HOUSTON (AP) — The browning of Texas has slowed over the past few months as near normal spring and summer rainfall has eased the grip of a persistent drought, especially in the eastern half of the state, the state climatologist said.
Drought conditions have actually ended in most of East and Southeast Texas, while the western half of the state remained in drought, said John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and Texas A&M University professor of atmospheric sciences.
"The primary lingering effects of the drought are dead trees and damaged pastures," he told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1dOH5SC ).
The drought peaked in early October 2011, when the U.S. Drought Monitor showed 99 percent of the state in severe drought or worse. The 2011 drought was the most intense one-year drought Texas had experienced since at least 1895, when statewide weather records started being kept, Nielsen-Gammon said.
So severe was the dry spell that many crops never emerged from the ground and the state water supply plummeted. About 100 cubic kilometers of water was lost to evaporation alone, or the equivalent of 70 Lake Travises, according to a study by the University of Texas at Austin.
Today, about 20 percent of the state is in severe drought or worse, while 47 percent is in at least a "moderate" drought.
It was unclear whether the 2011 drought has peaked, Nielson-Gammon said. The concern this winter is now the wildfire threat.
"The cold weather on the way next week will kick all the vegetation into dormancy," he told the Chronicle.
"Since rain last spring and summer was near normal, there's plenty of new vegetation that will become fuel for wildfires," he said. "In a few weeks Texas may, for the first time in over two years, need to face extreme fire danger conditions."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com