Weather is known for its wild pendulum swings, but this is ridiculous: Three months after the nation’s worst urban flood disaster ever, parts of Texas are now enduring severe drought conditions.
“Since Harvey, we have had 90 days of below-normal rainfall and average monthly temperatures have been 5 degrees above normal,” according to Nikki Hathaway, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Houston.
The main threat from the drought at this point is wildfires: “Fire is the primary potential impact, and wet followed by dry is the standard recipe for lots of dry fuels,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist.
“Other problems are related to lack of establishment of winter pasture and (farther north) winter wheat,” he said. And while it’s too soon for any water supply impacts, summer reservoir inflows in the Hill Country were third-lowest on record, according to Bob Rose of the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Harvey’s rainfall was truly historic, with some places picking up over five feet of rain, an all-time U.S. record for a single storm. In all, an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water fell on Texas and Louisiana. Dozens of people were killed and damage estimates from the storm were at least $100 billion, likely more.
In all, nearly three-quarters of the state is now either in a drought or classified as “abnormally dry,” according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. This includes the entire Houston metro area, much of which was underwater in late August due to Hurricane Harvey.
Houston had its 4th-driest November on record, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. And many locations across Texas had one of their 10 driest autumns on record, Nielson-Gammon said, including Galveston, Waco, and Dallas.
It’s not only Texas. A dry November also increased drought conditions in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas, said Oklahoma’s state climatologist, Gary McManus.
The dry stretch was created in large part by a far northern storm track that has kept storm systems over the northern tier of the U.S. and into Canada, the Weather Channel said.
The cause of the weather pattern shift can be traced to La Niña, a periodic cooling of ocean water in the Pacific Ocean that affects weather patterns across the U.S. and around the world. Unusually warm, dry conditions should continue through February or early March, McManus said, adding that any rain or snow that falls won’t help dormant vegetation at this point.
“Even if we get rain and snow right now, it won’t turn anything green,” McManus said, noting that drought in the region is spreading and intensifying.
The Climate Prediction Center said that drought is expected to persist or intensify across the nation’s entire southern tier through the winter, all the way from California to South Carolina.