Mar 25, 2012

CenTex Drought Update

According to the US Drought Monitor's March 20th snapshot, parts of Travis County have eased out of "Extreme" drought conditions into "Severe, Moderate, or Abnormally Dry" drought this week. 

Levels of drought intensity measure, from least to greatest, are:
  • Abnormally Dry
  • Moderate
  • Severe
  • Extreme
  • Exceptional

Drought map Travis County, 3/20/12.

Google map of Travis County.  

Austin, Central Texas, and Texas in general spent much of 2011 at the highest level of drought: "Exceptional." Good news is, exceptionally heavy rains have helped mitigate a lot of local worst case scenarios for the time being in the Central Texas area. On March 22nd the Edwards Aquifer District  declared itself "out of drought," local news reports confirm that area lake levels are slowly rising, and Central Texans should count on a few more rains in April and May, further helping to restore normalcy to the local environment.

But according to real time monitoring from, Austinites in particular have a long way to go. Austin's Lake Travis is still 41.30 feet below full pool today (March 25th), Lake Buchanan is 21.96 feet below. Lake Travis is where Austinites get potable water, Lake Buchanan the largest lake in Central Texas's all important Highland Lakes system. Looking forward, Texas's state climatologist projects "exceptional drought" will return to Central Texas this summer (and fall) for at least the next five years.

State-wide, compared to this time last year, large areas of Texas are looking normal in terms of drought, most notably the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, but nearly 18% of our state is already in the highest level of drought (primarily in West Texas). Last year 0% of Texas was at the highest level of drought at this time. See state climatologist John Nielsen-Gamman's recent overview here.

Of course you've heard about 2011's wildfires, tree losses, $8B in agricultural & livestock losses, and etc. resulting from record dryness and high heat across Texas. From the  environmentalist point of view these impacts undermine the greater natural system we all rely on for security, sustainability, and quality of life. From a climate science point of view these impacts look an awful lot like what is "supposed to be happening" according to high greenhouse gas emissions climate science modeling. According to climate math and science, the traumatic impacts Central Texans are experiencing today are only the beginning of a whole-scale metamorphosis -- wherein Central Texas's moisture cycle diminishes to the point that our environs literally become a desert. At the rate we're going such metamorphosis will occur during the next 50 years. The only way to slow, avoid or stop such a metamorphosis is to stop emissions, redesign irrigation, conserve water, and preserve vegetation.

 Image on right shows number of days over 100F per year 
would be "around 90" in CenTex by 2062 if today's high 
emissions continue; via these scientists.

 March 24th, 2012 map of Cen Tex counties, by KVUE

Visit the LCRA's "drought update" page for more info on Central Texas.


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