Weekend rains won’t quench North Texas’ thirst

Posted Friday, Oct. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The stock tank has been reduced to a puddle.

Coyote and deer tracks are noticeable around the edges, an indication that animals are still using it as a place to drink.

For Crowley rancher Jim Link, the pasture he leases on the far west side of Fort Worth has been rendered mostly useless this year, a constant reminder that even with recent rains, the drought in North Texas hasn’t gone away.

Link explained that his cattle have only grazed in this pasture for nine months out of the last three years. Instead, the herd is across the road, where runoff from sprinklers in a neighboring subdivision keeps water in the stock tank.

“There’s a lot of tanks dry,” Link said.

As a man who grew up in Kansas during the 1950s drought, which is considered the worst on record, Link knows it may not be ending anytime soon.

“Historically, droughts run in roughly 5-year cycles — a couple of years getting into it, a couple of years that are really tough and couple more getting out of it,” said Link, 70. “… But I’m the eternal optimist, I think it’s going to rain this weekend.”

Forecasters agree.

The National Weather Service predicts it’s going to rain this weekend and it may stick around until at least Tuesday. It’s not clear if it will a soaker like the one North Texas saw last month, but the region could see 1 to 3 inches by the time it ends. There could even be some severe storms on Saturday.

But even it we do get heavy rains, it won’t be enough to end the drought.

“If you go back three years, some areas are missing 30 to 40 inches of precipitation — that’s an entire year of rainfall or more,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Huckaby.

At Dallas Fort Worth Airport, an average year of rainfall is 36.14 inches. Since September 2010, the airport has seen a deficit of 25.18 inches but some areas, such as the Lewisville Lake dam, have seen a shortfall of more than 42 inches.

In Tarrant County, since September 2010, Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport has seen a shortfall of 32.15 inches, Meacham Airport is down 29.10 inches and Arlington Municipal Airport is down 26.4 inches.

Lake levels a concern

While the latest drought monitor shows conditions have improved statewide — only 4 percent of the state currently is currently in extreme or exceptional drought, down from 34 percent three months ago — reservoir levels continue to drop. The state’s water supply is at 59.4 percent, compared with 68.4 percent a year ago.

And long-range forecasts are showing normal precipitation for winter, which is unlikely to fill the lakes by next spring.

The concern is having low lakes entering next summer.

“If we have to go into a third summer of drought next summer with low lakes that would be very difficult,” Huckaby said

In October 2011, the hottest year on record, the state’s lake levels were about 1 percent lower than they are right now. But they began to recover in late winter and were in far better shape by the following spring.

“I think we’ll see some recovery this winter,” State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said. “Typically, we see some between November and May, but the question is how much we see.”

Nielsen-Gammon has called the current drought the second worst since records started being kept in 1895. It is eclipsed only the 1950s drought that lasted about seven years for most of Texas. Ocean temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic indicate that the current Texas drought could continue for 5 to 15 years.

“Both oceans are working against us,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t have the occasional wet year.”

Herds have been culled

Because of the lingering drought, Fort Worth rancher Pete Bonds, acting president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said many ranchers sold off their herds during the 2011-2012.

According to an association survey, ranchers culled their herds by an average of 38 percent in 2011 and have been slow to build them back.

While this year hasn’t been as bad, it has been a little deceptive.

“I don’t think anybody is jumping to rebuild their herd,” Bonds said. “People may drive down the road an see all this green grass and think it’s over, but it’s not.”

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna

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