Drought levels increasing daily. What’s next?
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As the month of June blurred into July, wildfires hit the state of Texas with a frequency mirroring the intensity of the drought. The most notable wildfire affecting the Brazos basin was the Dempsey Fire, 6 miles west of Mineral Wells. The wildfire ignited on June 23rd. Texas A&M Forest Service reported that it crossed the Brazos River in several places, burning nearly 11,600 acres.
According to Angel Lopez Portillo, public information officer for Texas A&M Forest Service, low humidity and high winds caused challenges for firefighters. The high heat could easily spark more potential fires.
"Because we are experiencing this dryness, if you are conducting any kind of activities that cause a spark, to have some kind of fire extinguisher or water container or something to put that out. And even have a spotter or someone who is watching what you're doing to make sure they're on fire watch," said Lopez Portillo.
Texas experienced an unusually hot month of May, with average temps about 5 degrees higher than normal. For much of the basin, May was one of the hottest on record. Data from the National Center for Environmental Information shows all the Hill Country, all of Central Texas, plus the middle and upper Texas coast also recorded their hottest month of May on record. The National Weather Service noted that the Houston area experienced its second hottest month of May since 1996.
High pressure hung over most of the state for the month of June, bringing triple-digit temperatures throughout a good amount of the Brazos River basin. With the month normally being one of the rainiest for the Brazos basin, most saw little to no rainfall.
"Rainfall has been well below normal over the past 30 days in the Brazos River basin, with only a small area between Lubbock and Abilene and the Navasota tributary seeing any decent rainfall amounts," according to the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Drought conditions are expected to persist throughout the basin, with additional development expected in the lower basin. NOAA’s long-range prediction through September expects rainfall in the northern portion of the basin to lean from 33 – 40 percent below normal, with an equal probability of normal precipitation for the remainder of the basin.
The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country. By the end of June, 19.6 million people in Texas were affected by drought, with 227 of the state's 254 counties under a USDA disaster designation.
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Overall, 2022 has been the 8th driest year to date over the past 128 years. According to Texas + Water, 29% of the state is in the exceptional drought category. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) reported that 81% of Texas was under drought conditions. The organization adds that at this time last year, Texas had only 13% of the state experiencing drought conditions. Some are comparing the 2022 drought to the drought of 2011 when over 70% of the state experienced an exceptional drought in late June.
When drought conditions are in place, burn bans usually follow. This time last year, there were only 36 counties under a burn ban. Currently, 176 counties have issued bans. As of early July, all reservoirs under the BRA are under Stage 1 Drought, meaning cities, industry, agriculture and mining interests that obtain their water from the BRA are asked to operate at a 5% reduction of water use that would have occurred at this time of year.
According to the State Climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, "temperatures in the tropical Pacific are warming, and there's a good chance we'll temporarily pop out of La Niña conditions later this summer. The forecast for fall and winter is for a marginal La Niña, which would make it the third winter in a row with La Niña."
According to Nielsen-Gammon, since October, this year ranks about tenth driest statewide, while 2011 was the driest overall.
"I think everyone is expecting above-normal temperatures to continue through the summer. We'd need to get a few out-of-season cold fronts, or several big drenching rainstorms, to avoid a hot summer," said Nielsen-Gammon.
With the current weather conditions, water conservation has become extremely important. Here are some methods for conserving water:
- Replace your old showerhead with a low-flow model
- Take shorter showers, and don't run the water when brushing your teeth
- Don't pre-rinse your dishes before placing them in the dishwasher
- Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and only full loads of laundry
- Don't overwater your lawns
- Let your grass grow longer to help with evaporation
- Only water the lawn on days designated by your county and water when it's cooler outside
With the expected active hurricane season and continued drought conditions, there are basic principles of hurricane and wildfire preparations that apply and can be implemented today.
- Create an evacuation plan for family members, including pets and livestock
- Look for and clear up dead/dry vegetative materials around your property
- Know your hurricane risk
- Make an emergency plan with your family—what's your evacuation route, where are you going to shelter, etc.
- Build a disaster kit
- Get connected with emergency notification systems
To see the National Weather Service's drought information page for Texas, click here.