(Reuters) - A devastating Texas drought that has browned city lawns and caused more than $5 billion in damages to the state’s farmers and ranchers could continue for another nine years, a state forecaster said on Thursday.
“It is possible that we could be looking at another of these multiyear droughts like we saw in the 1950s, and like the tree rings have shown that the state has experienced over the last several centuries,” State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon told Reuters.
Each of the 50 states, by the way, has a climatologist.
The current drought that has been called the state’s worst one-year drought on record could be just the start of dry spell that could last until 2020, the Texas state climatologist said today.
Texas climatologists have recently stated that the ongoing dry spell is the worst one-year drought since Texas rainfall data started being recorded in 1895. The majority of the state has earned the highest rating of “exceptional” drought and the remaining areas are not far behind with “extreme” or “severe” ratings by the U.S. Drought Monitor. So far, Texas has only received 6.5 inches of the 16 inches that has normally accumulated by this time of year….
Streams throughout Texas are running well below normal and reservoirs are running at 50 percent of capacity. Only one boat ramp remains open between Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan and water levels are falling by a foot per week. For farmers and ranchers who depend on Mother Nature to provide water for their livestock and crops, this lack of water has been crippling. Agricultural losses have already mounted to a record 5.2 billion, and the drought has not yet broken.
Texas has suffered through mega-droughts in the past, so how does the current one compare?
Figure 1 shows the year of the worst 6-12 month drought for various areas in Texas. For 55.8 percent of the state, the current drought is the worst on record. No other drought was as bad in so many places. The previous standard for a one year drought, 1925, can now only be considered the worst ever in 14.6 percent of the state.
For July, the statewide Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), which is a measure of dryness that takes both temperature and moisture into account, recorded its lowest ever reading. This surpassed the worst July readings for 1918, 1925 and 1956, the droughts of record in Texas….
What we know from the past climate record, how the trend fits with our physical understanding of climate change, and what climate models project for the future, is strong evidence of an increase in drought risk that must be managed to avoid increasing costs to citizens, communities, and businesses of the Lone Star state. Residents, water managers, and community leaders in Texas would do well to both prepare for the possibility that the current drought will last longer than anticipated and that the future climate in Texas will be at risk of more severe and longer droughts (regardless of how long the current drought continues). The current drought represents an opportunity for Texans to identify drought adaptations that will allow them to better respond to the increased risks of a drier future.
(link via starsatnighttexas)
“Every year it has been dryer and dryer,” says Mohammad Amin, an official at the provincial department of water in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh. “It is not just in Afghanistan—it is happening all over the world. There is less water and no rain.”
Image by Anna Badkhen. Afghanistan, 2011.
The Texas drought is just the worst on record in recent times. The dendrochronology — tree ring analysis — for the region shows that decade long droughts are not unusual in that region. Paire that with global warming, and…
Richard Parker, As Texas Dries Out, Life Falters and Fades
Generally, droughts in the Southwest are caused by La Niña, the weather pattern involving cooling of waters in the Pacific, which pushes warm, dry air inland, shifting the rains away from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. In Texas the worst drought, known as the Drought of Record, parched the state from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, with catastrophic consequences for land, livestock and people. Yet that drought was the longest only since rain gauges have been used to keep records — a practice that began in 1895.
In fact, Texas has long been stalked by megadroughts, events that can last 30, even 40 years. The story is told within the trunks of the bald cypress that line the creek and riverbeds of central Texas. Using the science of dendrochronology, researchers from Texas and Arkansas sampled nearly 300 trunk-core samples, creating a record of tree rings stretching back before Columbus landed in the Americas. One tree, still living, was but a sapling in 1426.
The record shows that in the 1700s and early 1800s, before American settlement and even extensive Spanish and Mexican settlement, several dry stretches were longer than the Drought of Record. The driest 10 years were 1716 through 1725, and the worst 20 years were 1697 through 1716. There have been numerous 30- and 40-year droughts. The worst gripped Texas and Mexico for nearly a half-century, from 1450 to 1489.
But the future, sadly, is likely to be worse than the past. “Texas is going to get hotter and drier,” said Malcolm Cleaveland, a professor at the University of Arkansas who led the researchers. Indeed, rainfall modeling shows that rising temperatures and more arid conditions over the last few decades are likely to increase in the 21st century.
According to a paper published in Science in 2007, “Droughts will become the new climatology of the American Southwest within a time frame of years to decades.” Rain will become more rare and it will evaporate more quickly, making the megadroughts of old look like periodic dry spells. And it will be in part thanks to increased carbon emissions, a fact that Texas will have a hard time confronting.