Experts predict above-average temperatures and lower-than-normal moisture amounts will be seen in the months ahead — and possibly as much as 15 more years.
John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and a professor with Texas A&M University’s department of atmospheric sciences, said long-term temperature patterns from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are comparable to those from what he considers the worst drought of record, in the 1950s. For that reason, he estimates Texas’ drought susceptibility could continue another five to 15 years.
“It’s very possible this drought may last several more years,” he told A-J Media in a phone interview.
Ron McQueen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lubbock, agreed the chances for upcoming heavy rainfall do not appear promising.
“We don’t see any indications that we’ll go into a wet winter,” he said.
Further into the future gets more difficult to predict, he added.
It’s clear, though, that recovering from current drought conditions will require more than just average rainfall. Insufficient moisture over time created what’s known as a deficit, meaning normal weather won’t be enough the change the conditions.
“Being so hot and dry, the rainfall deficits accumulated,” McQueen said. “To get out of this drought cycle, we need to see two or three pretty wet years in a row.”
The area has been under drought conditions off and on since about 2000, McQueen estimates.
And as agriculture representatives are already painfully aware, 2011 highlighted that dry period with a devastating 5 total inches of rain.
“The rains never came that summer,” McQueen said. “It just shattered records.”
The next two years provided a few more inches. But with their rainfall totals still slightly below the long-term average, a full recovery is not yet on the horizon.
“At least for West Texas, normal rainfall isn’t enough to break the drought,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Speculating the “what-if” implications for more drought can be daunting.
Darren Hudson, an agricultural economist with Texas Tech, described the chain reaction for a drought-induced crop failure.
For instance, farmers won’t purchase as many harvest-related products, and fewer cotton bales could mean fewer jobs in the ginning industry. Even businesses less directly-linked to agriculture could suffer if they have ties to businesses in that industry, Hudson said.
“All those interconnections become weaker,” he said. “…That ripples out into the rest of the economy.”
In a worst-case scenario, some agriculture-related businesses could permanently close their doors.
The closure last winter of Plainview’s Cargill Meat Solutions plant portrays an example of the drought’s impact on the cattle industry. Lack of rainfall means a shortage of grass for grazing and feeding material made from rain-dependent crops such as corn and sorghum.
Beef cattle is one of the few industries the drought has so far affected enough to lead to a retail-price increase, Hudson said.
He said that’s because most drought-impacted crops are only one ingredient of many — wheat in bread, for example — in a final consumer product. Furthermore, modern large-scale goods transport means a drought’s local effects can stay that way.
“For the consumer’s point of view, it’s probably not big enough for them to see an impact except at the meat counter,” Hudson said. “The more localized the drought is, the less an impact it has on the consumer.”
Aside from its effects on agriculture, drought is keeping water in limited supply for municipalities.
While Lake Alan Henry’s levels are considered stable but less than ideal, White River Lake and Lake Meredith are both dangerously low.
“In West Texas, we have a big problem with reservoirs,” McQueen said. “We need to see those reservoirs recharge before we have any confidence that we’re out of this drought.”
But in the off chance that multiple downpours stampede the South Plains in the near future, experts agree recovery in all directions is certainly possible.
“We’ll see an immediate effect if we have a wet winter and move forward and have a great crop year,” Hudson said.
This article was written by JOSIE MUSICO and originally posted here.