Little drought relief expected in Crossroads anytime soon

Feb. 2, 2012 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.

Chances for any significant drought relief in the Crossroads during the next few months are not promising, according to the National Weather Service.

Victoria is about 35 inches below normal rainfall since October 2010. From October 2011 through Jan. 26, Victoria received only 5.55 inches of rain.

Not only does the rain forecast for the remainder of the winter look bleak in the Crossroads, the early part of spring also has a below-normal rainfall expectation, according to the National Weather Service.

Elsewhere across the state, rain is leaving a deeper footprint in the mud.

The rain that started trickling into Texas in the fall may finally be making a dent in Dallas, but like the Crossroads, the rest of the state is still a long way off from being out of a historic drought.

"It's still a very tenuous situation," said National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy. "Water concerns are a high priority. If we have a dry spring and a hot summer it will be a very perilous situation."

The good news comes from the U.S. Drought Monitor map, a weekly analysis of dryness in the country. It indicated Thursday that the Dallas-Fort Worth region and a swath of North Texas stretching to the state's border with Oklahoma and Arkansas are officially out of drought for the first time since July.

As a result, about 6.4 million people in the nation's fourth most-populous urban area will enjoy fuller lakes and greener trees.

But this makes up less than 5 percent of Texas, and the downside is that the same data shows that parts of the state still in severe or exceptional drought have actually increased in the past week by 2 percent to 27.36 percent. In addition, almost 60 percent of the state is in some form of severe drought.

"Texas is so big you can't talk about the whole state in generalized terms," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center who helps draft the map. "As you go into summer again, some of these areas are still very prone because of the damage that's been done."

The Drought Monitor is a map that is compiled by the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center in cooperation with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other agencies. Meteorologists and climate experts look at everything from rainfall to soil saturation to create the map, and sometimes look at information dating months and years, Fuchs said.

The trend in Dallas is encouraging, he said, but he noted North Texas was the last area of the state to fall into drought, so recovery was easier.

"Does it help? Yes, it does. But does it mean conditions are where they were pre-drought? No," Fuchs said.

The drought in Texas, parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana began about a year ago, and some areas have been getting less than half the normal amount of rainfall.

For Texas, the situation has been especially dire because of its size. The state makes up nearly 7 percent of the land mass of the Lower 48, and the drought's severity has impacted everything from cattle numbers to bird migration and the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Ranchers have culled their herds, likely driving up future beef prices, while a devastated hay crop in the south has caused hay prices to spike.

The drought's impact will be felt for years, Fuchs said. In Texas, for example, ranchers reduced their herd size by an average of 38 percent - or between 600,000 to 800,000 head of cattle - causing a 12 percent to 16 percent drop in the nation's supply. It will take several years of calving, restocking and importing cattle to get the numbers back up.

Nebraska, meanwhile, had a good hay crop this year. Farmers there are trucking their hay south to sell for a high price, leaving some of the state's own ranchers high and dry, Fuchs said.



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