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Water + Weather for March 2021 Posted on April 13, 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 in 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 March 2021.

Let's take a look at some of the big water and weather headlines. In March, drought conditions improved in parts of the Panhandle but intensified in South Texas. Drought conditions now cover 69 percent of the state, up 18 percentage points since the end of February. Statewide, storage in our water supply reservoirs remains at 82 percent of capacity, unchanged since the first of the month and about three and a half percentage points less than normal for this time of year. And La Niña conditions, which are at least partially responsible for drought in Texas, continued to linger but are expected to dissipate in coming months. 

Let's take a closer look at how drought conditions have changed over the last month. We've all heard the saying, “What's good for the goose is good for the gander.” While it only seems fair, it doesn't always work out that way, especially when it comes to precipitation and drought, and 2021 has been a perfect example of that. On this map, we're looking at total precipitation across the state since the first of the year. In particular, let's focus on the areas around Amarillo in the Panhandle and Brownsville in the far south. Both areas started the year with a mix of moderate and severe drought conditions. In the first three months of the year, these areas have received nearly identical precipitation, about two and a quarter inches each. You might expect similar changes in drought conditions, but that is not the case. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor map for conditions at the end of March shows drought is responding differently near Amarillo and Brownsville. In Amarillo and the 12 counties in the Panhandle to the north and east, conditions have improved. And for the first time in almost a year, drought is no longer on the landscape. Meanwhile, near Brownsville, conditions have gone from moderate and severe drought at the first of the year to extreme and exceptional drought now, as South Texas has joined West Texas as an epicenter of drought in the state.

Why such different responses to essentially the same amount of precipitation? Drought is driven not so much by precipitation but rather by precipitation relative to what is normal for an area. On this map, we're looking at the same data. This time, as a percentage of the 30-year average for each area. You can see that the two and a quarter inches of precipitation Amarillo and Brownsville received were above average for Amarillo but less than 75 percent of normal for Brownsville. In this case, what's good for Amarillo is not what's good for Brownsville.

What can we expect going forward? It's a bit unclear. La Niña conditions, which are at least partially responsible for reduced rainfall in Texas, are expected to dissipate soon. But so far, those conditions have lingered. And the longer they linger, the more likely we enter the summer with conditions that look like those on this map, with all but the eastern edge of the state overtaken by drought. If La Niña makes a quicker exit, we could see some improvements before summer. If not, the eastern half of the state will probably have to wait until fall to see any significant drought relief. Unfortunately, we'll probably have to wait until mid-May to know for certain where our summer is headed. That concludes our report. Until next time, I hope you all stay healthy and safe.


This article is posted in Weather / Drought .