Drought could last more than one year

The Associated Press

FORT WORTH — The Texas drought that has led to crop losses and devastating wildfires is expected to last another year and possibly longer, weather experts said Monday.

Texas and some surrounding states are prone to long-term drought over the next decade based on weather patterns, but that doesn’t mean it will happen, said state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

“We’re at a period of enhanced drought susceptibility; the possibility exists,” Nielsen-Gammon said Monday at an annual climate conference, also featuring National Weather Service forecasters and climatologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The weather conditions that can lead to drought usually last about 20 years once a century or so, and this pattern started in 2000, he said. But Texas had not been in a state of drought since then. There was a lot of rainfall in 2007, he said.

The current drought started last fall with the arrival of the La Nina weather condition that causes below-normal rainfall, and then in the spring, the wettest months of the year were anything but. Now the drought is expected to drag on for another year because La Nina has returned, said Victor Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

There’s a 25 percent chance Texas’ drought will persist another five years, Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Once we get past this period of vulnerability, the chances go down,” he said.

This is the worst one-year drought in Texas history, already costing the agriculture and cattle industries more than $5 billion.

The low rainfall and scorching temperatures have dried up many riverbeds, prompting some wildlife biologists to rescue threatened fish that are found only in one Texas river. Hundreds of wildfires have blackened some 6,000 square miles and destroyed more than 2,700 homes in the state since the fire season started nearly a year ago.

Nielsen-Gammon said it’s too soon to predict if this will surpass the state’s worst drought in history, which was from 1949 to 1957.

Texas got 30 to 50 percent less rain than normal, and temperatures rose above average during that time. Water supplies ran so low some communities had to import it from Oklahoma. Farms and ranches failed. And the lack of rain actually changed the state’s demographics because so many families fled rural agricultural areas for cities.

Printed on October 4, 2011 as: Drought may persist up to five years