Texas drought update: not out of the woods yetBy Danielle Kalisek
Drought conditions have significantly improved since last year at this time, and the La Niña pattern ended in April 2012, but according to experts, Texas is not out of the woods yet—the state is still in drought.
"Precipitation during the first six months of 2012 averaged close to normal across most of Texas," said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, during a July 9 interview. "However, the past month and a half or so, since the middle of May, has been fairly dry. This means the drought is ongoing."
For some places in the state, such as most of West Texas, the drought never stopped.
Nielsen-Gammon said a few months of normal rainfall during the wintertime aren’t enough to pull West Texas out of the drought. In addition, in the eastern part of the state, especially between Austin and Corpus Christi, drought has reappeared because of the lack of rainfall during late spring.
On the other hand, the area around Houston is doing the best, he said, especially the coastal areas around Galveston Bay. "We (saw) a lot of coastal rainfall during June. Since they’re close to the coast, the temperatures don’t tend to get as extreme as they do farther inland."
Temperatures also have not helped with drought recovery, Nielsen-Gammon said. "So far this year (2012), temperatures statewide are running about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, making it the warmest January through June on record for Texas."
The good news is that, according the July 17 U.S. Drought Monitor, there is no place in the state designated as being in exceptional drought.
"There are a few areas of extreme drought in West Texas, Central Texas and South Texas," he said. "It wouldn’t take more than a couple more weeks of dry weather to slip back into exceptional status.
"In West Texas they need a decent rainy season, which is July and August that comes from the summer thunderstorms. As long as they get plenty of moisture coming from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California, they’ll be able to make it through."
Most of the rest of the state tends to be dry during this time of year anyway, with July being the driest month on average for most of the state, he said.
"A chance of rain comes from occasional tropical disturbances, so we’ll be looking for weather from the Gulf of Mexico heading for us, hopefully not in hurricane form," Nielsen-Gammon said.
Predictions call for a close to normal hurricane season, although four named storms have already occurred, which is above average, he said.
What is the outlook for the rest of the year?
"NOAA has officially declared an El Niño watch, which means that it thinks there’s a better than 50 percent chance of El Niño forming within the next six months," Nielsen-Gammon said. "This tends to mean a damp and cool winter is in store, which I think most of us have learned to appreciate."