Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Latest Drought Outlook: Dry Spell Could Continue in Texas

Map by NOAA

As the 83rd Texas Legislature convenes next week, there’s considerable pressure on lawmakers to do something about the state’s water woes, whether it be funding water infrastructure, increased conservation or even desalination. The state’s population is booming, with over 100,000 people moving to Texas in 2011 alone. And as new forecasts out this week show, our extended dry spell could continue this year, exacerbated by a dry winter that was initially forecast to bring some relief.

The latest seasonal drought outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that for much of Texas and the rest of the Southwest, the drought is likely to “persist or intensify” over the next three months. Currently, 97 percent of the state is in drought conditions, with Texas’ water supply reservoirs only 65 percent full overall. And a late December briefing by NOAA on the climate notes that drought continues in over 61 percent of the country.

“During the upcoming three months, a much drier pattern is expected across the southwestern quadrant of the nation, limiting the prospects for further drought improvements during the wet season in California and Nevada,” NOAA says in its drought outlook. 

While 2012 wasn’t as bad as 2011 as far as drought goes in Texas, it was still a very dry year, as State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon notes on his blog, Climate Abyss:

“2012 was a drought year.  Following the driest 12 consecutive months on record and second driest calendar year on record, 2012 was running 0.14″ above normal through September. This wasn’t enough to end the drought statewide, but many parts of Texas, especially in its eastern half, drought became a distant memory and a distant problem.  Elsewhere, reservoir levels continued to drop, but rain in most of the major metropolitan areas of the state made things seem much better.

Then, starting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and eventually spreading to much of the rest of the state, the rainfall stopped.  The final three months of 2012 were the third-driest October-December on record for Texas.  Drought spread, and Galveston even had to impose water restrictions, although restrictions on outdoor watering aren’t much of a problem this time of year.

With the year ending up with below-normal precipitation, the combined two-year period 2011-2012 was the fourth-driest on record, beaten only by 1916-1917, 1955-1956, and 1909-1910.”

Thursday afternoon, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) announced a revised emergency drought plan that could cut off rice farmers in Southeast Texas for the second year in a row, in order to protect water supplies for the City of Austin.

“We’re in a drought pattern that developed in the fall and still continues right now,” Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose tells StateImpact Texas lead station KUT News. “And according to their latest outlook, I don’t think we’re going to see a whole lot of change here over the next three months.”

“Reservoir storage amounts statewide are currently about 5% larger than this time last year,” State Climatologist Nielsen-Gammon writes. “Storage would need to increase by another 20% to get back to normal, and that doesn’t seem likely. With above-normal temperatures and near-normal rainfall, water restrictions should be in the news again next summer.”

NOAA will issue their next three-month drought outlook on Jan. 17.


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