While the Western drought has its claws firmly dug in, the nearly five-year drought that has gripped Oklahoma and Texas is on its last legs, thanks to recent torrents of rain, government climate scientists said Thursday. “I think the Texas drought is pretty much all but over,” Victor Murphy, climate services program manager for the National WeatherMore
Texas and other parts of the South have been dealing with a severe case of drought whiplash this year. Record rains in May obliterated the exceptional drought that gripped the region for three years only to be followed by a dry spell that saw drought reappear this summer.
Now the region is about to be caught between a storm and wet place as two weather systems converge to provide heavy rains through the end of the week. While the rain won’t completely alleviate the drought like May’s deluge, it should turn some parts of the map from brown to green.
Stormy weather is ahead, starting on Wednesday when two ingredients will get stirred up over the region. The first is a tropical depression spinning in the Gulf of Mexico that will send moisture streaming into the region. The other is a low pressure system currently working across the Southwest.
Together, they’ll meet over Texas and could dump up to 6.8 inches of rain in parts of the state. There will also be a widespread area that will see 2-4 inches of rain from Oklahoma to Louisiana.
The rain could help with drought, but runoff from parched soil could also trigger flash floods. The National Weather Service has already issued flash flood watches across West Texas and eastern New Mexico due to the system in the Southwest and it’s possible those watches could expand to other areas in the coming days. Coastal flood advisories are also in place for parts of the Gulf Coast.
Heavy downpours are on the rise not just in the South, but across the U.S. The drought back and forth in the South has been a big story for the region this year, but the story starts back in the summer of 2012, when a flash drought enveloped not just Texas but three-quarters of the U.S.
Drought receded in areas outside the Southern Plains, but remained obstinate in the region until early May. That’s when a major storm system stalled out over the region and dumped up to a foot of rain across the region, obliterating the drought.
More rain came throughout May and by the end of the month, all told, 3 trillion gallons of water filled reservoirs in Texas. After Tropical Storm Bill soaked the region again in mid-June, the drought was “all but over,” save a few dry areas in central Texas and parts of Oklahoma.
Yet the relief was short-lived. A dry summer has seen drought quickly come back and nearly half of Texas is experiencing some form of drought. Next door, 87 percent of Louisiana is experiencing drought including a chunk in exceptional drought, the worst category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, while Arkansas and Mississippi are also suffering.
It’s unlikely that the round of rain this week will completely reverse the region’s drought fortunes, but could provide a little relief. And even more relief could be on tap this winter. El Niño helps tip the odds toward wetter winter weather in the region so the seesaw could continue to tip away from drought.
And beyond winter, the impact of climate change could mean that this pattern of drought punctuated by heavy rains is a big part of Texas’ future.