NWS Southern Region Director Bill Proenza compares latest U.S. Drought Monitor with Sept. 2009 (Photo: Ron Trumbla, NOAA/NWS)
(Feb. 22, 2010) - When National Weather Service Southern Region Director Bill Proenza and Climate Prediction Center Deputy Director Mike Halpert launched an El Niño information campaign in Fort Worth, Texas last September, they predicted the drought-ravaged state would soon see some desperately needed relief. They were right on the money.
Last week, State Climatologist and Texas A & M Professor John Nielson-Gammon made it official. The Texas drought was over! Over two years in the making, the worst Texas drought in more than 50 years came to an abrupt end following several months of extraordinary precipitation. While Hurricanes Ike and Dolly contributed some relief in 2008, the majority of the credit goes to El Niño.
The drought began in late 2007, worsened the following year and continued through the fall of 2009 when large areas of south central and southern Texas remained in Extreme to Exceptional drought conditions. By then, the state's AgriLife Extension Service estimated the Texas economy had taken a loss of $3.6 billion dollars.
Enter El Niño with its warming central Pacific sea surface temperatures. During El Niño events, Texas winters tend to be cooler and wetter. In fact, local studies by the Austin/San Antonio forecast office show precipitation over south central Texas averages 30 to 40 percent higher during El Niño winters.
Every month since September of 2009, the drought-plagued region of central and southern Texas received above normal precipitation. For example, the official total for San Antonio, between September 1, 2009 and February 21, 2010, was 30.7 inches - the wettest for that period since record keeping began in 1885.
Further north, the official snowfall reading at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport measured a record-breaking 12.5 inches during a 24 hour period (Feb.11-12) while some areas near the airport actually recorded unofficial totals in excess of 14 inches.
What's next? While the El Niño effect has now begun to weaken, it will remain a key factor affecting precipitation patterns across Texas through the spring. The latest seasonal forecast from the NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center shows increased chances for above normal precipitation are expected to continue through May.
Fort Worth, Texas snowfall, Feb. 11, 2010 (Photo: Ron Trumbla, NOAA/NWS)
Arlington, Texas snowfall, Feb. 11, 2010 (Photo: Ron Trumbla, NOAA/NWS)