Fall rainfall improves Texas drought, but winter slows progress

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While heat waves kept temperatures in the triple digits for weeks and a rain-free period lasted more than two months in some places, more than 70% of Texas experienced severe drought this summer, fueling wildfires, reducing crop yields and even revealing never-before-seen dinosaur tracks.

Since last week, episodes of recent rainfall have dramatically improved conditions, with only 38% of the state now experiencing severe drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.

The change was striking in North Texas: All of Dallas County was in the extreme drought phase in mid-August, but now 62% of the county is not affected by drought, with the rest classified only as abnormally dry. Rockwall County and parts of Collin County are currently drought-free.

The latest Drought Monitor data says only about 15% of Texas — mostly in the central part of the state — is in extreme or exceptional drought. In neighboring Oklahoma, that number is 64%.

It’s a long overdue advance, but experts say Texas’ luck will soon run out.

‘Much-needed drought relief’

The Drought Monitor’s latest monthly report said October precipitation was below average for all but western Texas until storms brought 1 to 5 inches of rain to the northeastern part of the state the week of Oct. 24.

More than 2 inches of widespread rainfall “in northern Texas provided much-needed relief from the drought and provided near-term improvement, while also helping to fill the area’s reservoirs before winter,” the report said.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, it started to rain slowly, and then all of a sudden.

After 67 consecutive days with no measurable rain at DFW International Airport, August brought a record rainfall of 10.68 inches, according to the National Weather Service. That rain was largely the result of a “one-in-a-thousand-year” storm on August 22, which inundated roads, flooded cars and prompted Governor Greg Abbott to sign a disaster declaration for 23 counties, including Dallas and Tarrant.

The flood was followed by a rainless period between Sept. 5 and Oct. 10, the weather service said.

But November’s storms pulled Dallas-Fort Worth out of the rainfall deficit it entered in September 2021, increasing its annual precipitation total to 34.25 inches.

Since Nov. 1, the region has seen about 6.4 inches of rain, according to the weather service. Just over 3 inches (7.5 cm) fell on Nov. 4, and more than 2 inches (5 cm) came from scattered showers the week of Thanksgiving.

And it’s paying off: The Texas A&M Forest Service said it hasn’t responded to a wildfire since Nov. 5.

“Increased humidity and the lack of widespread elevated fire weather conditions have kept activity at a minimum,” the forest service said on Twitter earlier this month, noting that there were still 84 counties under fire bans.

The drought predicted to return

The Drought Monitor report said Texas’ progress may soon be lost as the coming winter strongly favors below-normal precipitation for the state, adding that “the seasonal drought outlook shows continued or recurrent drought for the region.”

One of the main drivers of that recurring drought is the third consecutive year of a La Niña pattern, the report said.

La Niña, the cold phase of the El Niño southern oscillation, is when the surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean near the equator cool, affecting weather patterns around the world.

In North Texas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association expects the chance of above-normal temperatures from December to February to be 40% to 50%.

In much of West Texas and parts of East Texas, the Climate Prediction Center said, this La Niña could cause worsening drought conditions as precipitation is pushed north.

While a historic winter storm mirroring that of 2021 is “highly unlikely,” experts say Texans can still expect ice, snow and freezing temperatures in the coming months.

“You’re going to have periods of cool weather, you’re going to have winter, you’re going to have the typical ice storms that you sometimes have, even in Texas,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Climate Prediction Center’s operational forecasting arm.

2022 The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Quote: Fall rainfall improves Texas drought, but winter slows progress (2022, Nov. 28) Retrieved Nov. 28, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-autumn-rainfall-drought- conditions-texas. html

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