Remember a couple of years ago when Texas was in such a deep, seemingly-irreversible drought that experts trumpeted it as the next great megadrought, the likes of which would cause Texas to poof into a pile of dust by the end of the decade? The people currently wading through their living rooms remember.
Texas’ drought situation continues to improve week after week due to the extremely wet pattern that’s parked itself across the south-central part of the country over the past month or two. Just about everyone across the Lone Star State has seen excessive rainfall from recent storms, many of which resulted in training events, or storms bubbling up and continuously moving over the same area like train cars on railroad tracks.
The result is that some areas have seen more than 600% of their normal rainfall over the past 30 days, and precipitation will continue to fall through at least the weekend, if not longer. We’ve already seen more than a foot of rain over many locations in the past two weeks, leading to some dire flash flooding across the southern Plains.
[There was a video here]
Last weekend, numerous news stations aired live footage of two men stuck on the roof of their pickup truck when they drove through swift water and got stuck in Sanger, Texas, requiring a helicopter to bail them out. (Don’t do that, by the way.) Video of one of the men being rescued by the Texas Air National Guard is shown at the top of this post.
Through all of the flooding and damage, though, is a bright side: it’s actively wiping out the drought. The fact that the rain is sustained and not just a fleeting downpour means that the excess water is helping at least as much as it’s hurting, and the drought is slowly vanishing before our eyes.
The National Drought Mitigation Center keeps track of drought conditions every Tuesday, and over the past six weeks, you can see a noticeable reduction in drought conditions across Texas and Oklahoma. The May 12 update will be released tomorrow morning, and it should show even more improvement over areas that need it the most.
The results are a welcome relief compared to what we saw just a year ago, let alone what the state dealt with back in 2011, when an exceptional drought killed crops and fostered devastating wildfires that burned a combined area a little larger than the state of Connecticut.
Now, about that megadrought.
Meteorologists usually have a hard time predicting the weather more than a week or so in advance, so it’s fair to say that long-range weather forecasting is still in its infancy. The Climate Prediction Center issues general forecasts that predict trends in temperatures and precipitation for up to a year out—for instance, predicting the odds that a certain area will see temperatures above or below average—but those, too, can go awry. In late 2013, they predicted that temperatures would be above-average during the winter of 2013-14 in the south and the northeast, when in reality, temperatures were below normal for much of the country east of the Rockies thanks to the much-maligned polar vortex.
Things get even hairier when meteorologists and climatologists predict that current weather patterns will last for years, as we saw during the major drought that plagued Texas in the early teens. That megadrought quickly started to go away, then the land started to dry out again, then got better, dried out, and now we’re seeing it get better again. It’s not a sustained thump like some folks thought might happen a few years ago.
So is it even possible to predict whether Texas will be locked into drought in 2015, let alone 2020?
Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, admits it’s more of an art than a science. But he sees a lot of similarities between conditions now and the worst recorded drought in Texas history, which lasted from 1950 to 1957.
Will the drought make a reappearance? Probably! It’s hard to say with any certainty how long it’ll take for a pervasive drought to return or how long it’ll last, but things tentatively look better at the moment.
Predicting long-term trends with some accuracy is possible. We could see longer and more intense droughts as the climate changes, but predicting the duration of a specific event, such as the Texas megadrought that isn’t, still has a long way to go before it approaches the accuracy meteorologists have achieved in short-range forecasting in recent decades.
Much of Texas can expect a few more inches of rain over the next week as showers and thunderstorms pop-up over areas with saturated soil. It will only take two or three inches of rain falling over the course of three hours to produce flash flooding across much of the state, with much lower three-hour totals in the most saturated areas.
[Maps by the author | Video via The Weather Channel]