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Water + Weather for January 2021 Posted on February 10, 2021


Dr. Mark Wentzel – Hydrologist, Texas Water Development Board

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Texas Water Development Board's latest Water and Weather Report. I'm Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist from the Surface Water Division here at the agency. And today, we'll be taking a look at conditions for our state at the end of January 2021.

Let's take a look at some of the big water headlines at the end of January. Most noteworthy in January, Texas experienced a 37-percentage-point decrease in the area impacted by drought. Less than 45 percent of the state is now in drought, concentrated in the south, west, and Panhandle. For comparison, 81 percent of the state was in drought at the end of December 2020. Statewide storage in our water supply reservoirs is at 82 percent of capacity, which is normal for this time of year. And La Niña conditions are expected to continue through March 2021 but dissipate later in the year.

What a difference a month and a little rainfall can make this time of year. In Texas, large drought improvement over a four-week time period generally occurs between mid-April and mid-November, a time period of high temperatures and vigorous plant growth. It takes a lot of rainfall to overcome those ingredients and provide drought relief.

But this time of year, the recipe for drought improvement is a little different. Let's call it a winter recipe and take a closer look at the seasonal ingredients. The first ingredient is a heavy dose of drought. By the end of December 2020, 81 percent of the state was in drought. But the second and third ingredients gave us a bit of a break. Because of the time of the year, we had cool temperatures, which reduces evaporation. And plants were dormant, which means they use less soil moisture. Cooler temperatures and plants using less soil moisture are two ingredients that helped push us toward less drought this January. The final ingredient was some modest rainfall.

January rainfall itself wasn't all that spectacular, only above average for a few areas of the state. But on the last day of December, we did get more than three inches of rainfall in parts of East Texas, and an inch and a half in parts of West and Central Texas. That combination of cooler temperatures, reduced plant activity, and modest rainfall in late December and January was enough to give us some much-needed drought relief. Most parts of the state saw a one- or two-class improvement in drought, and the total area of drought fell 37 percentage points.

This recipe with modest rainfall only worked because it was the cool time of year. Later in the year, as the days get warmer and plants become more active, it will take larger rainfall amounts to provide additional drought relief. That completes our look back at January 2021 and the recipe for four-week winter drought improvement. But what might the next few months hold for us? 

The latest seasonal outlook from the National Weather Service has some good news and some bad news. The bad news, La Niña conditions are expected to remain in place through the end of April, bringing Texas warmer and drier than normal conditions. As a result, drought is expected to expand in Central Texas and the Panhandle. The good news, thanks to recent moisture, North, Central, and East Texas are expected to remain drought free. The better news, there's a better-than-even chance, 55 percent, that La Niña conditions will begin to disappear in the April, May, June timeframe.

That concludes our report. Until next time, I hope you all stay healthy and safe.

This article is posted in Weather / Drought .