Drought Might Ease In Two Months For Texas

The prolonged and extreme dry conditions that have persisted in Texas for the past two years may begin to change to cool and wet about Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Published on: Sep 7, 2012

How to you spell relief?

Steve Lyons, National Weather Service meteorologist, San Angelo, Texas told a capacity crowd at the Biennial Big Country Wheat Conference in Abilene that a real change from the merciless drought and heat of 2011 and 2012 in Texas may be at least near.

"But it doesn't look like much of a change for the next couple of months," Lyons lamented.

But on a happier note, he said conditions should begin to change during November with El Nino returning to the weather cycle. Then things get cool and wet.

GET BETTER. Steve Lyons, National Weather Service office meteorologist, San Angelo, Texas told attendees at the Biennial Big Country Wheat Conference in Abilene that El Nino could return in November, followed by a cooler Christmas and wet spring, perhaps offering relief from the long drought.
GET BETTER. Steve Lyons, National Weather Service office meteorologist, San Angelo, Texas told attendees at the Biennial Big Country Wheat Conference in Abilene that El Nino could return in November, followed by a cooler Christmas and wet spring, perhaps offering relief from the long drought.

"It will be cooler at Christmas, and then wetter into spring," Lyons said.

Relief can't come soon enough. As August drew to a close, the Twin Buttes Dam near San Angelo was extremely low and the O.H. Ivie Reservoir near Ballinger, which supplies a lot of water to several areas, was in great deficit. Lake Fort Phantom Hill was just 45% full. Lake Stamford was 35% full, and Lake Abilene a mere 11%.

The major problem is that simply returning to "average rainfall" will never replenish the many lakes and reservoirs. In fact, the reservoirs—even with a return to average rain over the next 10 years—would continue to drop. The best average rain could achieve would be to try and stretch the water supplies.

So sadly, it will take a "great flood" such as a stalled tropical storm to replenish the water supplies—and a great flood, while restoring water, could inflict a great human and property toll.

It's not a pretty picture. Just average rainfall—and folks will start running out of water. Or deal with a flood—but achieve replenished water supplies.

"Expect all kinds of water restrictions unless things turn around," Lyons cautioned. "We could have some real problems with our cities."

He noted 87% of the U.S. corn crop was experiencing drought, and 72% of the U.S. cattle were being impacted by drought.

Abilene was just over 12 inches of rain as August drew to a close for the year, instead of the average of 16.  Last year, Abilene was 10 inches low for the 2011 historic drought year, meaning that for just  the past 18 months, the rainfall deficit reached 14 inches overall.

Some areas of West Texas were even drier than that, if imaginable.

Only a fall flood—such as a remnant from a hurricane or tropical storm—will make up such an incredible rainfall deficit.

Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Regents professor at Texas A&M University, College Station, said a return to El Nino in the tropical Pacific could improve the agricultural outlook.

"El Nino's refers to the unusually high tropical temperatures which shift the pattern of tropical convection, and usually leads to a cool and wet winter for Texas," Nielsen-Gammon said.

Though an El Nino's effects are usually stronger in southern parts of the state along the Gulf Coast, it generally causes shifts in weather patterns for the entire state, he said.

"It's nice to switch from the couple of years, which were La Nina events which generally favor dry conditions," he said.