Texas Drought has Hit Critical Stage and May Worsen

Apr 7, 2011

COLLEGE STATION, April 7, 2011 – The drought situation in Texas has reached the critical stage, says a Texas A&M University atmospheric scientist who also serves as climatologist for Texas, and the U.S. Drought Monitor has designated parts of central and eastern Texas as under "exceptional drought" in its latest assessment.

John Nielsen-Gammon reports that much of the hardest hit drought areas in Texas are literally outside his front door – Brazos County, home to Texas A&M and the Bryan-College Station twin cities, has received only six inches of rain since the start of last October, less than a third of the average amount.

"We've had only six inches of rain and we should have had at least 20 inches since Oct. 1, so that shows you how bad the situation is getting in this area," he explains. "The Houston-Galveston National Weather Service office has noted that it's the driest October through March period here on record.

"Some of the nearby counties, such as Burleson and the city of Somerville, have had only about five inches of rain since October. Huntsville in Walker County has had only eight inches and is also far behind."

Almost all of the state is designated as being in drought conditions on the U.S. Drought Monitor map released today. "Because the dry weather over the past six months, drought has spread quickly across the state," according to Nielsen-Gammon. "All Texas had been free of exceptional drought status since 2009."

The exceptional drought category is reserved for the most severe of droughts, with rainfall deficits or drought impacts that are present only 2 percent of the time at any given location.

The lucky residents of Brownfield, southwest of Lubbock, and the town of Higgins on the Texas-Oklahoma border are the only two reporting stations in the south Central U.S. that have had above-normal rainfall, Nielsen-Gammon says.

If many areas of the state do not get rain soon, he says the risk of grassfires will increase, and many farmers and ranchers will continue to suffer.

"In many parts of the state, the planting season has been delayed because there is not enough moisture in the soil for the seeds to germinate," he notes.

"If the (drought) trend continues, some growers may have to write off this entire planting season."

The Texas A&M professor says fronts that normally bring rainfall this time of year have not done so, while at the same time, much of the southwest has reported above-normal temperatures. Worse news: the outlook for the next 30 to 60 days it not very rosy.

"We're expecting below normal precipitation for at least the next couple of months," he says.

"There has been a high pressure ridge over much of the south central U.S. that has pushed the jet stream farther north, so we are not getting much rain in Texas. California, on the other hand, has had plenty of rain this spring, but that's on the wrong side of the Continental Divide to help us."

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