Texas Drought Setting More Records

May 9, 2011

COLLEGE STATION, May 9, 2011 – The Texas drought has continued to worsen and the state has just experienced its driest seven consecutive months since record keeping began in 1895, says Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who also serves as an atmospheric sciences professor at Texas A&M University. Historically, however, records show Texas is receiving increasingly more rain, he adds.

Says Nielsen-Gammon, "For Texas, March and April were the driest March-April on record, by a large margin. The state averaged only 1.03 inches; the previous record was 1.76 inches and the long-term average is 4.18 inches. Also, February through April shattered the record. The state averaged only 1.69 inches, breaking the previous record by 0.88 inches; average would be 5.82 inches. October through April, with 5.83 inches, broke not just the previous October-April record but the record for any seven-month period."

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, all of Texas is in a drought stage, and about one-fourth of the state is in "exceptional drought," the highest drought level that occurs every 50 to 100 years.

But amazingly, despite the drought, the long-term trend is that Texas has been getting wetter, Nielsen-Gammon says.

"Despite our current severe drought, the long-term precipitation trend is upward in Texas, by about 10 percent per century," notes the Texas A&M professor. "Recently, our drought years have been alternating with flood years.

"I was surprised to find that precipitation amounts are increasing across most of the United States. We hear a lot about long-term drought in the Southwest, but precipitation is mostly steady or increasing there too, according to our analysis."


Nielsen-Gammon adds one note of dryness to the overall wet picture, though. "With warmer temperatures nearly everywhere, we need more rainfall just to keep up with the evaporation. And when it's both warm and dry, as it is now in Texas, the drought is that much worse."

Nielsen-Gammon and his research associate, Brent McRoberts, have analyzed records from National Climatic Data Center, or NCDC, but many statistics are incomplete before the 1930s, he adds. They were able to find an effective way to estimate missing precipitation values by comparing with other stations when the data is available.

An article describing the new data set and the trends they show is available online and is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology later this year.

Contact: John Nielsen-Gammon at 979.862.2248 or n-g@tamu.edu or Keith Randall, from News & Information Services, at 979.845.4644 or keith-randall@tamu.edu