As temperatures continue to rise around the state, weather experts have another issue on their minds; drought.
John Nielsen-Gammon,Texas state climatologist and Regents professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M says that parts of the state are seeing dryer conditions than normal.
“We’ve had drought pretty intense this winter in the Texas Panhandle,” he says. “It’s gotten a little bit better in the northern parts there… it’s still very dry. We’ve seen drought spread across most of the state, down around Del Rio to Laredo is dry, then across Central Texas and now the Dallas-Fort Worth area has been drying out fairly quickly.”
If there is one drought year that is on people’s minds, it’s 2011, the drought season that broke numerous records.
“We had about 40 percent of normal precipitation statewide,” he says. “And we set a record for the hottest summer ever. Things aren’t quite that bad in most places here. Some places there isn’t any drought at all, like in Houston. But if temperatures stay as hot as they are we could wind up with the hottest summer on record. ‘Course it only takes a few months of very dry conditions to have major agricultural impacts. We are already seeing crop failures and ranchers having to sell off cattle.”
As conditions worsen this summer, ranchers and farmers continue to make reference to 2011 – something that Nielsen-Gammon doesn’t think will ever change.
“I think every drought from here on out is gonna be compared to the 2011 drought season,” he says.
Dry land agriculture ranchers are also having a lot of difficulties in areas where it’s been fairly dry. Around Lubbock, San Angelo and the Winter Garden area, he says.
“Ranchers in many areas are reporting that stock tanks are turning into mud or going dry and streams that normally are flowing are dried up. One rancher even reported that stream levels are lower than they were in 2011 for his area,” Nielsen-Gammon says.
“This is the worst drought we’ve had since that period. Hopefully it’ll be a short one. We do have any El Niño that’s likely to develop in the tropical pacific. And usually that means better chances for rainfall in Texas starting around October and November. So that’d be good for water suppliers but it surely doesn’t help farmers and ranchers get through the summer.”
The long-term future isn’t looking too bright, based on temperature projections Nielsen-Gammon says.
“Unfortunately, temperatures are gonna keep getting hotter over the long term. Some of the research that’s looked at model projections for the rest of the 21st century show that conditions that we presently regard as being a moderate drought will actually become normal condition and in another few decades, what is a moderate drought would become an extreme drought. I shudder to think what the drought of 2011 would have been like if it was a few degrees hotter,” he says.