Weather experts hope for wetter fall months to ease ongoing drought in Texas
It was in late April — when more than half of Texas was in an elevated drought phase — that meteorologists and climatologists said weather patterns over the next few months would be key in determining how long the dry spell would last.
More than two months later, they know the answer. And it isn’t good news.
“It was pretty much a worst-case scenario for Texas,” said Victor Murphy, National Weather Service Southern Region Climate program manager. “If your wet seasons are wet, that’s wonderful. It carries you over into the next nine to 12 months. [But] we had the hottest April through July on record.”
As of Aug. 9, 96% of the state was in a drought, with 68% of the state seeing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions, according to the Texas Water Development Board’s weekly update.
Murphy said last month was five degrees warmer than normal.
“So that's the hottest July ever and the second hottest month ever,” he said. “Only August of 2011 was hotter.”
The dry spell prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to renew on Aug. 5 a disaster declaration he issued in July for dozens of affected counties in Texas. The declaration allows for the “use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with this disaster.”
The drought is especially felt in the Rio Grande Valley, home to the Falcon Reservoir, which feeds water to communities north and south of the Rio Grande. As of Monday the reservoir was only 9.5% full, according to the Texas Water Development Board. Its reservoir storage was about 286,000 acre-feet, down about 146,494 acre-feet from six months ago.
In the Rio Grande Valley, some local officials have implemented mandatory water restrictions, Texas Public Radio reported. County judges in Hidalgo and Cameron counties issued their own disaster declarations last week.
Upstream, in Val Verde County, the Amistad Reservoir was in slightly better shape at about 30% full, but still about 18% less than it was six months ago, according to the data.
Austin and San Antonio are also feeling the effects of the drought. San Antonio is about 14 inches below its normal annual rainfall average, and some water restrictions have been implemented in the Austin area, with more possible if current conditions hold. As of Monday, Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis, two of the water supply systems that serve the area, were at 63% and 52% of their full storage capacities, respectively.
“With high temperatures, significant water demands and no substantial rain in the forecast, LCRA expects levels in both water-supply lakes to continue to decline this summer due to customer use and evaporation,” the Lower Colorado River Authority stated in its Monday operations report.
Looking to September and October
Murphy said that although Texas saw below-average rainfall the last three months, he still thinks some parts of the state could see a reprieve over the next eight to 10 weeks. In South Texas, September and October usually see about 9.5 inches of rain, or about a third of the region’s annual rainfall.
Some parts of Texas already had a glimpse of relief over the weekend, when rain fell over parts of San Antonio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood advisory for some parts of the area through Monday evening.
Murphy said Friday that immediate outlook, combined with a normal September and October, should provide some relief.
“Going forward, with September and October being far and away the wettest two-month period in South Texas, with nearly 33% of the yearly rainfall falling during these two months, I would be optimistic that the drought tide is turning in South Texas,” Murphy said.
Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist in the TWDB’s Office of Water Science and Conservation, said there would have to be several significant rainfalls to make more than a dent in the water levels at Falcon and Amistad, however.
“They would probably have to push a little farther up into the watershed above Falcon and Amistad to get them some significant relief. But every little bit helps, right?” he said.
Wentzel said there is also the possibility that a late-season storm could add to the rainfall total for some of the hardest hit parts of Texas.
“There's a wildcard of getting a tropical storm remnant or something like that to help us out. Most of the time, those types of things don't get far enough to the interior of the state with the good rainfall to help the state out. But … they'll get to the coast.”
Wentzel added that there are still about two months left in the current hurricane season, which could add some more relief.
“Even though it had been quiet the first half, the hurricane season still lasts into October. So don't lose hope yet. There could still be something there, at least as the temperatures start to ease a little bit as we get out of summer. That should be helpful to both the demands that we put on our reservoirs and cut down on the evaporation from them,” he said.
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