Although parts of Texas received rainfall earlier in the month, that wasn’t enough to allay concerns about a prolonged, nearly statewide drought.
More than half of Texas was in a high drought phase as of April 19, and conditions have not improved since. That’s despite recent rainfall, according to the Texas Water Development Board’s weekly update.
“Unfortunately, in areas already affected by drought, the drought has intensified. The state’s area affected by extreme drought or worse has jumped to 54%, its highest value since February 2012,” the agency said.
State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said the current pattern began in September. Total precipitation across Texas during this time was at least 50% below average.
“Almost none of the state [had] higher than normal rainfall during this period. In most states we are seeing less than three quarters of the normal amount. About a third of the state, or maybe 40% received, less than half,” Nielsen-Gammon said in an online presentation Wednesday. Additionally, he said large parts of West Texas “received less than a quarter of their normal amount of precipitation. When we talk about eight months – two thirds of the year – it is a very serious drought.[RL1]
It’s not just the lack of rain that is exacerbating the dry conditions, Nielsen-Gammon added.
“It has been relatively windy over the past month across Texas, which has enhanced evaporation when there has been water to evaporate,” he said. “Temperatures are also a potential concern, especially in the region where we see long-term warming.”
In the six-month period beginning in November 2021, most of the state was one to two degrees above normal. The current weather pattern is partly the result of La Niña conditions. La Niña is a climatic phenomenon in the Pacific that has an impact on the humidity or dryness of certain parts of the world. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said La Niña is bringing cooler weather to the eastern Pacific, which means fewer rain clouds and less precipitation for the southwestern United States.
“About two out of three winters, Texas has below normal precipitation during La Niña,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Climate scientists are now looking to the next few months to see what relief, if any, Texas can expect.
“These next three months – the rest of April, May and June – look like they’ll be huge in terms of coming out of this drought,” said Victor Murphy, climate program manager for the National Weather Service’s southern region. “That’s when it should rain. And if it rains during the wettest time of the year, you’re usually in pretty good shape. So, honestly, there’s a lot to ride in the next two or three months. »
But Murphy added that some parts of the state typically see their wettest months a bit later in the year. These include El Paso and other areas of West Texas, where about half of all precipitation occurs in the summer. The Brownsville and Corpus Christi areas typically experience their peak rainfall from August through October.
An extended dry spell also means the Texas agricultural sector should prepare for the possibility of a lasting impact.
“More than 80% of the winter wheat crop in the state is classified as poor to very poor at this point, with the normal harvest season coming just a few months away,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be very difficult to recover a lot of that. Even irrigated crops cost money to irrigate, so the drier it gets, the more money you end up spending and it ends up becoming a money-losing proposition.