Jump to main content

Water + Weather for December 2021 Posted on January 11, 2022


Dr. Mark Wentzel – Hydrologist, Texas Water Development Board   

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to the Texas Water Development Board's latest Water and Weather report. I'm Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist in the Surface Water Division at the agency. And today, we'll be taking a look at conditions for our state at the end of December 2021. As I developed this month's report, I couldn't help but notice the similarity in conditions at the end of 2021 and at the end of 2020. So much so that with a few tweaks, I could reuse the water and weather headlines for December 2020. So, here they are with the necessary changes to update for 2021.

La Niña conditions, defined as below-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific, are reducing rainfall across the state and are expected to continue through spring of 2022. The southern tip in parts of Central Texas were the only drought-free areas in the state at the end of 2021. The Panhandle was most severely impacted by drought. Statewide, storage in our water supply reservoirs ended the year at 78.8 percent of capacity, 2.2 percentage points below normal for this time of year. At the close of 2021, drought conditions varied considerably across the state. The most severe impacts of drought were in the Panhandle, while far South Texas remained drought free. Overall, 67 percent of the state was in moderate or worse drought, up 18 percentage points since the end of November and 66 percentage points since the end of August. Even so, conditions were still better than at the end of 2020, when 81 percent of the state was in drought.

Let's take a closer look at 2021 by means of a virtual road trip across our state using data from the National Weather Service. We'll be stopping in Brownsville, Del Rio, and Amarillo. What were conditions like in Brownsville in 2021? On this chart, we're looking at monthly rainfall data for Brownsville in red, along with maximum, minimum, and average monthly values in gray and black. We began the year with moderate and severe drought in the Brownsville area. But as La Niña waned in late spring, precipitation was above average in May, eliminating drought in the area. Total rainfall for the year was almost 40 inches, about 150 percent of normal, keeping the area around Brownsville drought-free.

As we reach Del Rio on our virtual road trip, conditions get drier. This part of the state also began 2021 in severe and moderate drought. As La Niña dissipated, rainfall was sufficient to eliminate drought in May and keep the area drought free through August. But as La Niña conditions returned in the fall, precipitation decreased. Del Rio received a total of 16.5 inches of rainfall for the year, about 90 percent of normal, but most of that came in the months of May through August. At the end of 2021, severe and moderate drought returned to the area.

As we head farther north from Del Rio on our virtual road trip, drought moderates a bit in Central Texas but intensifies as we enter the Panhandle. As 2021 began, the Panhandle was experiencing conditions that ranged from exceptional drought southwest of Amarillo to drought free to the north. Near-record rainfall in May drove drought out of the area near Amarillo by mid-June. Unfortunately, the return of La Niña in the fall of 2021 brought drought conditions back to this part of the state. Amarillo received a total of 15 inches of precipitation for the year, about 75 percent of normal. But rainfall has been less than 30 percent of normal since the end of July. At the end of 2021, the area around Amarillo was part of the nearly 11 percent of the state impacted by extreme drought.

That concludes our virtual road trip across the state. But what might 2022 hold for us? According to the National Weather Service, the early months of the year are expected to be drier and warmer than usual for most of Texas, bringing drought to almost the entire state by the end of March. Beyond March, there's some good news—a 60 percent chance that La Niña conditions dissipate during the April to June time period, improving our chances for additional rain and drought relief similar to what we experienced during those months in 2021. That concludes our report. Until next time, I hope you all stay healthy and safe.  

This article is posted in Weather / Drought .