2022 Rings in a Dry Spell
Photo submitted by Charles Gonzales and taken by Eric Allen of the Brazos River below Possum Kingdom Lake
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Another year is finally here, ringing in new ambitions and, unfortunately, continued dry conditions. Higher temperatures and a lack of precipitation remain in the forecast for early 2022, causing drought conditions to continue in the state of Texas.
After a rainy summer in 2021, the fall and early winter seasons proved to be drier and hotter than normal. Last month, Texas experienced its warmest December on record since 1889, with temperatures averaging 5 to 9 degrees above normal across the state.
"It's like the entire state moved south for the winter," said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state's climatologist and professor at Texas A & M University in a recent article.
And looking ahead, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center anticipates that the above-normal temperature and below-normal precipitation trend will likely continue through Texas' late winter and spring season.
"The seasonal temperature outlook calls for enhanced chances of above-normal temperatures throughout the Southern Region, with the greatest likelihood of above-normal temperatures extending from west-central Texas to eastern Mississippi," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its December Southern Region Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook. "Western Oklahoma, most of Texas, and coastal areas are all predicted to have enhanced chances of below-normal precipitation during January through March."
With high heat and low precipitation levels, Texas' drought conditions continued and will continue to increase in the drought category this winter.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that as of Jan. 6, about 87% of Texas was experiencing abnormally dry conditions, 67.3% was experiencing moderate drought, 36.6% was experiencing severe drought, and 10.7% was experiencing extreme drought. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook by the Climate Prediction Center shows that these drought conditions will persist for most of the state through the spring.
A major factor in the extended dry conditions is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is still in the La Niña status. The recurrent weather pattern in the central and eastern tropical Pacific often influences whether Texas will enjoy heavy rainfall or prolonged drought conditions. A La Niña forms when waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean are much cooler than normal, which typically results in warmer and drier weather.
The strong La Nina pattern is expected to remain through the current winter season, then is forecasted to transition to ENSO-neutral during the spring.
"With a La Niña winter, the expectation would be that things are likely to get worse before they get better," Nielsen-Gammon said. "The forecasts are pretty consistent about an end to this La Niña around March through June. By then, the effects of La Niña on our temperatures and rainfall tend to die away anyway."
Despite the current drought conditions, the water supply reservoirs across the state remain relatively stable. As seen in the Reservoir Status graphic from the National Weather Service West Gulf River Forecast Center, the reservoir levels in Central and Eastern Texas are mostly full, while levels are low in the western part of the state.
Regardless of the continuation of the heat and low precipitation levels, the Brazos River Authority's water supply system remains in relatively good shape heading into 2022. As of Jan. 5, the BRA system is 94% full. However, flow conditions for the Brazos River have remained at or below normal historical conditions.
With the return of dry conditions, the BRA publishes two-month reservoir projections that are updated at the beginning of each month and will continue until drought conditions decrease.
The BRA's monthly reservoir projections illustrate reservoir capacity and drawdown potential. The first chart depicts a "worst-case scenario" with lake levels under extremely dry conditions with minimum inflows and high evaporation levels. The second chart projects lake levels under average conditions. You can view the most recent charts here, along with the weekly drought monitor for the Brazos River basin.
"There aren't a lot of water supply issues at present, so a couple of months with significantly above-normal rainfall would do the trick [to alleviate drought conditions]," Nielsen-Gammon said. "It would be nice if they were January and February, to set the stage for a good planting season. If conditions stay dry through March, crops could have a difficult time getting established."
Besides drought conditions, another major weather condition remains at the forefront of most Texan's minds. Last year's major winter event that impacted the entire state is not likely to reoccur again this winter—but it's not impossible.
"The chances of extreme cold are somewhat enhanced in winters with weak to moderate La Niña's, such as this year, despite the tendency for average temperatures during La Niña's to be above normal," NOAA said in its December Outlook.
Another effect of warmer temperatures in the winter is a possible increase in tornadic activity.
"It's difficult to get tornadoes without abnormally warm weather," Nielsen-Gammon said. "Warm, muggy air is one of the ingredients necessary for tornadic thunderstorms. You also need changes in wind speed and direction with altitude, which tends to happen when you're near the northern or western edge of the warm, muggy air."
As always, it's still important to stay prepared for potentially severe weather during all seasons. A general guideline to follow for any type of extreme weather preparation is to make an emergency plan with your family, build a disaster kit and connect with emergency notification systems. You can learn more about wireless emergency alerts here.
To keep up to date with real-time data on rainfall, streamflow, and reservoir elevations within the Brazos River basin, click here.