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Posted at 02:38 PM ET, 02/06/2012

Rains ease Texas drought, long-range outlook still pessimistic

From the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, released Feb. 2, 2012 (UNL/USDA/NDMC/NOAA)
Despite rather dire forecasts, this weird winter weather pattern has brought beneficial rains to parts of Texas, which has been suffering from one of its worst droughts on record. In fact, the drought has improved so much in some areas that the latest U.S. Drought Monitor now shows a sliver of white in northeast Texas, including the Dallas area, signaling the absence of drought conditions. During 2011, Texas was a sea of deep red on that same map, indicating severe to extreme drought.

According to the National Weather Service office in Houston/Galveston, 91 percent of the state was in extreme to exceptional drought in October 2011. Now, only 60 percent of the state is classified that way. As the Weather Service put it, “THERE IS STILL A LONG ROAD AHEAD TO RETURN TO NORMAL BUT EVERY JOURNEY BEGINS WITH THAT FIRST STEP.”

However, the rains haven’t exactly been gentle.

24-hour rainfall totals near College Station, Texas, last week. Purple swath represents 10-plus inches. (NWS)
A severe weather outbreak affected Southeast Texas last week, leading to eight confirmed tornadoes and flash flooding. College Station received more rain in a 24-hour period last week than they received during the October 2010 through March 2011 period, the NWS reported.

Much of the state - particularly Southwest Texas - is still locked in the grips of the drought. The small town of Spicewood Beach, located outside Austin, is bringing water in by truck after its well dried up. The drought has taken a heavy toll on the state, costing upward of $5.2 billion in agricultural losses alone, including $1.8 billion in cotton losses and $750 million in lost hay production. As Reuters reported last week , the drought forced a massive cattle migration, with the Texas herd shrinking by a stunning 1.4 million head, the largest decline in 150 years of data.

As I reported for Climate Central, the lack of water in the highland lakes may force water regulators to restrict water for Texas rice growers ending the season before it could begin.

The Lower Colorado River Authority stated on its website:

The record-setting hot and dry conditions throughout 2011 drastically reduced the flow of water in the tributaries that feed the Highland Lakes, the region’s water supply reservoirs. From January through December, the amount of water flowing into the lakes, called inflows, was about 10 percent of average. Inflows in December were 15,830 acre-feet, which is about 23 percent of December’s historic average of 69,883 acre-feet. Even with December’s rainfall, 2011 inflows were the lowest of any year in recorded history at 127,699 acre-feet.

The long-range weather outlook still favors below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures in Texas, largely due to the continued presence of La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean.


Then again, that’s what was called for during December and January too. Hopefully the state can get some more beneficial rain, without many more severe outbreaks, during the next few months.

By  |  02:38 PM ET, 02/06/2012

Categories:  Droughts, Freedman, Latest, U.S. Weather

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