Why Is The Drought This Bad? When Will It End?

I get asked this question every day, so with this posting I’ll try to explain why this is happening and what will change it.

A few things to understand: Since Hurricane Ike in September 2008, we’ve been below average in receiving rain. Thus, our drought has been going on for three years, but it got really bad starting in February of this year. Jan. 24, 2011, was the last time we received more than 1 inch of rain (1.94” fell that day.) February through May were extremely dry in southeast Texas, and our state and our drought went into a tail spin.

Monthly Totals:
End of Winter
February: .69″
Spring
March: .78”
April: .11”
May: .33”

Since records have been kept, we’ve never had four-straight months where we were unable to receive even an inch of rain. The drought is more than just high pressure. These four months had some elements that came together and put us in the “perfect storm” of not getting storms. First, there was a ridge of high pressure that kept the organized storms tracking to our north. Second, our spring months brought an inversion to Texas. An inversion is a layer of warmer, stable air in the upper atmosphere that prevents storms from forming. Third, the jet stream was abnormally fast these months. That kept the rain that did form moving, so we couldn’t get prolonged showers. This fast-moving jet stream brought strong winds into the state too fast to bring rain. These were the months of the record-breaking tornado outbreak and floods in the U.S. The perfect conditions for severe weather, but not for us.

By this time the drought was well established and you have to understand this principle: Drought begets drought. Suffering through these unprecedented dry months actually set in motion a drought that can’t be overcome on its own.

When it is dry, there is more evaporation in the atmosphere. More evaporation leads to hotter temperatures. Hotter temperatures make it drier, and with the dry air you get more evaporation. This leads to more drought. It’s a vicious cycle.

Monthly Totals:
June: .92”
July: 2.98” (Normal)
August, so far: .07”

It’s always hot in the summer, but this year is different. The drought has actually brought hotter temperatures. The drought and heat feed off each other. While we did receive a normal amount of rain in July, it didn’t help with the drought or heat. Our rainfall deficit for the last 365 days is about 30” and one average month doesn’t make a dent.

A lot has been made about the high-pressure ridge this summer. Yes, it is a big factor, but most of the winter, spring and summer it wasn’t right on top of us. The high pressure is close enough to bring in sinking air, similar to an inversion, but we’ve had plenty of opportunities to get rain in the last seven months and nothing forms.

There are three drought busters: a hurricane/tropical storm, change of seasons and a change of the weather pattern. A change of season won’t help much because fall fronts won’t bring enough rain. We had plenty of fronts in February, but most brought strong winds and not much rain. A weather pattern change will help, but we’ll need a prolonged wet pattern. It will have to last months. The quick fix is a hurricane or tropical storm. There is no guarantee we get hit this summer, but I’ve never received so many emails of people hoping to get a hurricane. Desperate times call for desperate measures. How long will the drought last? No one knows for certain, but it can last several years. We need to pray for rain.

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