“October through December statewide was collectively the third driest October-December statewide,” said John Nielson-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist. “Even with the rain we had in January, the four months since October will probably come in as among the 10 driest October-January periods on record, going back to 1895. Also, though we didn’t have the excessive summertime heat we saw in 2011, the year 2012 never got too cold, and 2012 tied 1921 for warmest year on record. This causes extra problems for evaporation.”
For agriculture, the drought has been especially hard-hitting.
Nationwide, drought caused hay stocks to drop to a record low, according to the National Weather Service’s Drought Information Statement. Of Texas’ 254 counties, 157 were declared natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture early in the year. Winter wheat was in poor condition, with 80 percent of the state’s crop rated poor or very poor. Hay yields have also been weak; though farmers have generally kept their cattle healthy feeding them stored hay as well as oats and winter wheat.
Lake levels across the state for this time of year are at their lowest overall since 1990. Combined, Texas’ reservoirs were about 66 percent their capacity in June. The drought also has left the Brazos River Authority reservoir system about 77 percent of its capacity and under “Drought Watch” status. Possum Kingdom Lake was down about 10.3 feet, Lake Granbury about 6.9 feet and Lake Limestone about 4.1 feet low. To refill these lakes is going to take many inches of sustained rainfall to saturate the soil and run off into the streams that supply them. Unfortunately some of the driest areas are those that would send runoff downstream to Possum Kingdom and Granbury lakes.
BRA hydrologists have worked up two models showing lake level projections through July, one for “normal” weather conditions and the other for continuing drought conditions. If the drought does not break, water stores for the BRA system could fall to 66 percent of capacity by July 31. Possum Kingdom could drop to 12 feet below full, Lake Granbury – about 9.6 feet low, and Lake Limestone – about 6.3 feet low. But if the basin sees an improvement to more “normal” Texas weather and reservoir inflow levels, the BRA system would be at 83 percent of capacity, no longer at Drought Watch stage.