Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

In Drought, Texas is No Longer ‘Exceptional’ (For Now)

U.S. Drought Monitor Map

The map on the left shows current drought conditions in Texas. None of the state is in exceptional drought. At right, is the October 4, 2011 map. Just 8 months ago, exceptional drought (deep red) covered 88 percent of the state.

On Thursday, we profiled John Jacobs, the mayor of Robert Lee, who compared the onset of last year’s drought to the incremental growth a cancer. “It’s just a slow, declining death,” he said. But the positive news is that in the same way, much of the state has been creeping out of it.

In fact, Texas has just hit a milestone in a possible recovery from the drought. In data released today by the U.S. Drought Monitor Map, no portion of the state is any longer in the worst stage of drought, “exceptional.” The last time there was no exceptional drought was back in March 2011, fourteen months ago. If you compare where things are now to the peak of the drought in October of last year (to the right), you’ll see a world of difference.

But there are still some discouraging signs.

Victor Murphy, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, says there have been localized regressions into drought. While West and East Texas have seen replenishing rains as of late, “for certain parts of the state, Austin and San Antonio specifically,” he says, “June has been very dry. And the last two weeks of May were also.” Despite June typically being one of Texas’s wettest months, Murphy says that the past five weeks have been the second driest on record for the Austin area and third driest for San Antonio.

Making matters worse, meteorologists expect overall progress to come to a halt during the summer. Murphy says current relief is unlikely because of the “the four words that you hate to hear in Texas in the summer: dome of high pressure.” He explains that over the weekend this will be setting up over the state and, at least for the next two weeks, creating hot, dry weather.

Projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the authority on all things meterological in the U.S., corroborate this discouraging news. A map they released today forecasts drought activity through the end of the summer:

Map by NOAA

The map shows a vertical band of the state covering the Panhandle to tip of South Texas where the drought will “persist or intensify.” Far West Texas bodes a little better; there, it is expected that the drought will be “ongoing, [with] some improvement.”

But all is not lost. These recent regressions seem to only prove that an extreme drought goes out the same way it has come in. As we reported in an earlier interview with state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, meteorologists foresee El Niño arriving in the late summer. (El Niño’s counterpart, La Niña, was one of the key factors in the record single-year drought of 2011.) Mark Lenz, a colleague of Murphy’s at the National Weather Service, says that this may be where the long-term relief comes from. An El Niño “generally bodes well for Texas,” he explains, “because we tend to see normal or above normal rainfall” during such times.

It seems, then, that your mother’s favorite virtue – patience – will be of utmost importance over the next few unpleasant months. A big part of that, as Lenz explains, is impulse control: “People should continue to use water wisely.” That may be the only way to withstand the proven caprices of our state’s climate.

You can learn more about the history of the drought at our interactive web page, Dried Out: Confronting the Texas Drought, and share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #txwater. 

And on Friday at 3 p.m., KUT 90.5 FM will air a one-hour documentary on the drought, hosted by Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein and produced by KUT News and StateImpact Texas. The program will air again at 7 p.m. on Monday, and you’ll also be able to hear the entire documentary here and on other public radio stations throughout the state.
Daniel Ramirez is an intern with StateImpact Texas. 


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