Where is the drought now?


It's said that droughts can sometimes be as diverse as the state of Texas itself. Based on our current drought conditions, that statement couldn't be more true. The last time the Brazos River Basin was 100 percent drought-free was July 29, 2021. Since the current drought began in September 2020, the Brazos River Basin has been under some level of drought severity for all but three weeks in July of 2021, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Since then, drought conditions throughout the basin have fluctuated; however, they have remained consistently dry in the central basin and the Little River watershed, where reservoir levels are the lowest. The reservoirs in that area have seen little to no rainfall and very little improvement in lake levels.

The past year, Texas has gone through a La Niña pattern (typically dry weather), an ENSO-neutral pattern (mixed rain conditions), and an El Niño weather pattern (generally wetter conditions), as well as delivering one of the hottest years on record. Not only was it hot in Texas, but it was also hot around the world.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for nearly half the year, June to December 2023, for 173 days, the world was 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. NOAA defines pre-industrial as the range of decades between 1850 and 1900.

We have been in an El Niño pattern since June of 2023. NOAA predicts this pattern will continue and should decline as we enter the spring months, sometime between April and June. From there, there is a 60 percent chance of transitioning to ENSO-neutral. However, this winter season will be the first winter in El Niño since the 2018-19 season, according to AccuWeather.

Rainbows over the Brazos near Freeport, submitted by Debbie Craddock
Photo submitted by Debbie Craddock,
Brazos River near Freeport

According to John Nielsen-Gammon, director of the Southern Regional Climate Center at Texas A&M University and the Texas State Climatologist. "There is no guarantee that El Niño will bring 100% drought recovery, but we can bet on an improvement in drought conditions."

El Niño is caused by trade winds weakening over the tropical Pacific Ocean, which leads to warm ocean waters. During El Niño, the jet stream typically extends eastward and shifts southward. This jet stream serves as a river of air, carrying more moisture along the southern portion of the United States during an event such as El Niño, according to the NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

In late December, Governor Abbott renewed the Drought Disaster Declaration that originated in July of 2022. In the declaration, there are multiple counties listed throughout the Brazos River Basin. Some counties have maintained their position on the list, and new counties have been added to the list.

Current Conditions

With significant rainfall events, drought conditions have improved in some areas of the Brazos River Basin.

Currently, the percentage of the Brazos River Basin experiencing some form of drought severity is 43 percent. The category of Abnormally Dry is the largest at 27 percent, followed by Moderate at 14 percent, then Severe and Extreme at only 1 percent.

Over the Christmas holiday, a large portion of the basin received 2 to 3 inches of rain with isolated pockets of around 5 inches just below Lake Granbury and in the Little River basin downstream of Lake Stillhouse Hollow.

While the system as a whole is in stage 1 drought conditions, the upper portions of the Brazos River Basin are faring much better than the remainder of the basin. Some areas show little to no drought conditions, with lakes that are full or almost full. Lake Granbury reached its operational full range of 692.5 to 692.7 feet above mean sea level (ft-msl), prompting gate operations to be initiated to maintain the lake at a safe operational level.

January rain has continued in areas of the upper and lower basins, missing much of the central basin. That rainfall continues to improve soil saturation conditions which will increase runoff produced by any future rainfall events.

Dr. Peyton Lisenby, BRA Senior Water Resources Planner, reminds us that "droughts are naturally occurring, and they occur very frequently. They've occurred numerous times in the past and are expected to occur numerous times in the future."


"Despite all the negative impacts that droughts have on natural and human environments, one positive thing is that droughts can help us confront how much water we use," explains Lisenby.

"Droughts can be used to create good water conservation habits so water that isn't unnecessarily used during wet times can go on to recharge an aquifer or promote ecological productivity downstream or maintain a reservoir level so that when the next drought occurs, that system will be in a better position to endure it better than if that water had been unnecessarily consumed during the wet times."

Future Outlook

According to NOAA, El Niño is expected to continue through the spring months with the chance of transitioning to ENSO-neutral. Additional rainfall events near and upstream of reservoirs with lower levels will need to occur to increase lake levels. Soaked soil along with dormant vegetation brings increased runoff, which leads to increased streamflow in rivers and tributaries, ending with increased lake levels.

BrazosBasinNOW has detailed information on streamflow activity, reservoir elevations, and rainfall totals in your area. NOAA maintains a Texas drought site to show current drought maps. You can use the interactive map to see the drought monitor, precipitation, and temperature of each county. It also provides streamflow, agricultural, and public health information.

The bottom line is that droughts remind us that continued water conservation is vital to the entire basin, not just select areas. Droughts are normal and water conservation should be normal, too.