A report from The Weather Channel notes that exceptional drought has been eliminated in the United States for the first time in six years and less than 1 percent of America is currently experiencing extreme drought. In Texas, the extreme drought level has been virtually eliminated, with the U.S. Drought Monitor reporting that only 0.01 percent of the state is experiencing drought at that level.
Texas began seeing significant improvement in 2015. More than 90 percent (92.24) of Texas is currently drought-free, according to the Drought Monitor, including all of the Brazos River basin, although portions of southwest Brazoria County on the coast are still listed as abnormally dry.
That’s an extraordinary change from the 2011 – 2014 period when drought had been so persistent and prolonged.
The most recent report from the Drought Monitor notes that there had been “widespread heavy precipitation across many of the nation’s areas of dryness and drought, prompting another round of broad-scale improvements.” Although some areas have not received rainfall, leading to a worsening of dryness and drought in those places, “they were few and far between,” the Drought Monitor said.
Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon recently noted that the state had experienced an increase in the moderate to extreme drought categories. The area of extreme drought in the state was in Lamar and Fannin counties along the border with Oklahoma. However, recent January rainfall has resulted in some improvement.
While La Niña was expected to lead to drier than normal conditions statewide, John Gottschalk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, noted that the current La Niña is “fairly week and should be short-lived.” Nielsen-Gammon said the influence of La Niña should dissipate and possibly be gone altogether by mid-spring and there was “no particular expectation for precipitation in spring and summer.”
As was the case in early 2016, water supply conditions in the Brazos basin remain in good shape as we enter 2017. The most recent status of BRA system reservoirs in the Brazos basin shows that the water supply pool in all eleven reservoirs is at least 96 percent full with most being 100 percent full.
The drought Texas endured from 2011 through early 2015 was the worst since the 1950s, and conditions in California were also extreme for years. Less than a year ago, in mid-March 2016, 34.74 percent of California was experiencing exceptional drought. Today, 0.29 percent of that state is enduring extreme drought, with none of the state in an exceptional drought.
Of California’s current circumstances, Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager for the Department of Water Resources, told the Los Angeles Times, “We’re far better off than we were this time last water year. We’re cautiously optimistic.”
In Texas, conditions were considerably drier just three months ago than they are now.
The U.S. Drought Monitor’s statistics on Oct. 25 for Texas noted that 35.08 percent of the state at that time was either abnormally dry or experiencing drought. Since then, rainfall has decreased the dry areas to 7.76 percent of Texas.
While projections from the National Weather Service have forecast a drier than normal late winter for the state, the good news is that water which has already filled reservoirs and saturated the ground will help offset the dryness.
Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas climatologist, said we are in the midst of a changing climate pattern that is offsetting the drought of the past few years, but that it is working in the opposite way of the usual result and it does not provide a strong basis for future weather predictions.
“Historically it has worked the other way: El Niño tends to be wetter than normal across the southern US, while La Niña tends to be drier,” he said. “Over the longer term, wintertime precipitation in Texas is affected by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and so far the PDO is staying positive (favorable for precipitation) despite the La Niña, so that is a weak indication for more wet years in the near future.”