Don't expect this week's rain to wash away watering restrictions.
The rain helped water-starved lawns and gave the local water district the equivalent of a month's supply of water, but the drought is far from over.
It would take roughly 6.5 inches of rain across the 4,000-square-mile Trinity River basin to lift the twice-a-week water restrictions, said David Marshall, engineering services director for the Tarrant Regional Water District, which provides 98 percent of Tarrant County's raw water.
While some areas northwest of Fort Worth near Lake Bridgeport have come close to that amount, it's a far different story southeast of the Metroplex. There, Richland-Chambers Reservoir and Cedar Creek Lake, which provide the Tarrant district about 80 percent of its water, haven't gotten any runoff, Marshall said.
And while the rains have also cut average daily water usage from 400 million gallons Friday to about 300 million gallons Wednesday, Marshall warned residents not to think that they can just let the water flow.
"Even though it has rained, we are still in a drought," Marshall said. "With these rains, no one needs to be overwatering."
Lakes still down
Despite the uptick in rainfall, most lakes remain significantly below normal. Benbrook Lake is more than 16 feet below conservation level, Lake Arlington is nearly 8 feet below normal and Eagle Mountain Lake is nearly 6 feet below normal.
"I think in large part these rains have led to a change in direction from decreasing lake levels to increasing lake levels in North Central Texas," state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said. "But most of the water went directly into the soil, and it won't take too long for those flows to start going down again."
The recent rains helped an area stretching from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Angelo, but they don't indicate a shift to a wetter weather pattern. It is expected to be dry for the next six to seven days, until a front moves in by the middle of next week. But forecasters say it is too early to tell whether that weather system will bring rain.
Long-range forecasts predict another dry winter, but it is not expected to be as severe as last winter.
The state climatologist has floated the idea that we could be in a multiyear drought similar to the one Texas had in the 1950s. Some parts of Texas have already reached that level.
"It's definitely a possibility," Nielson-Gammon said. "But it's not anything beyond speculation at this point."
A milder winter
One hopeful note for North Texas is La Niña, which typically causes drier winters in Texas, often has a bigger impact on the southern half of Texas than on North Texas.
The Climate Prediction Center's three-month outlook shows below-normal precipitation for North Texas, but odds are that La Niña conditions will be less severe this winter than last. Some other long-range forecasters predict closer to normal precipitation for North Texas.
"Compared to last winter, anything will probably look better," Nielsen-Gammon said.
For an optimistic note, Nielsen-Gammon said, travel to southern Palo Pinto County. While the northern part of that county was ravaged by wildfires this year, a small sliver of the county six miles northwest of Santo is essentially out of drought conditions, he said. Many areas southwest of Fort Worth had at least 5 inches of rain last weekend.
"You'll find a green pasture that definitely doesn't look like it's in a drought," said Nielsen-Gammon, who visited the area Tuesday. "It's essentially back to normal conditions. But you don't have to drive far to get back into the drought. It's really just a small pocket."
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698