A bit of precipitation here and there—rain, ice, snow or sleet—over the past few weeks may have put people thinking that the long-running drought is near a close.
Or maybe not.
The most recent Texas Drought Report, in addition to a recent update from Texas State climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon point to continuation of drought across much of the state and developing drought in some locations.
“Over the past week we have seen a slight increase in reservoir levels but a slight worsening of drought conditions,” according to the Texas Water Development Board’s weekly update. West Texas was described as continued and developing drought with parts of the Texas Gulf Coast also considered in “continued drought” status.
Currently, 57 percent of the state is considered in drought, up from 49 percent a week earlier, 50 percent three months ago and 77 percent this time last year.
Reservoir levels are currently rated as 64 percent full, up a percentage point from three months ago, but down three points from this time last year. Normal reservoir level for this time of year is 82 percent full.
Texans can expect another scorching summer.
Nielsen-Gammon said an El Niño might develop later this year, but even if it does, its effects will not be in time to offset another dry, hot summer. “Most of the forecast models are pointing in a positive direction for an El Niño. It’s still way too early to say, but there’s a potential for it,” he said.
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Even a strong El Niño, one that would bring more moisture into the Southwest, would not bring relief until fall.
He said the trend of hotter summers that has persisted for the past few years likely will continue. “That’s not good for drought conditions, because that means more evaporation and more water demand,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
A wet fall was followed by a fairly dry December and an especially dry January.
“The thing about the dry winter is that we’ve had some fall moisture issues already,” he said. “Depending upon how much rain we get in the spring, that basically determines how rapidly things dry out in the summertime. Even with a normal rainfall, summer is a time in just about all areas of the state when we’re water stressed because evapotranspiration is so high. So we’re going to hit the summertime dry conditions earlier than normal, unless we make up this winter moisture deficit in the next couple of months.”
Unfortunately, making up that deficit is not likely to occur in February and march this year. “We still don’t have a good jet-stream pattern to bring us plentiful moisture, and there’s no sign of it developing.”
The Texas Water Development Board said the drought currently affecting part of Texas extends far west, into California and north into Washington State. It also affects Louisiana and New Mexico.
The latest report problems in southern Colorado also affect the elephant butte Reservoir, a source of water for the El Paso area and the Pecos river Basin in New Mexico, which carries water to Red Bluff Reservoir.
A look at recent drought monitor maps shows worst conditions in Texas in the Panhandle and the Rolling Plains, with hot spots into Central Texas. A drought map of the continental United States shows severe drought over much of California and various levels of drought throughout much of the Southwest, Far West and into the Northwest regions.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .