by WES FERGUSON
Only two years removed from one of the worst droughts in half a century, might the parched landscape of Central Texas be inching toward yet another extended dry spell?
Weather experts seem to be hedging their bets.
“The outlook is not bad,” said Bob Fogarty, a National Weather Service forecaster in New Braunfels. “It’s not great, but it’s not bad.”
This spring, the weather service is predicting fewer showers than usual, Fogarty said. John Nielson-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University, concurred with that forecast.
The problem, Nielson-Gammon said, is that Central Texas is already too dry after receiving little rain in the fall and early winter.
“Usually in the wintertime the aquifers get recharged and the soil gets saturated to a decent depth, but right now it’s not,” he said. “If we get a few soaking rains, then we’ll be back to normal. But if we don’t, it’s gonna seem like the middle of summer awfully early this year.”
Without significant rainfall this month and next, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is predicting “alarm stage” drought conditions by late April. The alarm stage triggers a mandatory 20 percent reduction for businesses and other entities – such as the cities of Buda and Kyle – who pump water from the aquifer.
“May is typically our wet time, and hopefully we’ll get some rain,” said Brian Hunt, the conservation district’s senior hydrogeologist. “There’s a slight glimmer of hope that we won’t enter (alarm stage), but it remains to be seen.”
Parts of Central Texas are already experiencing severe drought conditions, Nielson-Gammon said.
“It’s not noticeable for urban residents, because they are not using a lot of water at this time of year,” he said. “But there’s a shortage of forage for cattle and so forth, and planting season for farmers is a concern because of the lack of moisture in the topsoil.”
Texas’ worst drought on record came during the 1950s. The most recent one, which ended in 2009, was the worst since then.
The two-year drought that ended in the fall and winter of 2009 cost farmers and ranchers around $4 billion in losses.
“It was really bad,” Fogarty said. “Any rain that we got was sort of scattered about, it wasn’t widespread and we didn’t get any good soakers.”
The good news is that if Central Texas can make it through the spring, the National Weather Service is predicting typical rainfall for the summer.
“The long range looks like it’s going to be normal,” Fogarty said. “The drought shouldn’t get any worse and may improve somewhat. We’re hoping that it doesn’t become what we had two years ago. We’re hopeful that’s not the case.”
Nielson-Gammon said it’s too early to say what will happen this summer.
“For summer, as usual,” he said, “there’s no way to tell.”
WES FERGUSON reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.