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Big rain ends drought in Dallas-Fort Worth

02/02/2012 11:46 PM

08/28/2012 5:58 AM

Last week's unprecedented 4-plus inches of winter rainfall floated Dallas-Fort Worth out of drought for the first time since July.

And there's a good chance for up to an inch more of rain through tonight, according to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

A swatch of North Texas -- just less than 5 percent of the state -- is now drought-free, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.

At the same time, nearly 60 percent of Texas remains in extreme drought, while 27 percent is still stuck in exceptional drought, the most extreme category.

In those areas, 16-month rainfall deficits remain over 20 inches.

Three months ago, 98 percent of Texas was in the extreme category or worse, and 65 percent was in exceptional drought.

The latest downpour dropped 4.26 inches at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, making it the area's biggest rain since Tropical Storm Hermine spilled 6.25 inches in September 2010, according to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

Turns out that the January drought-buster was a one-of-a-kind event locally, said Bill Bunting, meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Fort Worth.

"We went through the records back beyond the turn of the century to see if there was any sort of precedent in January for a 4.25-inch rain, and we didn't find any. The earliest date in the year where our rainfall exceeded that was the third week of March," he said.

The 4.26 inches pushed the airport station to 6.76 inches in January, about 5 inches above normal. Add in a wet December and areas around DFW have seen a 6- to 8-inch surplus over the two months.

That's already enough to assure that this winter will rank among the 10 wettest on record, according to a drought statement compiled this week by Dan Huckaby, a weather service climate specialist in Fort Worth.

Severe storms ahead?

More help is on the way.

Thunderstorms are expected over much of North Texas today as a cold front moves through, meteorologist Ted Ryan said.

"It's not going to be quite the event we had last week," he said.

Individual storms will be moving quickly, but they could train over one another, possibly bringing heavy rain and localized flooding. With the springlike air, the storms could be severe, capable of producing quarter-size hail and damaging winds up to 60 mph.

There's also an isolated threat of tornadoes, Ryan said.

"Last time, everybody got 3 to 5 inches of rain, but this one will be more scattered with more variation. On average, we expect about an inch of rain," he said.

"It's early in February. We're not quite in the strong storm season, but a couple of these could be severe Friday afternoon and evening," Ryan said.

Still, in the longer term, the weather phenomenon La Niña in the Pacific Ocean is expected to hang around into spring, Huckaby notes.

Projections for spring rain are not promising, he wrote.

That means North Texas' drought freedom might not last long.

The Climate Prediction Center's seasonal drought outlook calls for a developing drought over most of North Texas through April as well as below-normal rainfall and above-normal temperatures through June.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Bunting said. "It wouldn't take much of a return to drier-than-normal conditions for the drought to return. I think we'll stay in a pattern that will bring us more chances of scattered rain. But I don't think we'll see a complete end to the drought everywhere anytime soon."

In the meantime, all that ensuing runoff has raised the Tarrant Regional Water District's reservoirs to 82 percent capacity, compared with 67 percent in November.

But district officials say they don't want to lift watering limits prematurely.

"I want to make sure if we come out of it, we're going to be out of it for a long time," General Manager Jim Oliver told the Star-Telegram on Monday. "We're not there yet."

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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