Texas Drought Officially Over

Feb 18, 2010

The Texas drought – one of the worst the state has ever experienced – has officially ended, according to figures from Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who also serves as a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

Nielsen-Gammon says that the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, released today, shows none of the state in drought. Only a few small patches of the state, near the Coastal Bend and along the Texas-Mexico border, are still depicted as abnormally dry.

"The drought began in fall 2007, as an unusually wet year for Texas suddenly turned dry," he notes. "The lack of rainfall led to the first drought impacts in late fall and winter of 2007-2008. In the summer of 2008 much of the state experienced drought relief with two tropical cyclones, Dolly and Ike, but core areas of the drought in south-central and southern Texas missed out on much of the tropical rainfall. A second straight dry winter followed, and while spring rains shrunk the area of drought in Texas considerably, core areas of the drought continued to degrade."

Nielsen-Gammon says that by summer 2009, three counties in south-central Texas (Bastrop, Caldwell and Lee) and six counties in south Texas (Victoria, Bee, San Patricio, Live Oak, Jim Wells and Duval) were experiencing their worst droughts on record, according to his tabulations.

But ample rainfall during the fall and winter has allowed pastures to begin to recover and reservoirs to fill, he says.

Texans can thank conditions in the Pacific Ocean, he adds.

"One of the factors contributing to the Texas drought was the El Niño cycle," Nielsen-Gammon notes.

"In an El Niño, with warm east Pacific sea surface temperatures, winters tend to be wet, while the opposite happens during a La Niña. Two consecutive La Niña winters helped make this drought particularly severe, while the current El Niño conditions have helped to end the drought."

The drought was one of the worst ever, rivaling those experienced by the state in the early 1920s and through much of the 1950s, he says.

He says that water storage is still well below normal in a few areas. Lake Buchanan, for example, is nowhere near its water levels prior to the onset of the 2008-2009 drought. However, because water demand is low this time of year, the lack of stored water is having few immediate consequences, but normal rainfall may not be sufficient for avoiding the return of restrictions on water use this summer.

Still, some parts of the state are still suffering, he says.

"The recent rain has not fully made up for two years of drought in parts of north-central, south-central and southern Texas," he explains.

"Even in places where the topsoil is saturated, there may be unusual dryness lower in the soil column. If the weather turns dry again, severe drought would develop more quickly because of the lack of deep moisture. El Niño is expected to cause continued wet weather into April or May though, and if the rains do continue the state will gradually become more resilient to summer dry spells."

Contact: Keith Randall, from News & Information Services, at 979.845.4644 or or John Nielsen-Gammon at 979.862.2248 .

"But I think it's worth all that just to get to experience the beauty of Texas wildflowers," says Nielsen-Gammon.

From TAMU Times
Keith Randall, News & Information Services at Texas A&M University, at 979.845.4644
or John Nielsen-Gammon at 979.862.2248