LUBBOCK, Texas — The U.S. Drought Monitor for Texas showed very little relief Thursday despite recent rainfall, including severe storms Sunday. Nearly 80% of Texas was in drought – ranging from abnormally dry to exceptional drought in the latest report. At a statewide level, it was a slight improvement from the week before with fewer areas being in severe and moderate drought.
An estimated 7.75 million Texans were living in the impacted areas.
The most recent report was, however, a noticeable improvement from mid-April 2022 when more than 97% of Texas was gripped by drought. Exceptional drought, the most severe category, dropped from more than 14% of Texas to more than 4% over the course of one year.
The most recent weekly summary from the US Drought Monitor said, “Significant improvements were observed in South Texas, parts of the Hill Country, and the Gulf Coast regions where locally heavy rainfall accumulations (2 to 8+ inches) were logged.”
In the Lubbock area, locally heavy rains fell Sunday, but the heaviest precipitation was not widespread. Images from the region showed hailstones piled up like snow along roads and streets.
Localized totals of more than an inch were reported. Nevertheless, officially at the airport, the total was 0.08 inches.
The drought got worse in parts of the Lone Star State, offsetting gains in the Hill Country.
“Areas of Western Texas and the Panhandle saw continued degradations in response to short and longer-term precipitation shortfalls,” the summary said.
|Texas cities, inches below (or above) normal for rainfall in 2023 as of April 13|
Austin/San Antonio -1.11
Corpus Christi -1.60
Dallas/Fort Worth -1.05
El Paso -0.40
San Angelo -1.93
“We’re coming out of La Nina,” said KLBK Meteorologist Chris Whited. “La Nina is a dry pattern, especially here in West and Northwest Texas. Now we’re in a neutral phase, starting to lean into El Nino.”
That means more rain potential in the late summer, Whited said. But there’s no real hope for drought relief until the second half of the of the growing season.
“It’s going to take sustained prolonged rain events to make any dent in the drought,” Whited said.
Speaking of Central Texas and the Hill Country, Nick Bannin, Meteorologist at KXAN, said, “Rainfall deficits still are running 12-20 inches behind for much of the area.”
“It will take more than just a couple wet days to bring sizable improvement. A pattern change is needed,” Bannin said.
Bannin hoped El Nino could chip away at the drought without significant flooding.
According to the Drought Impact Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, drought and strong wind killed both irrigated and dryland wheat crops in Lamb County this year. In parts of the county, the crop loss was estimated at 80%.
The center said Mineral Wells implemented stage 2 water restrictions, while Fredericksburg had stage 4 restrictions. Hay supplies ran low in the Rolling Plains of Texas including Palo Pinto County, the center said, while grazing for livestock ran short in West Central Texas. Jacob’s Well in Hays County was closed for swimmers because of unsafe conditions.
“The drought in this area has caused the flow from the spring to not be suitable for swimming at this time,” the Hays County website said. But the area remained open for hiking.
Overall, for Texas, the Drought Impact Mitigation Center said the Texas drought was a factor in high beef prices nationwide.
“When dry conditions are prolonged, it can put a strain on all uses,” the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said on its website. TCEQ called upon Texans to make better decisions about water use.
And the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1 said, “Landscape irrigation can account for 50 to 80 percent of the water used in a home during the summer months.”
“Much of this is wasted due to inefficient watering practices,” the district said.
Jason Coleman, the district’s general manager, said in some cases, the water supply affects property values.
Coleman said, “The main hope is for the forecast to get back to an El Nino pattern.”