The majority of the state has been under drought conditions for about three years. 2011 ranks in at the driest and warmest year ever for the state of Texas, with an average rainfall of only 14.8 inches.
According to the National Weather Service, about 80 percent of the state is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought status, with less than one-half of 1 percent in Exceptional Drought status.
The question looming over the state of Texas in place of absent rain clouds: when will the drought end?
What started out at as hot, dry month, September left South Texas slightly cooler, allowing drought conditions to improve over the past few weeks.
The AG RES Experiment Center in Beeville reported a slight jump in rainfall numbers in September, measuring 0.67 in. on Sept. 10, 0.48 in. on Sept. 11, 0.40 in. on Sept. 13 and 0.51 in. on Sept 23.
John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist, commented on the short period of rainfall in a Texas A&M news story on Sept. 26, “Until the rain event on Sept. 19-20, Texas reservoirs were one or two days away from setting an all-time record for the gap between the amount of water stored and the storage capacity,” he said.
Widespread rainfalls in the month of September brought significant improvements to drought conditions all across the southwest region of the U.S.
But even with the recent rainfall, projections for drought conditions in Texas continue to look bleak. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook published by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), drought conditions across Texas are expected to persist or intensify through the end of the year.
John Metz, Metorologist for the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi, said that the recent rains helped but are nowhere near enough.
“Rainfall records over the last 3 years still indicate a deficit of more than 36” of rain, which ranks in the top 2% percentile and thus is an extremely rare event,” he said.
Metz said October is typically one of the wettest months of the year.
“The Climate Prediction Center’s official October outlook indicates a bit of good news and shows 33-40% probability of above normal rainfall for the month,” he said, “However the longer range outlook for Oct. through Dec. is not as promising.”
The National Weather Service’s Drought Impact Reporter shows that Texas water supply and quality has been severely impacted by the drought. The report states that Bee County specifically has been the most effected through agricultural hardships and dangers to plants and animal life.
The main focus of many county leaders and state organizations in the past few years has been water conservation. The issue is not only the lack of rain but the steady evaporation of lakes and rivers as well.
Nielsen-Gammon has said that the drought could last another 5-15 years, and his main focus is drought monitoring and prediction.
He recently said in an interview with the Washington Post, “With the drought lasting several years now, we start seeing more water supply issues and municipalities start creating restrictions on the use of water. As long as we can get back the water use, we still have enough water to get by to avoid the threat of running out of water.”
Drought severity in Texas has lowered significantly since 2011, and multiple local organizations are working to lessen the effects of the drought by water conservation efforts, including the Texas Water Resources Institute, the Texas Living Waters Project and the Texas Water Conservation Association.
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for Oct. 1:
South: Scattered showers fell throughout the region, with from a trace to as much as 5 inches reported. Where there was substantial rain, grazing conditions improved, supplemental feeding was reduced on the better-managed ranches, and herd culling slowed as producers tried to rebuild breeding herds. Cattle body condition scores were good.
With frequent showers and cooler temperatures, soil-moisture levels varied widely throughout the region. Mostly all counties reported 50 to 100 percent adequate levels. The exceptions were McMullen County with 90 percent short levels; Maverick and Zavala counties, 60 to 100 percent short levels; Hidalgo County with 100 percent short levels; and Cameron and Willacy counties with 45 to 100 percent surplus levels.
Atascosa County peanuts were nearly harvest-ready. In Frio County, cotton harvesting began, peanut crops were under irrigation, and wheat growers were preparing fields for planting. In Zavala County, cotton harvesting was active, as well as planting of cabbage, onion and spinach. Also in that county, dryland producers were planting small grains such as oats and wheat. Zavala County pecan producers reported good to average quality and yields.
In Cameron County, fall planting was on hold due to wet fields. However, the wet weather made for good sugarcane growing conditions, but weeds were a problem in pastures and row-crop fields. In Hidalgo County, fall vegetables and early citrus were being harvested. Sugarcane harvesting in that county was a couple of weeks away.