Drought isn’t going away but more help is on tap this weekend

Posted Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Last week’s drenching rains eased the punishing drought across parts of Texas and more help is on the way with another 1 to 2 inches expected across Dallas-Fort Worth this weekend.

But experts say it’s too early to celebrate the drought’s demise.

“The rains helped green up pastures and lawns but the ‘D-word’ has not gone away. We got similar rainfall last September but then it didn’t rain again until Christmas,” cautioned Travis Miller, a drought specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon warned Thursday that the stubborn drought is likely to persist for years to come.

“The long-term Pacific and Atlantic Ocean temperature patterns still favor drought in Texas, and probably will continue to do so for another 5-15 years. Whether this drought will last that long or whether Texas will have an occasional wet year within that stretch is impossible to say,” he said said in a news release.

A 90 percent chance of rainfall is forecast for Saturday night into early Sunday in North Texas. The cold front will also drop high temperatures back into the mid-80s while morning lows will be in the low 60s, according to the National Weather Service.

“This weekend’s rain will be similar to the last event with 1 to 2 inches over a 24-hour time frame. It’s going to be widespread, some locations could get considerably more,” said Dan Huckaby, a climate specialist for the weather service in Fort Worth.

“Now that we have a little more soil moisture, we should get more runoff with this rain. But we still have a long way to go to catch up,” he said, noting that since April 2012, rainfall at DFW Airport is almost 16 inches below normal.

“That’s a 70 percent deficit. Some parts of the Metroplex have deficits of 20 inches,” Huckaby said.

In the short-term, more rain is cause for a little optimism about North Texas water supplies.

Last week’s rains raised water levels in the Tarrant Regional Water District’s system of reservoirs by only 1 percent but the next round could drive a substantial uptick, said David Marshall, engineering services director for the district.

“The first rain filled up all the stock tanks, that’s the first big hurdle. The ground is still fairly moist so my expectation is that we’ll see double runoff from what we saw with the last rain,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 3 or 4 percent rise. The Climate Prediction Center is expecting 2.5 inches of rain over our basins. I’m really expecting that Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek will see some significant rains,” Marshall said.

The last deluge curbed water usage by about 25 percent, he said. That drop in demand and more rain should forestall further outdoor watering restrictions from the current Stage 1, which limits outdoor watering to twice a week.

“If it had stayed hot and dry, we would have been to Stage 2 and once a week watering by the end of October. The last rain pushed it to December and if this one turns the corner and we start to see refill, the potential for Stage 2 drought contingency goes away,” Marshall said.

While 93 percent of Texas remains abnormally dry, only 49 percent is still stuck in severe drought, down from 64 percent a week ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.

For the first time in more than a year, less than 1 percent of the Lone Star State is in exceptional drought, the worst category. Only 8 percent is in extreme drought, down from 25 percent last week and 30 percent three months ago.

Reservoirs low

However, statewide water storage levels remain dangerously low, said Nielsen-Gammon, noting that many reservoirs have not recovered from the 2011 conditions, the worst one-year drought in the state’s history.

Last week’s rains increased statewide water storage levels by 1.3 percent to 59.7 percent of capacity, down from 67.2 percent one year ago, according to the Texas Water Development Board.

“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. “Our reservoirs were essentially storing 18 million acre-feet of water and 13 million acre-feet of air.”

Huckaby said long-range weather models are “pretty positive” for North Texas for the next couple of months.

“One event can’t end a drought of this magnitude. But now that we are in the fall season we could get some substantial rains,” he said noting that October which averages 4.22 inches of rain is DFW’s second-wettest month.

“We don’t have a favorable pattern for this winter. But over the next couple of months there might be some drought improvement.”

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp

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