Fort Worth

A wet winter forecast raises concern about already high DFW lake levels

The Vineyards Campground and Cabins are closed due to high water at Lake Grapevine.
The Vineyards Campground and Cabins are closed due to high water at Lake Grapevine. Star-Telegram

The Vineyard Campground and Cabins had been open for a mere four days when rising waters forced guests to start checking out.

The scenic campground on Lake Grapevine had just reopened after being shut down in May because of flooding, but the recent record-setting rainfall forced the park to close again. Now, a week later, all the park’s cabins have again been moved to higher ground, sitting empty in a parking lot.

“Is this as bad as it gets or is this just the tip of the iceberg?” asked Chris Smith, deputy director of Grapevine Parks and Recreation, which oversees several lakeside parks that are completely or partially closed.

As Grapevine officials wait for the water to recede, no reservations are being taken through the end of January. And with forecasters predicting a wetter-than-normal winter, questions persist about how much rain the region can handle.

With about four weeks to go, 2015 is already the wettest year on record at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, with 58.78 inches of rain.

In Gainesville, near the Red River, it has been even wetter. The Cooke County seat has had 79.84 inches of rainfall, breaking the all-time North Texas record of 75.65, set in Paris in 1957. Corsicana, southeast of Dallas, has received 70.23 inches this year.

Those are both less than rainfall at several other Texas sites, including Baytown, where it has rained a whopping 98.33 inches this year, and the National Weather Service office in League City, outside of Houston, where rainfall totals 84.2 inches.

Still, the North Texas numbers are stunning, especially considering that the region was in an exceptional drought — the worst category — a year ago.

Lakes are full to the brim

Every major North Texas lake is full or just a hair below its conservation level.

Many Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs across North Texas, like Lake Grapevine, are designed to prevent flooding downstream.

At Grapevine, Joe Pool Lake and Lake Benbrook, all corps reservoirs that touch Tarrant County, high levels are once again a way of life. Grapevine is 15.72 feet above capacity, Benbrook is 12.52 feet high and Joe Pool 9.08.

Other lakes, such as Eagle Mountain and Lake Worth, which aren’t used for flood control, should be back to normal within days.

In Grand Prairie, city officials reopened the popular drive-through Christmas attraction Prairie Lights on Thursday after building a temporary road through Lynn Creek Park, where some portions were flooded by the rising Joe Pool Lake. About 75 percent of the exhibits are currently available on the tour.

If the rains hold off, Grand Prairie officials hope to have all of Prairie Lights open in about two weeks, said Duane Strawn, the city’s manager of parks and lake parks.

But Strawn, like his counterparts in Grapevine, worries about what winter will bring.

“We talk about that a lot,” Strawn said. “Until this year, we haven’t had flooding like this in forever and now we’ve had it just months apart. If we all had a crystal ball, we could know what to expect this winter.”

‘A real delicate balance’

With the strongest El Niño on record, which tends to bring wet weather to the Southern U.S., there is a reason for concern.

For the next week, forecasters are saying Dallas-Fort Worth should see dry weather with mild temperatures, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Huckaby.

“It probably won’t last for long,” Huckaby said. “We should be wet again later this month.”

Without any more significant rainfall, it will probably take the rest of the month to release the water being held on area corps lakes, said Clay Church, a spokesman for the corps’ Fort Worth District.

“We hold those waters so we don’t cause more flooding downstream,” Church said, who added that the corps also wants to be ready for the next flood. Releases at those three corps lakes — Grapevine, Benbrook and Joe Pool —could start as early as next week.

“We want to regain our capacity to get ready for that next rain event,” Church said. “It’s a real delicate balance.”

All of the Climate Prediction Center’s long-range outlooks continue to show a wetter-than-normal winter.

The concern would be if the DFW area had a repeat of December 1991, when 8.75 inches fell at DFW Airport. That was a record for the month and it caused flooding problems during a strong El Niño winter.

“Certainly the problem we had in the winter of ’91-’92 was the rain kept coming and we never dried out,” Huckaby said. “Even 2 to 3 inches of rain in the wrong spot could cause problems. We don’t have the capacity for that. The lake levels are going to be very, very slow to fall this winter.”

Concerned about the spring

The latest drought monitor shows less than 4 percent of the state in drought, down from 65 percent a year ago.

Statewide, water supply reservoirs are 85 percent full, according to the Texas Water Development Board, up from 63 percent a year ago.

David Marshall, the Tarrant Regional Water District’s director of engineering and operations support, said that if the rainfall remains light like a typical winter, flooding won’t be a problem.

“If it it comes in at a steady trickle, we’ll probably be fine,” he said. “If it comes down in a deluge, like over the Thanksgiving weekend, we’ll probably see more flooding like last spring.”

Marshall is more concerned about what happens next spring. If North Texas has heavy rains again, there will be nowhere for the water to go.

“There will be a higher risk this spring since the soil will probably be wet and all of the stock tanks will be full,” he said.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

Thanksgiving floods

85,000 acre-feet: The amount of water Eagle Mountain received last week, which is about half the lake’s volume.

25,300 cubic feet per second. The flow last week at the West Fork of the Trinity River at the Beach Street gauge, the highest since 1998.

Source: Tarrant Regional Water District