With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees as August winds down, it’s hard to imagine that the four-year drought could be loosening its grip on North Texas.
But there are some hopeful signs that the Dallas-Fort Worth region — and most of the state— could see more rain than usual in the upcoming months.
Even though experts are forecasting a dry first half of September, t he Climate Prediction Center is predicting an above-average chance of rainfall through November for almost all of Texas. And those rosy predictions continue into the winter outlook, which also are calling for above-average chances of rainfall from December through February
“If there is ever a time to be optimistic, it's when you hear the term ‘El Niño,’ ” said National Weather Service meteorologlist Dan Huckaby. “It's been slow to emerge this summer, but there is still about a 2 in 3 chance that El Niño will be in place by year's end.”
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El Niño is caused by above-normal sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. When El Niño forms, it tends to bring above-normal precipitation to the southern U.S. The National Weather Service is predicting a 65 percent chance that El Niño will form but cautions that it might be “a weak event.”
State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said the forecast models are about as favorable as they’ve been for rainfall since the drought began in October 2010, but he cautioned that there are no guarantees.
“It’s better than nothing,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “This is sort of thing that should help water supplies and reservoir levels. You really need above-normal rainfall over a sustained period of time, and that’s what the forecasts are saying.”
Ideally, there would be above-normal rains for both fall and winter, where “you have a situation where one influence takes over from another,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Not everyone is buying into the possibility of breaking or easing the drought. The 223-year-old Old Farmer’s Almanac isn’t predicting above-normal precipitation for Texas and Oklahoma until April and May but warns it will be followed by hot, dry summer.
Lakes still struggling
That’s exactly what has happened this year along the West Fork of the Trinity River, where the drought has been equal to the 1950s.
Lake Bridgeport is nearly 23 feet below full, and Eagle Mountain Lake is nearly 8 feet down. But Eagle Mountain Lake would be far lower if it wasn’t being supplemented by water from East Texas. Without that extra water, Eagle Mountain would probably be another 10 feet down, said David Marshall, engineering services director of the Tarrant Regional Water District, which provides water to almost all of Tarrant County.
“The whole West Fork would be at 27 percent of capacity instead of 50 percent if we didn’t have that Eagle Mountain Lake connection,” Marshall said. “The impacts of the drought would be far worse.”
Overall, the water district’s supply sits at 68 percent with the two East Texas reservoirs — Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek — helping to offset the low levels on the West Fork.
Despite the drought conditions, Lake Bridgeport is still a long a way from a record low.
In February 1957, it was a record 51.9 feet down. By May of that year, it was full.
“That shows how quickly it can change,” Marshall said.
Sporadic rain totals
This summer, some areas have already seen some improvements.
There was the deluge that hit parts of Denton County in July, when as much as 11 inches fell near Valley View and Sanger. And last weekend, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, where official rainfaill totals are measured for the area, saw nearly 3 inches of rain.
The latest drought monitor that was released Thursday shows 80 percent of the state in some form of a drought, a slight improvement from a week ago. But parts of Tarrant County, such as Fort Worth’s Meacham and Alliance airports, are way down this month.
And no rain is in the immediate forecast.
“Denton and Cooke counties got hit with a couple of heavy events, but Tarrant County has really missed out,” Huckaby said. “Even where the rain has been plentiful, the lakes are still low. It's really difficult to get enough summer rainfall to offset usage and evaporation.”