Rainfall offers break after dry January

02/04/2014 8:32 AM

02/04/2014 12:57 PM

While North Texas has dealt with constant temperature swings over the last month, there has also been a noticeable lack of rainfall.

Last month, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport recorded only 0.33 inch of rain, tying it with 1997 for the 12th-driest January on record.

What’s more, the airport has seen only 12.5 inches of rainfall over the last six months, about 3.5 inches below normal.

“We are a little bit below normal and we really need to make it up in the spring,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jason Dunn said.

But the latest bit of moisture may be an encouraging sign.

While DFW Airport had seen only 0.17 inch by 11 a.m. Tuesday, rain is possible over the next week.

The current weather pattern is more favorable for rain than what North Texas saw throughout January.

“We’re in a progressive pattern with a system coming down every few days,” Dunn said. “It looks like we might get into a deeper pattern of moisture sometime next week.”

The latest drought monitor shows that North Texas remains in a moderate drought. But Texas is in slightly better shape than a year ago, when 89 percent of the state was in some form of drought. Now that figure is about 80 percent.

But State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said reservoirs are in much worse shape than a year ago. The state’s reservoir capacity is 64.1 percent but would normally be 82 percent this time of year. At this time last year, it was 66.6 percent.

“The reservoir storage in the state declined in January,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “That’s not supposed to happen when we’re not using any water. It’s supposed to go up in January, but we were so dry it went down.”

While DFW lakes are low, Nielsen-Gammon said enough water is probably left to prevent any major problems this year. But that’s not true in parts of the state.

“It’s getting serious in places like Wichita Falls and just about every place in West and Central Texas,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Many lakes in those areas have lost their multiyear capacity. They’re getting down close to operating capacity where they’ve got water for this year and that’s it.”

The Climate Prediction Center’s three-month precipitation outlook doesn’t give much indication about what’s in store for this spring — showing equal chances of being wet or dry across the eastern half of Texas, which includes DFW.

How much rain North Texas sees in the spring will go a long way toward determining what kind of summer the area will have.

Lake levels

David Marshall, engineering services director for the Tarrant Regional Water District, said he is optimistic that area lake levels will improve this spring and summer. The water district provides raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County.

“We may not fill up, but I don’t think we’re going to be in a crisis,” Marshall said.

The water district’s system of lakes has climbed from 68 percent to 71 percent since Oct. 17. But Eagle Mountain Lake, which is more than 6 feet below full, and Lake Bridgeport, which is more than 20 feet below normal, have seen little or no improvement.

If the rains don’t come this spring, Marshall said, the lakes will have enough water to get through this year without serious problems. But it would mean pumping more water from East Texas reservoirs, Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek, which can add up to $6 million to the district’s annual costs.

Without significant rainfall, most Tarrant County cities would probably remain in Stage 1 restrictions on outdoor watering — twice a week — for the rest of the year.

In the short term, there may be more chances for rain next week. With or without the rain, it will be cold over the next several days.

Residents should see a low of about 20 degrees Wednesday morning with wind chill readings of 10 to 15. It will be partly sunny during the day with highs in the mid-30s.

Wind chill readings will be as low as 3 degrees on Thursday morning with daytime temperatures in the lower 30s and mostly cloudy skies.

There is a 20 percent chance of rain late Friday or early Saturday, but temperatures should be above freezing.

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