The most recent drought monitor map for Texas shows at least half of the state’s counties covered in dark red – meaning those areas are experiencing exceptional drought, the highest level. It’s so dry, farmers are reporting widespread crop losses; health of wildlife and wildland is suffering; and both the supply and quality of the water is on the decline.
John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and a regents professor in Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, said this is one of the worst droughts Texas has experienced, comparable to ones in 2011, 1956 and 1918. And climate change will only make droughts more severe and more frequent.
“If you look at it on a statewide basis, this is one of the droughts we only experience every few decades,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “The standard measure of drought is a drought index, which for July is the fourth lowest value in Texas history.”
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The drought is so intense that shrubs and trees are dry, creating wildfire fuel in Central and Eastern Texas, areas that generally aren’t as susceptible to fires. And while some parts of the state have seen spotty showers and thunderstorms during the week, Nielsen-Gammon said those won’t be enough to bust the dry spell.
“It tends to take longer-term rainfall. And furthermore, for some reservoirs, you need to have large amounts of runoff, which often means, enough rain to produce a flood,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “So unfortunately, a fast end to the drought would also correspond to flooding rainfall, which brings its own problems.”
Nielsen-Gammon said it’s possible the state could see some relief as we head into the more active months of hurricane season, but not enough to drastically improve conditions statewide.
“Some of the record rainfall totals Texas has received have come from tropical storms or hurricanes. Those would be damaging and of course, devastating – we all remember Hurricane Harvey, for example. But as long as storms don’t stall out, they can produce, 3 to 5 inches of rain in many places, which could be beneficial,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “The problem, though, with hurricanes is they’re relatively small – and so at the same time some places may be getting drought relief, others are still suffering from dryness. And it really takes more than one event to actually improve conditions on the ground and replenish soil moisture.”