There’s an old saying “if you don’t like the weather in Texas, just hang around, it’ll change soon!” Well, not lately! When it comes to the weather in the United States, it seems that 2011 has brought “feast or famine.” Some places have experienced horrific tornadoes; others have had everything destroyed by flooding; still others have lost their homes to wildfires. It’s a shame that some of the rain that caused rivers to swell and flood could not have been re-routed to areas that are so extremely dry. Sure wish someone could figure out how to do that!
Texas A&M Professor, Don Conlee, Instructional associate professor of atmospheric sciences, who along with a graduate student, also assists State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon with recordkeeping, confirms that the period from February through June was by far the driest on record with a statewide average of 4.26 inches of rain. The next driest period occurred in 1917, with 6.45 inches. The months-long Texas drought is sapping the record books bone dry. It is also showing dire statistics that have never been reached since reliable record-keeping began 116 year ago, in 1895.
Can you imagine driving down a Houston freeway during the beginning of hurricane season, and reading an electronic sign warning of extreme wildfire danger? Seems a little strange, doesn’t it? Outdoor burn bans have reached a record high of 236 out of Texas’ 254 counties. Only the southern and northeastern parts of the state are without burn bans. During the current wildfire season, 3.3 million Texas acres have burned, according to the Texas Forest Service.
Should the state receive an average of 2 inches of rain in July, it will already have had the driest August (2010) through July period ever. Professor Don Conlee says the Palmer Drought Severity Index (used by the National Climatic Data Center) is currently –6.37, officially making this the third worst drought on record. First place occurred in 1956 with a mark of –6.54, and second was in 1918 with a –6.41 reading. This drought has the potential to surpass one or both of the infamous past droughts to be the worst or second worst drought in Texas history. The main cause is the lingering La Nina cooling the Pacific waters; however, it’s unknown if climate change is affecting rainfall one way or the other. It is known that temperatures are a degree or two warmer with climate change so the drought is worse that it would otherwise be.
Drought always has an economic ripple effect. A&M reports that Texas has lost $1.5 billion from November, 2010, to June due to drought of pasture land loss. Livestock losses will top $1 billion due to lack of water and feed for cattle, according to NOAA. Texas is the second-leading agricultural state; many agricultural businesses will also be affected: gins, elevators, fuel distributors, and fertilizer dealers. The U.S.D.A. has named Texas and 32 counties in Louisana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico, (ones that are adjacent to Texas), as a natural disaster designation.
Lack of natural food because of the drought is affecting wildlife in the state – birds, rabbits, squirrels, and small mammals can’t feed their young. Deer have been highly affected by the drought; some does have even abandoned their fawns because there is no food. Foxes, bobcats, coyotes, and nocturnal animals such skunks and raccoons are seen out during the day, which increases contact between animals and humans, raising the risk of disease, such as rabies. This is a warning to all citizens to watch for wild animals in their neighborhoods; they probably are simply looking for food and water, but don’t get close to them.
The outlook for rain is not good; we have to keep hoping that we will see a weather change soon. For those who have already had their share of bad weather in the U.S. and other countries, we hope we Texans can be as tough as you. We all have to wish for things to get better, because sometimes we feel it just can’t get any worse!
P.S. I got an email today about how dry it is in Texas: a Lubbock man said he killed a mosquito carrying a canteen!