Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Rain! Tornadoes! Hail! No, the Drought Ain’t Over

It was a wild night of weather for several parts of Texas last night. Parts of Austin got over six inches of rain, power went off and roads were closed in San Antonio, and parts of Houston are under a tornado warning. Three tornadoes have touched down northwest of the city this morning.

Here’s a map of overnight rainfall totals from the National Weather Service:

Map by National Weather Service

This. Does. Not. Mean. The Drought. Is Over.

The drought has certainly lessened in recent month. The percentage of Texas in the most extreme, “exceptional” stage of drought is down from a whopping 86 percent in late September to 25 percent today. But there is still a long way to go.

Every bit of rain (or bucket, in today’s case) helps, and the last few months of above-average wet weather have been wonderful not just for lawns but also ranchers and farmers.

The issue at this point is water sources. Reservoirs, lakes and aquifers have a long way to go to recover from the record single-year drought. A quick glance at lake levels shows little recharge from recent rains.

Bob Rose, a meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority, told StateImpact Texas today that “unfortunately, the heaviest rains all fell just over Austin and areas down to the east, so it’s not really going to help the levels of the highland lakes.” Rainfall in that area was only one to two inches, he says, and “from what we;re seeing there just wasn’t a whole lot of [water] runoff based on that.” Rose says that the area still needs 10 to 20 inches of more rain to get lake levels up in the Highland Lake region.

So while every bit of rain counts, the drought is far from over, and real relief may not come until the fall. Rose doesn’t expect more of these heavy rain events, saying this is more of a one-off. “Overall, we’re still being influenced by La Nina, and from everything I’m seeing, our weather should more or less trend dried than normal at least February through March. As we get to the latter part of spring, there is a possibility we could maybe see a return to more normal rains at that time.”

Here is the latest drought map of Texas from the National Drought Monitor. A new monitor will be released tomorrow morning:

As state meteorologist George Bomar recently testified before a state senate committee meeting on the Texas drought:

“The bottom line appears to be this: The rest of this winter will be quite dry, and there is little to suggest spring will live up to its potential to end our drought. Even the approaching summer does not appear capable of producing the kinds of rains we need, especially if the hurricane season is as uneventful as last year’s. We have little reason to expect major relief from drought—especially the “hydrologic” variety—until deep in 2012, if then.”

Near Austin, the community of Spicewood Beach, outside of Marble Falls, is potentially days away from running out of water. As their wells dry up, today’s weather will undoubtedly be a help, but it can take four to five days for rains to make their ways to the water wells. The town of some 1,100 people (and home to an elementary school) may have to have water trucked in while they look for a new solution.


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