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A few raindrops finally fell in Amarillo, Tex. Tuesday – more water than it had seen in 163 days.

A wildfire burns in the Texas Panhandle on March 24. (Texas A&M Forest Service)
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Wednesday morning update

Amarillo ended up posting 0.24 inches of rain Tuesday, the most since Oct. 5. “It’s a start, but we’ll take it!,” the National Weather Service office serving Amarillo tweeted.

Original post from Tuesday afternoon

When almost six months pass and your rainfall can be measured in drops, you’ll take anything. Even if it’s only a couple more drops.

That’s the state of affairs in Amarillo, Tex.

In almost six months, practically no rain fell in the Panhandle city. During the previous 163 days, a mere 0.01 inches came down, barely enough to measure.

On Tuesday, it had a breakthrough of sorts. It registered 0.02 inches through the early afternoon. And it could even see a little more through Wednesday.

But a lot more is needed to break out of a drought that has reached extreme levels.

From Oct. 13 to Feb 17, some 126 days, the city received no rain at all — its longest rainless stretch in recorded history, according to Douglas Weber, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office serving Amarillo.

“The climatological pattern we’ve been in is La Niña, which can help us have a lack of rain in some situations,” Weber said.

Amarillo has missed out on not just rain but also snow. Weber said its average snowfall is 18 inches, but it has only recorded a trace in the winter and the start of spring.

Weather systems have missed the area from all directions but most frequently passed it just to its east.

Earlier in the winter, the National Weather Service declared La Niña dead, which could help Amarillo enter a wetter weather regime in the coming months. “We are transitioning out of it [the La Niña], so our hope is that our chances for precipitation will increase,” Weber said.

In the short term, however, Weber said a dry pattern is predicted to settle back into the region.

Conditions are ripe for wildfires, which have plagued the region in recent months. Last year, before the drought kicked in, precipitation had been above average. “That created grassland that has grown, become tall and is ready to burn,” Weber said. “Last Friday, we had seven different fires.”

Weber’s office has been closely monitoring fire development using data from the GOES-East weather satellite that updates each minute. Forecasters can see hot spots form in almost real time and then notify responders. “We’ve been partnering with the Texas A&M Forest Service and keeping them in the loop,” Weber said. “In some cases, fires can be spotted before anyone knows they’re there.”

Hot spots detected from space during the devastating California wildfires

Weber said the Weather Service has been able to mitigate losses and protect life and property by leveraging this new detection technology and through its coordination with Texas A&M.