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Rain drenches parts of the state, but is it enough to offset drought?

Rain drenches parts of the state, but is it enough to offset drought?

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It’s been a wild winter for weather so far in Texas. In addition to significant temperature swings sometimes occurring from one day to another, portions of the Brazos River basin have experienced another swing, going from drought conditions to flood conditions in the span of a few days.

Despite days of sporadic and sometimes heavy rainfall in various locations, parts of the Brazos River basin, along with much of the rest of Texas, has settled into lingering drought conditions.

The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that while recent heavy rains have slowed the nine consecutive weeks of expanding drought in the state, 77 percent of Texas is still experiencing conditions that are at least abnormally dry. Before the most recent round of precipitation swept through parts of Texas, the drought monitor reflected 97 percent of the Brazos River basin was experiencing conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought.

After the rainfall, Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury were both substantially full. Lake Limestone, which received less rainfall, had risen to 80 percent full. However, despite rainfall in Central Texas, Lake Georgetown’s level decreased, holding at 69 percent capacity.

The state’s worst drought conditions were in the Panhandle and upper western portions of the state, including far western parts of the Brazos basin. As March began, the total Brazos River Authority System water supply level was 93 percent full heading into spring.

“There has been a noticeable drought improvement for numerous regions throughout the state over the last week,” said Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon at the beginning of March. “Relatively significant amounts of rainfall were observed in North and East Texas regions leading to a decrease in drought conditions.”

Nielsen-Gammon noted that a large part of East Texas was drought-free thanks to the rain. Conditions also improved in Central Texas, but parts of Bell, McLennan, Coryell and Falls counties were still experiencing severe drought, he said.

Conditions in Texas have changed dramatically in the past year. In late February 2017, more than 90 percent of the state was considered to be free of drought.  The latest drought monitor, released March 1, indicates that the portion of the basin experiencing drought fell slightly, from 97 percent a week earlier to 92 percent.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office’s most recent Crop and Weather Report notes that while recent rains have improved spring planting conditions, drought is still predominant throughout the state.

“Most of the West Texas region didn’t receive any substantial rain and continues to endure extreme drought conditions according to the U.S/ Drought Monitor,” said Gaylon Morgan, a Texas A&M University professor and agronomist. “Luckily, we have until June for rain in those areas to accumulate precipitation, but the lack of moisture is worrying many (farmers).”

What’s the forecast look like through spring?

Although there will be sporadic rainfall, overall dry conditions are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

“Near to above normal temperatures and near to below normal precipitation can be expected (in early March),” according to a projection by the National Weather Service.

“For the 90-day March through May period, above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation amounts are forecast. This is due in part to the ongoing La Nina weather pattern which has been in progress this winter,” the weather service indicates. Those conditions are expected to linger through the spring months.

It's definitely not as dry as the conditions Texans faced from 2011 through early 2015, but a marked change from the abundant moisture much of the state experienced for the past two years.

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