North Texas feels like scorched pavement, and another 100-degree day is expected on Thursday.
And while a heat advisory remains in effect for the Dallas-Fort Worth area until 8 p.m. Thursday, there is an upside to this summer.
It’s also been wet.
From June 1 through July 24, North Texas has received 12.54 inches of rain, the third wettest start to a meteorological summer on record at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
That’s about 7 inches above normal, which means our lakes are fat and happy — but free of flooding — and drought-related watering restrictions are a thing of the past.
The downside: It’s been unusually muggy and the regular rainfall means yards and grassy areas — including those that line our freeways — may need to be mowed more often than normal.
Lake Grapevine has been swamped with outdoor enthusiasts. The 93 RV sites and 15 cabins at The Vineyards campground have been nearly full all summer, which is dramatically different than the last two summers.
“This is perfect for us,” said Randy Sell, lake parks and events manager for the city of Grapevine. “We would take this every summer if we could. The lake has stayed in that sweet spot where it’s full but not too full.”
Some weather watchers have suggested that this wet summer may be another sign that North Texas has left 20 years of drought and drier than normal weather behind — like dust on a busy dirt road.
“I think we have,” said state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. “Unfortunately, you can only tell by looking in the rearview mirror.”
Take a walk on the wet side
It’s a far cry from 2011, when North Texas endured 71 100-degree days and Nielsen-Gammon was warning that the drought could last until 2020.
For weather geeks, Nielsen-Gammon’s current optimism stems from something called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-term weather pattern where ocean temperatures can flip from cool to warm or vice versa. And once it makes that switch, it can stay that way for two or three decades. It’s been in the warm phase, which can lead to wetter weather for Texas, for the last 2 1/2 two and half years.
Texas is also influenced by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, a weather phenomena still considered to be in the warm phase, which can lead to drier weather during the summer and fall for this part of the world. But apparently not this year.
“The seasonal outlooks for this summer and fall continue to be on the wet side,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
The long-term weather patterns aren’t directly tied to climate change, though Nielsen-Gammon said models suggest it could play a role in the future.
But for now water is in, especially in North and East Texas, which is virtually free of drought.
‘Consider ourselves lucky’
That last drought, which ravaged much of the state from October 2010 into the early part of 2015, was so severe that Wichita Falls had to resort to blending toilet water with dwindling lake levels to quench residents’ thirst. That well-publicized approach was suspended in 2015, after heavy springtime rains filled area lakes.
Eighty miles west of Fort Worth, the small town of Strawn, along with neighboring communities Gordon and Mingus, was close to running out of water.
“We still consider ourselves lucky,” said Strawn City Secretary Danny Miller. “We got within 90 days of running out of water with nowhere in sight to go for water. Everybody else was running out. All of 2014 was extremely stressful.”
Strawn’s Tucker Lake filled in early 2015, but to avoid a repeat of the earlier scenario, Strawn and Mingus are planning to build a 17-mile pipeline to Eastland County and drill wells to reach the Trinity Aquifer.
At the Tarrant Regional Water District, which provides raw water to almost all of Tarrant County, this is the first time the lakes have been close to full for three consecutive summers since the early 1990s.
“You’re looking at something we see about once every 20 years,” said David Marshall, TRWD’s director of engineering and operations support.
Looking ahead, Marshall remains optimistic.
“We see no real possibility of drought in the next 18 months,” Marshall said. “It’s just a matter of enduring a long, hot summer.”