State Climatologist: Drought Officially Worst On Record

It’s official: Texas is now in the midst of the worst one-year drought on record, according to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, says July was the warmest month recorded since data collection began in 1895. June and July set records for average monthly statewide temperature, and June was the fifth-warmest overall.

July’s monthly rainfall total of 0.72 inches was also the third-smallest on record. Only in 1980 and 2000 did Texas get less rain. Texas also saw its lowest year-to-date precipitation record smashed, with only 6.53 inches in the last seven months. The previous record, 9.36 inches, was set in 1917.

If Texas gets less than four-and-a-half inches of rain in the next two months, 2011 is set to surpass 1956 as the driest 12 months on record.

“These statistics rank the current drought as the most severe one-year drought ever for Texas,” says Nielsen-Gammon. “Never before has so little rain been recorded prior to and during the primary growing season for crops, plants and warm-season grasses.”

Nielsen-Gammon adds that the drought’s effect has been uneven across the state. Recent rains have brought some relief in far West, South and Southeast Texas.

Conditions in the center of the state are much worse. “The climate division that covers west-Central Texas has received only 3.32 inches of rainfall since Nov. 1,” Nielsen-Gammon says.  “That’s less than 21 percent of the historical average and less than half of the previous record, set in 1956. Add in the record heat, and it’s just devastating.”

Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples issued a statement about the new report, outlining the devastating effect of drought conditions on farmers and ranchers.

“The damage to our economy is already measured in billions of dollars and continues to mount,” the statement says.

Nielsen-Gammon, who talked to Tribune reporter Kate Galbraith about the effect of climate change on Texas last December, warned that the drought could continue through the winter, but he held out the prospect of wetter weather.

“Late August and September bring increased chances of widespread rain from tropical disturbances, as well as the occasional cold front,” he says. “Some computer models predict a return to La Niña conditions this winter, which would imply continued dry weather, but most predict neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific and the possible return of normal weather patterns.”

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