Houston area reaches critical level of drought

April 7, 2011 1:46:04 PM PDT
A severe drought plaguing a big portion of the state of Texas has now reached a critical stage, a Texas A&M atmospheric scientist said.

Almost all of the state, including southeast Texas, is designated as being in drought conditions on the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday.

But ABC13 Meteorologist Travis Herzog said according to the drought report, the intensity of the drought over the northern third of the ABC13 viewing area has hit the highest threshold.

We're now in an "exceptional drought," a category reserved for the most severe of droughts, with rainfall deficits or drought impacts that are present only 2 percent of the time at any given location, according to the drought map and Texas A&M atmospheric scientist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Nielsen-Gammon said the dry weather over the past six months is to blame for the drought that has spread quickly across the state.

"The Houston-Galveston National Weather Service office has noted that it's the driest October through March period here on record," Nielsen-Gammon said in a statement issued by Texas A&M. "Some of the nearby counties, such as Burleson and the city of Somerville, have had only about five inches of rain since October. Huntsville in Walker County has had only eight inches and is also far behind."

If many areas of the state do not get rain soon, Nielsen-Gammon says the risk of grassfires will increase, and many farmers and ranchers will continue to suffer.

"In many parts of the state, the planting season has been delayed because there is not enough moisture in the soil for the seeds to germinate," he notes. "If the (drought) trend continues, some growers may have to write off this entire planting season."

The Texas A&M professor says fronts that normally bring rainfall this time of year have not done so, while at the same time, much of the southwest has reported above-normal temperatures. Worse news: the outlook for the next 30 to 60 days is not very rosy.

"We're expecting below normal precipitation for at least the next couple of months," he says.

There has been a high pressure ridge over much of the south central U.S. that has pushed the jet stream farther north, so we are not getting much rain in Texas.

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