What can we expect for winter/spring drought conditions?

Garth Redifer - Rough Creek - 12-18-2022
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The unseasonably warm weather we experienced in late December and are currently experiencing in January serves as a reminder that La Niña is still here and drought conditions continue.

Although the rain we received in November and December did not move us completely out of drought conditions, it did maintain our reservoir levels within the Brazos River basin and weaken some drought intensities throughout the basin.

Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said, "Drought conditions have generally been improving across the region. Almost the entire Brazos River basin, except for its upper reaches, saw an improvement by at least one category in the US Drought Monitor."

"November and December had near normal precipitation, which causes everything else to trend toward normal conditions," he added.

Winter in Texas can sometimes last until March. With no significant rain chances in the forecast, the likelihood of a repeat of the freeze of 2021 is slim.

Nielsen-Gammon said, "Right now, we have La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific, which favors an occasional blast of really cold air in Texas during the wintertime. Working the other way is climate change, which is decreasing the odds of extreme cold in Texas."

According to Nielsen-Gammon, La Niña conditions are expected to survive into the spring, making the occasional extreme cold more likely. That was evident when December weather delivered several days of freezing temperatures and below-zero wind chills.

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During a La Niña, warm ocean water and clouds move west toward Indonesia and Australia. Those conditions in the Pacific Ocean produce warmer, drier air for much of Texas.

"During late winter and spring, we expect La Niña to break, making this our third and final winter in a row with La Niña," says Nielsen-Gammon. "The official climate outlook favors dry conditions through March, but hopefully that tendency goes away by April."

The Climate Prediction Center's three-month forecast shows much of the state leaning toward above-normal temperatures and below-normal seasonal precipitation during January, February, and March.

Nielsen-Gammon reminds us, "despite the occasional cold air, overall the winter ought to be warmer than normal."

The Brazos River basin is currently seeing 91 percent drought conditions, with very few areas in extreme drought. The BRA water supply system is approximately 72 percent full, and the system continues to operate as intended. The reservoirs throughout the system captured the needed water during the wetter times to be used during dry times.