN's Chelsea Bailey and Molly Green contributed to this report.