For most of North Texas, the spring rains have been a no-show.Since Jan. 1, only 3.93 inches of rain has fallen, making this the third-driest start to a year on record through Friday. The dry start means DFW is now 7.57 inches below normal since Jan. 1.“We usually count on spring for our rains, and we’re not getting it so far this year,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jesse Moore said.Most of North Texas is now in moderate to extreme drought, according to the latest drought monitor, released Thursday. Thirty-seven percent of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought, up 5 percent from a week ago. And almost the entire Panhandle is in exceptional drought, the worst category.For the Tarrant Regional Water District’s water-supply lakes, overall capacity is down to 69.1 percent.Stage 2 restrictions, which would ban outdoor watering more than once a week, will be triggered if the supply drops to 60 percent.The district’s forecast models show about a 10 percent chance that it will reach that level this year, said David Marshall, the district’s engineering services director. If the extreme dryness continues the rest of spring or summer, Stage 2 could be reached as early as August.Conditions along the West Fork of the Trinity River are so dry that they are mirroring the drought of record in the 1950s. Marshall said he will have interns study data this summer to determine whether conditions are exceeding that drought.Based on the district’s own forecasts, Marshall remains optimistic that some rain will fall this month and in early June before the summer heat kicks in.“After June 15, we’ll know our course,” Marshall said. “It will be set.”Hoping for rainfallThe district, which provides raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, met with its customer cities Friday to provide its monthly update.Cities need to realize that once-a-week watering restrictions are possible, said Mary Gugliuzza, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Water Department.“We need to raise awareness that our supply is now down to 69 percent and that once-a-week would be triggered if we reach 60 percent,” Gugliuzza said. “It’s getting hotter. We will lose more to evaporation on our lakes.”Gugliuzza said Water Department officials will meet this summer with other customer cities, including Arlington and Mansfield, to formulate a plan if once-a-week watering happens.“We’ll be trying to get on the same page because that helps so much with education,” Gugliuzza said. “It eliminates a lot of confusion.”Gugliuzza believes that some rain will eventually fall but that relief may not come until later this year.“The outlook, with El Niño developing this fall and winter, is hopeful for getting some rain,” she said. “But it’s pretty bleak at this point going into summer.”State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said he isn’t counting on El Niño to help all the state.“It’s impact on North Texas typically isn’t nearly as strong as in South Texas,” he said.Statewide, this looks like the fifth-driest start to a year on record, but Nielsen-Gammon said he is still analyzing data.Woe is wheatIn the Panhandle, the drought has devastated reservoirs and hurt the winter wheat crop, Nielsen-Gammon said.“This is looking like the worst winter wheat crop in a half a century,” he said.Forecasters do see a chance of rain late next week. The Climate Prediction Center’s six- to 10-day outlook shows above-normal chances for precipitation across North Texas.It’s too early to say how much DFW will get.“We’re not sure if we’ll see an inch or an inch and a half — or less than that,” said Moore, of the weather service. But Nielsen-Gammon said the rain could be significant for parts of the state.“It looks like the sort of event that could be multiple days where a few counties get 5 to 10 inches of rain,” he said. “Given that, it’s just a question of finding out which counties those are and who gets helped and who doesn’t.”Lakes lower West of Fort Worth, in Palo Pinto County, ranchers are getting nervous as the dry spring continues, said Scott Mauney, a county extension agent.Ranchers are debating what to do with their cattle if the drought continues into summer. Some will probably be forced to sell off their herds while others will ship cattle elsewhere.“We need rain because we don’t have any grass growing in our pasture,” Mauney said. “We’re not getting any growth to take care of cattle. Our stock tanks are low. It’s just kind of a day-to-day thing for some of them.”Like everybody else, Mauney is troubled by the region’s lake levels.West of Fort Worth, lakes have dropped even lower. Lake Palo Pinto, which supplies water to Mineral Wells and several other towns, is 24 percent full, and Possum Kingdom Lake is 62 percent full. Statewide reservoir capacity is about 64 percent, down about 2 percentage points from a year ago.“We’ve kind of been in the drought for five years out here,” Mauney said. “What scares me is our lake levels are just tremendously low. If we don’t get some rain soon, I’m sure it’s going to be kind of scary this summer.”While the drought has meant a relatively quiet severe storm season, the Insurance Council of Texas has increased insured-loss estimates in the April 3 Denton hailstorm from $300 million to $500 million.Softball-size hail struck homes, automobiles and businesses. The system spawned at least three confirmed tornadoes as the storm moved eastward into Collin, Hunt and Hopkins counties.“When it’s all said and done, the storm will have damaged at least 35,000 automobiles and approximately 22,000 homes,” said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna