Texas Panhandle snow relieves drought, no end yet

March 3, 2013 12:29:24 PM PST
A historic blizzard that dumped 19 inches of snow on parts of the Texas Panhandle has helped relieve drought conditions that have persisted for two years, but the improvements will only be short term unless the region gets a wet spring, meteorologists and climate experts said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday shows the entire Panhandle remains dry, with some areas still in extreme or exceptional drought. The map, released weekly by the National Drought Mitigation Center, shows that except for a small part of West Texas and an area of East Texas, the state remains either abnormally dry or in drought.

The dry conditions peaked in 2011 when rain nearly disappeared and temperatures hovered above 100 degrees for months on end. These conditions dried out pastures, depleted reservoirs, forced ranchers to sell their herds, sent hay prices soaring and caused a Texas water agency to cut off water to rice farmers for a second consecutive year.

The blizzard that hit Amarillo and other parts of the Panhandle last Monday helped bring the city's snowfall levels to an above average 29.6 inches. Last year it received 9.2 inches of snow, below the 11.2 inch average.

"The snow will help the drought some, but it's been ongoing for a whole, so it's going to take a lot of liquid to alleviate the drought, but we did see improvement in our drought status," weather service meteorologist Christine Krause told the Amarillo Globe News (http://bit.ly/YXKdl9 ).

"We had good moisture, so it's certainly going to help. But we've had two hot, dry years, so it takes quite a lot of moisture to alleviate that," she added.

Brandon Boughen, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Potter County, called the snow "a nice reprieve."

"Most of the time, if you talk to farmers, they say the best thing to happen would be a little bit of moisture at the right time, and I think it might be the right time for people," Boughen said.

State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said the snow will help with spring and summer forage, but the improvements will only be short-term unless there is a wet spring.

"Hopefully, we'll get enough moisture in the ground to get rivers active again. We have a long way to go with reservoir levels," he said.

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