Drought conditions returning to Texas amid dry winter spell

Jan 25, 2018
  • By Connor Brown
  • American-Statesman Staff
American-Statesman Staff
The Barton Creek Greenbelt is dry under the MoPac south bridge earlier this month.

No, it’s not your imagination. It’s dry out there. In fact, Texas is experiencing the most severe drought the state has seen since October 2015.

Nearly half the state is in some level of drought, with an additional 35 percent experiencing abnormally dry conditions. By contrast, less than 2 percent of the state was in drought three months ago, and about 3 percent of the state had drought conditions a year ago.

While most of the Austin area is considered abnormally dry, parts of the Texas Hill Country have entered the first stage of moderate drought. It could have been worse in Austin if not for the area receiving twice the average amount of rainfall in December.

According to KXAN chief meteorologist Jim Spencer, levels in lakes Buchanan and Travis are above normal averages for January, with Lake Buchanan water levels five feet above average and Lake Travis a 1½ feet above average. Even so, the lake levels are lower now than they were in 2015, he said.

Texas in drought Photo: American-Statesman Staff

Mark Lenz, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, said this pattern is typical for this time of year during a La Niña cycle. A typical La Niña winter usually brings drier than normal conditions to the southern half of the country, inhibiting winter storms from bringing rain and snow to the region. The La Niña cycle started in November 2017 and is expected to fade out through the spring.

Conditions this time last year were the exact opposite, with January 2017 being wetter than a normal winter.

While weather forecasts predict some chance of rain over the weekend, it will be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

“It’s not likely it will be enough to make a difference,” Lenz said.

As varying degrees of drought plague more than half the state, 97 counties are under burn ban notices, including Travis and surrounding counties.

According to a report from the United States Drought Monitor, some areas in the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma haven’t received any precipitation for the last three months. In Amarillo, the last day of measurable precipitation was Oct. 13.

Drought conditions are expected to continue into the summer, as the period from February through June is predicted to produce below normal precipitation compared with previous years.

While the dry conditions put officials on alert for wildfire threats, the lack of humidity is good news to Hill Country wineries.

“This drought is actually helpful, because the lack of humidity doesn’t allow for spores and fungi to attack newly pruned vines,” said Tim Drake, a winemaker from Flat Creek Estate in Marble Falls.