Texas is in the worst drought conditions since 2011, when 95% of the state was in drought. Eleven years ago, parched conditions caused over $7 billion in crop and livestock losses, sparked wildfires, pushed power grids to the limit and reduced reservoirs to dangerously low levels, according to the University of Texas at Austin.
As of March 29, 88% of Texas was in drought conditions, affecting an estimated 18.2 million Texans, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. About 42% of the state is seeing extreme or exceptional drought.
Just three months ago, 67% of the state was in drought with 11% extreme or exceptional.
Monday’s storms improved conditions in North Texas, experts say, and East Texas is expected to get more rain in the coming weeks. Conditions in West Texas, however, are expected to worsen with little rainfall.
Rainfall in May and June, the wettest months of the year in Texas, will determine overall conditions.
“That’s going to make all the difference as to whether we have a major drought this summer,” said Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. “You can easily get a wet May that would eliminate drought in the region, or this could be the beginning of a multi-year drought.”
WHY IS TEXAS STILL IN A DROUGHT?
The Panhandle, High Plains and southwestern Texas have been dry for years, experts say. Above-normal temperatures combined with below-normal precipitation and high winds have exacerbated drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Statewide, we’ve had seven consecutive months of below average rainfall, Nielsen-Gammon says. Normal rainfall from September through February is 13.09 inches; Texas has seen an average of only 7.29 inches. That makes it the eighth driest period on record in the state, according to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information.
Rainfall was well below normal for most of the state in March, according to the Texas Water Development Board. As a result, drought expanded and intensified. Improvements in parts of East Texas and the Panhandle were overshadowed by degradation elsewhere.
WHAT IMPACTS HAS THE DROUGHT HAD?
Gov. Greg Abbott in late February renewed a disaster declaration, saying that exceptional drought conditions pose a threat of imminent disaster to public health, property and the economy. The proclamation said that significantly low rainfall and prolonged dry conditions are increasing the threat of fires.
Droughts are among the most costly weather-related events and the most far reaching, according to the National Weather Service.
One of the most dangerous consequences is elevated fire danger. Dry conditions have contributed to wildfires across the state these past months. Wildfire activity is expected to gradually increase throughout the week, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, as periodic critical fire weather occurs where very dry vegetation is present across West and South Texas.
“We’re reaching the core of wildfire season and conditions look relatively dangerous over the upcoming week because of the dry weather and strong winds,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “If we managed to get several inches over the next month, that will at least provide some decent amounts of topsoil moisture to reduce the fire risk.”
Drought also causes water shortages, with streams, reservoirs and wells low. Water reservoirs in North Central Texas are operating at 89% capacity, according to the Texas Water Development Board, compared with 96% a year ago.
Drought also damages crops and pastures and can cause widespread loss. Currently, farmers are having problems getting spring crops established. Livestock producers are having issues getting hay.
“Drought, it’s going to have a huge impact on crop production for a lot of our crops that can reduce yield, It can potentially delay harvesting, or just can add a lot of challenges,” said Vanessa Corriher-Olson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension forage specialist. “For livestock producers, when we have drought conditions, that obviously decreases forage production, so that can increase their demand for hay or needing to feed their animals with supplementation.”
The National Integrated Drought Information System reports that 42% of the Southern Plains, which includes Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, is in extreme to exceptional drought that’s likely to worsen in the coming weeks and months, raising concerns going into the growing season.
HOW LONG DO DROUGHTS USUALLY LAST?
Some droughts last only a matter of weeks, exacerbated by extreme heat and/or wind, but more commonly persist for months or years.
A seven-year drought in the 1950s was the longest in Texas in modern history. The most recent and severe drought began in the fall of 2010 and lasted through winter 2014.
WHEN WILL THE DROUGHT END?
Over the next three months, drought conditions in Texas are expected to persist and worsen in some areas, according to data from the Climate Prediction Center.
La Niña, a weather pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean, is anticipated to affect temperature and precipitation across the United States during the upcoming months. The National Weather Service says there’s a 53% chance La Niña will last from June to August.
When the drought eases, it’ll happen a lot earlier in the northern part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex than the southern part, Nielsen-Gammon said.
Nielsen-Gammon has projected that Texas will experience more 100-degree days, more extreme rainfall, more urban flooding, greater hurricane intensity and increased drought severity by 2036, a prospect that worries 77% of Texas voters.
Source - https://www.star-telegram.com