New information shows that at least nine Texas counties are experiencing their worst drought in history, and much of the state is facing the worst drought conditions in the United States, according to information compiled by Texas A&M University researchers. Contributing to the problem is the heat – Texas is having one of its hottest summers ever.
John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences who also serves as the Texas State Climatologist, notes that areas in South Central Texas are experiencing their driest period ever. These include the counties of Bastrop, Caldwell and Lee in Central Texas and Victoria, Bee, San Patricio, Live Oak, Jim Wells and Duval in South Central Texas.
“These core drought areas are experiencing their most severe drought on record, at least since 1895 when modern record-keeping began,” Nielsen-Gammon says. “About 26 percent of the state is in ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Smithville in Bastrop County has received only 35 percent of its normal rainfall for the past 15 months and Victoria only 34 percent. It’s the second most intense drought ever for San Antonio and the third most intense for Corpus Christi.”
He notes that the previous major drought years in Central and Southern Texas were in 1917, 1918, 1925, 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1971.
“All droughts are different, and it’s difficult to compare them,” he notes. “The year 1956 marked the last of several years of drought, so it brought severe water shortages. The current drought is only two years old, but it has already broken many records.”
While Central and South Central Texas are baking, parts of the state have enjoyed unusually high amounts of rain, he adds.
“Despite the major drought, about 50 percent of Texas is not suffering from a drought at all,” he explains.
“These areas include much of West Texas and Northeast Texas, where there has been plenty of rain this year, and in some places, more than enough.”
As for the drought, he notes that several factors have combined to make this one of Texas’ hottest summers. They include a La Nina, where colder-than-normal waters in the Pacific affect rainfall amounts over much of the Southwestern United States; tropical weather systems that have missed Texas; and an absence of frontal precipitation this spring from cold fronts that normally bring abundant rainfall.
“Dry soils warm up faster, and a stationary upper-level ridge has compounded the problem,” he explains.
“We’ve seen August-like heat for almost the entire summer, and that doesn’t happen often. July was the second warmest on record for much of Texas. We’ve already seen large areas of crop failures and extremely low amounts of feed for cattle, forcing many ranchers to sell off parts of their herds. For livestock owners, this has been a terrible year.”
There is one glimmer of hope, he says.
“A fairly strong El Nino (warmer waters than usual) is developing in the Pacific and this could bring us some much-needed rainfall by this winter,” he says. “But until then, it’s up to the tropics and whatever tropical disturbances come our way.”