Could drought last until 2020?

October 6th, 2011 at 1:30 pm by under Weather

The story we reported last week about our drought potentially lasting until 2020 has generated a lot of buzz, including a write-up in the New York Times. I thought I would post the original Texas A & M news release on the topic.

Terrible News: Texas Drought Could Last Until 2020

Texas’ historic and lingering drought has already worn out its welcome, but it could easily stay around for years and there is a chance it might last another five years or even until 2020, says a Texas A&M University weather expert.

John Nielsen-Gammon, who serves as Texas State Climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M, says the culprit is the likely establishment of a new La Niña in the central Pacific Ocean. A La Niña is formed when colder than usual ocean temperatures form in the central Pacific, and these tend to create wetter than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest but also drier than normal conditions in the Southwest. A La Niña has been blamed for starting the current drought but the new one, which began developing several weeks ago, is likely to extend drought conditions for Texas and much of the Southwest.

Currently, about 95 percent of Texas is in either a severe or exceptional drought status and the past year has been the worst one-year drought in the state’s history, Nielsen-Gammon adds.

“This is looking more and more like a multi-year drought,” explains the Texas A&M professor.

“September is already proving to be an exceptionally dry month and overall, little more than an inch of rain on average has occurred over Texas, compared to about three inches in a normal year. So a very dry state has become even drier.”

Many parts of Texas are from 10 to 20 inches behind in rainfall.

“We know that Texas has experienced droughts that lasted several years,” adds Nielsen-Gammon. “Many residents remember the drought of the 1950s, and tree ring records show that drought conditions occasionally last for a decade or even longer. I’m concerned because the same ocean conditions that seem to have contributed to the 1950s drought have been back for several years now and may last another five to 15 years.”

The drought has devastated farmers and ranchers, and officials have estimated agriculture losses at more than $5.2 billion. This summer, hundreds of wildfires erupted in Texas and burned more than 127,000 acres, the most ever, and lake levels are down as much as 50 feet in some lakes while several West Texas lakes have completely dried up.

Numerous Texas cities set heat records this summer, such as Wichita Falls, which recorded 100 days of 100-degree heat, the most ever for that city. Dallas also set a record with 70 days of 100-degree heat, and the city had to close down 25 sports fields because large cracks in the ground were deemed unsafe for athletic competition.

“Our best chance to weaken the drought would have been a tropical system coming in from the gulf, but that never happened and hurricane season is just about over for us,” Nielsen-Gammon reports. “There’s still hope for significant rain through the end of October while tropical moisture is still hanging around, but that’s all it is – a hope.”

“In the next few months, the outlook is not all that promising for rain. Parts of Texas, such as the Panhandle and far Northeast Texas, have a better chance than the rest of the state,” he adds.

“Because Texas needs substantially above-normal rain to recover, and it’s not likely to get it, I expect that most of the state will still be in major drought through next summer.”

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4 Responses to “Could drought last until 2020?”

  1. Harry Ransier says:

    The LCRA and the State Water Development Board, the agencies that are supposed to protect our drinking water, just don’t get it. They have delayed yet another decision to stop sending water to the rice farmers. The Highland Lakes are the sole source of drinking water for more than a million people in Central Texas. What’s more important, water for people or water for rice? The rice farmers have NO concern for central Texans are running out of water. Especially when they buy water from the LCRA for $5.50 an acre foot and cities pay $151.00 an acre foot. Look at their comments in the recent LCRA Board meetings. For the past 100 years the rice farmers have had unrestricted use of water from the Colorado River and after they were built, the Highland Lakes at the expense of the people who live and work in central Texas. During that time the population of central Texas has exploded while the population in the three major rice producing counties remains small but their water demand on the Highland Lakes is extreme. The rice farmers get federal subsidies; if crops fail they have crop insurance. Where is the federal insurance to help me when my well goes dry because the LCRA has drained the lake or for the mom and pop businesses going broke because they depend on the Highland Lakes? The climate has been changing over the last 10 years plus and will continue to get dryer. Read the drought article in the Sunday, January 9, 2000, Austin American Statesman; yes that’s 2000. This is just one more reminder that we are in a repetitive and worsening drought prone climate pattern, which the LCRA and the Water Development Board now ignore. Central Texas demographics have drastically changed. We can no longer depend on an endless supply of water from the Colorado River through the Highland Lakes. It takes 1,320.80 gallons of water to produce 2 pounds of rice. It is one of the most if the most water demanding crop. It is time for the rice farmers to find a different source of water or a new, less water demanding crop. Rice IS NOT a crop to produce in a land subject to repetitive droughts. Right now, today, the LCRA is still sending water out of Lake Buchanan to the rice farmers. Central Texans must demand water to the rice farmers be cut off NOW and PERMANENTLY, while we still have a little water left.

    1. Debbi Murrell says:

      I also agree with Diane and Harry. Round Rock and Georgetown are at Stage 3 restrictions until further notice due to the pipeline break. Based on these predictions, Austin is heading to Stage 3.

      We need to arm ourselves with information and petition our HOA’s and MUD’s to change requirements for a responsible and sensible stewardship of water use.

  2. Diane Sherrill says:

    And yet, there are HOAs and MUDs around central Texas that are forcing people to waste this precious resource to keep their lawns green. Many of them still require that homeowners keep 75-80% of their yards in lawn, but they will be fined if those lawns aren’t green all summer.

    Not to mention city and county parks that have huge expanses of lawn that they water regularly, setting a bad example for homeowners.

    We are beyond the large green “golf course” lawn era. It’s time to put in more drought tolerant native plants or “hardscape” areas and stop wasting so much water when we don’t have any!!

    1. Harry Ransier says:

      I absolutely agree with you. We must change our behavior and our mental position on water conservation if we are to avoid some terrible consequences. It is insane for the HOAs and MUDs to continue these watering requirements. Especially in the face of the actions by the city of Austin offering monetary rewards for those who let their St. Augustine grass die and replace it with drought tolerant grasses. Home owners should take legal action against these HOAs and MUDs to force a change in their policies.