Dry conditions around the state could worsen over the next few months as a warmer, drier winter is expected.
Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist, says cooler waters in the tropical Pacific are building conditions for La Niña weather conditions to emerge by late November or December. La Niña conditions typically mean rain storms are pushed north by the jet stream.
Much of the state received average to above-average rainfall earlier in the year, but rainfall has been in short supply for the past month, outside of areas drenched by Hurricane Harvey.
East Texas has experienced the second wettest year on record so far with an average of almost 44.5 inches, he says. But lately, little rain has fallen on the northern areas of the region.
Nielsen-Gammon says 30-plus inches of rainfall in the southern portion of the East Texas region skewed totals because much of the northern part of the region did not receive measurable rainfall from that storm system or since.
“Most of the state did not receive much rain over the past month,” he says. “The only other areas that received above normal rainfall were parts of the Trans Pecos region and northwestern portions of the Panhandle. But the northeast, southwest and west central portions of the state have all been very dry. Those areas received less than 25 percent of their normal rainfall for the last 30 days.”
Nielsen-Gammon says average to above-average rainfall during the early summer months meant good conditions for crops, grasses and for replenishing stock tanks, but dry conditions have turned plant growth into potential fuel for wildfires.
“Wildfires can be an issue when you have wet weather followed by a substantial dry period with high temperatures,” he says. “Warm-season grasses and brush did well with moisture but now arid conditions are turning that growth into potential fuel. That’s the worst possible scenario.”
Short-term forecasts for the western half of the state are calling for possible wet conditions while the eastern half was expected to remain fairly dry, he said.
Long-term forecasts of La Niña are not certain, Nielsen-Gammon adds, but are probable given the conditions in the tropical Pacific.
“Hopefully as we transition into winter we’ll see some storms develop, but that’s just a hope at this point.”