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Spring rainfall is critical to drought outlook Posted on March 09, 2021


Dr. Mark Wentzel – Hydrologist, Texas Water Development Board

Is drought something we’ll always be contending with? And in Texas, the answer is pretty much “yes.”

We did get a lot of snow, at least for Texas, in February. That didn’t help much, however, since snow is mostly air. It takes 10 to 12 inches or more of fresh snow to provide one inch of moisture. Most of the state still had below-average precipitation in February, leading to an increase in the area of the state impacted by drought. 

Spring’s pretty crucial for us for drought statewide. Our big months for precipitation, on a normal basis, would be April, May, and June. And so, if we get average rainfall in April, May, and June, that's usually enough rainfall to keep us out of extreme drought through the rest of the year.

One route that we could take, and this would be the worst possible route, would be something similar to a setup like we got in 2011 where we just didn't get rains in the spring at all. We were dry coming into April, May, and June, and then April, May, and June failed us. We didn't get those rains.  And at this point, that looks unlikely to be the pattern that we would follow this year. More likely, the pattern looks like we'll have about average rainfall for April, May, and June, and that will set us up for more average-type conditions for most of the state. That’ll prevail in—looks like it’ll prevail in—Central Texas and East Texas.

Now of course, all drought’s local. And so, our friends out west in West Texas, Midland-Odessa area, they're facing a pretty rough drought right now already, even though in the rest of the state things have eased off a bit.

One of the things that will impact us in our April, May, and June rainfall will be what's called La Niña conditions. The Weather Service has been forecasting drier than normal precipitation for us because of that. La Niña is expected to break up this spring. And that should get us back to average rainfall conditions.

The most recent seasonal drought outlook from the National Weather Service looking through the end of May anticipates drought returning to all but the eastern edge of Texas. But with the expected breakup of La Niña conditions, we should see more average rainfall by the end of May and all of June. That should be enough to keep us out of a statewide drought scenario similar to what we had in 2011.

It seems like there's almost always some part of our state that's experiencing drought. And so, it’s unusual to get a weather system that is wet and above average for the entire state. So that means there will be pockets of drought almost always, whether it be the tip of the Panhandle, the tip of far West Texas. When those areas are wet, then there’s a small area over in East Texas that’s dry. So, it’s unusual for us to be entirely in drought, and it's unusual for us to be entirely drought free. That just comes from being a large state.


This article is posted in Drought .