Texas Drought Heading in a Better Direction?

Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

          We’ve all heard this story by now: Texas is seeing its worst drought in history, and any improvements have been slow, if not almost to a halt at times. Today, the latest U.S. Drought Monitor was issued, showing some good news as much of Northeast Texas is reporting near normal to only moderately dry conditions.  Additionally, there is another glimpse of hope as NOAA recently released that La Nina, the principle offender that started this mess, is weakening and expected to be nearly gone by late spring! This means that the abnormally warm, dry conditions “should” subside, but it will take several rounds of heavy rainfall to return some areas to near normal. East Texas has seen some improvements as of late, particularly since December 1, 2011. As of February 15th, locations in East Texas have seen as much as 14″ of rainfall, helping to contribute to an 8″ or more surplus of rainfall for that period. This is great news, but there is a catch. Some of these areas finished the 2010-2011 season as much as 45-50″ BELOW NORMAL, leaving those folks with a very small window of improvement these past few months. Below are some locations in East Texas that saw above average rainfall since December 1, 2011.

          With La Nina on a downward trend, that is good news for drought sufferers, but the damage is already done as over 5 million trees are thought to have been lost across the state, according to earlier estimations from the Texas Forest Service. In August 2011, the cost of the disaster was estimated at nearly $5.2 billion, putting it in the record long list of U.S. disasters for 2011, and as those dry conditions continued, that cost has likely risen. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article stating that the Texas drought has made an impact on the cotton industry, with no surprise really. They reported that U.S. farmers are expected to plant 13.6 million acres of cotton in spring 2012, but that statistic is down 7.5% from 2011 as poor weather is threatening production. With this reduced amount of planted acreage, cotton prices are expected to rise. When the National Cotton Council met recently in Fort Worth, TX, the Council’s Vice President Gary Adams said that actual production could fall below 16 million bales if the extremely dry conditions continue, and the U.S. crop could end up 2 million bales lower than expectations seen earlier in the season.

          Over the next 3 months, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, which is not the news many are  hoping for right now. However, it will take some time for the upper-level pattern to return closer to normal, if La Nina does weaken as soon as anticipated, but in any case, I don’t think Texans or anyone across the Southwestern U.S. will be turning down any opportunities for rain in the near future.

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