Recent rains have eased portions of Tarrant County and North Texas from the severe to moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.But 95 percent of Texas remains abnormally dry, with 85 percent categorized as moderate or worse, 58 percent is severe or worse, 29 percent is extreme or worse, and 12 percent, mostly in the Panhandle, is still mired in exceptional drought. There is a glimmer of hope for the eastern half of Texas and North Texas in particular, in the three-month drought outlook released by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, which held a monthly climate briefing Thursday.It forecast that seasonal rains could pull North Texas out of a third year of drought by Sept. 30. But the long dry spell is expected to persist across the western half of Texas. “We are expecting some elevated chances for rainfall across the eastern half of Texas going into July as well as more seasonal rains,” said Jon Gottschalck, head of NOAA’s forecast operations.“In the western High Plains the drought is so entrenched that any normal rains won’t make much difference at all. But in some of the lower ends of the drought categories such as in the eastern half of Texas, even normal rains can lead to some improvement,” Gottschalck said.“We’re not expecting above-average rainfall but more hit-or-miss normal rain,” Gottschalck said.But don’t expect a three-month trend of cooler weather to continue. The prediction center’s July-September outlook predicts above-normal temperatures across Texas.Dan Huckabee, a climate specialist for the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, isn’t so optimistic about summer rains ending the drought in North Texas.“It doesn’t really look good for us. We’ve at least had some rain this month so we’ve kept pace with normal. But for July and August it doesn’t look good. It’s pretty difficult to get out of drought in July and August, which are our driest months,” Huckabee said.The minor improvements in drought haven’t raised statewide reservoir levels, which are only 67 percent full, according to the Texas Water Development Board. A year ago, Texas reservoirs were at 76 percent of capacity. Normally, they are 87 percent full at this time, the water board reported, noting that the state is now entering its typically hot-and-dry season where evaporation losses and water usage peak.The Tarrant Regional Water District’s capacity was at 74 percent Thursday, down from 75 percent on June 14, according to the district’s website. The district, which supplies raw water to almost all of Tarrant County, began twice-a-week outdoor watering restrictions earlier this month.Extreme drought is migrating west from Texas and the High Plains with the epicenter now located in the Four Corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center. Ninety percent of New Mexico is in either extreme or exceptional drought.The drought continues to wreak havoc with winter wheat crops across much of the High Plains, particularly in Texas where 76 percent of the crop is rated poor to very poor, Svoboda said.Travis Miller, a drought specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said that late freezes and drought have withered wheat fields.“We’ve got beautiful wheat in the North Texas blacklands but the rest of the crop is not so good. The cotton crop isn’t doing a whole lot better. It has taken a beating on the Rolling Plains and in South Texas,” he said.The long drought has also kept feed prices high and reduced nationwide hay stocks to the lowest level since 2007, forcing cattle ranchers to continue to cull herds.The U.S. cattle numbers are at the lowest levels since 1952, said Svoboda, noting that record beef prices peaked on May 23 when the average wholesale price of beef hit $2.06, up 12 cents from a year earlier.“The reduction in herds is starting to hit people in their pocketbooks,” he said.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp