As Deep South Texas bids 2012 goodbye, a lingering drought isn’t going anywhere.
All year, Cameron County has bounced between severe to extreme to exceptional drought conditions, said Alfredo Vega, a Hydro Focal Point expert with the National Weather Service in Brownsville.
“It’s gotten worse,” he said of the drought. “We had some good rains in the early part of 2012 but we went to extremely dry conditions that have continued all year-round for Cameron County.”
Vega said extremely low rainfall has contributed to the drought.
For 2012, Brownsville only received 21.4 inches of rain, which is about 5.9 inches below normal.
“There were a couple of days where we
got some really good rains, but it was brief,” Vega said.
In Harlingen, only 17.74 inches or rain fell, which is nearly a foot below normal.
And 2011 was no different for Cameron County’s two largest cities. It was hot, dry and rain was scarce, Vega said.
Brownsville had 19.94 inches of rain in 2011 while Harlingen only received 8.05 inches
“The latest extended outlook, which covers through March of 2013, doesn’t look like too much for help on drought conditions,” he said. “They continue or even deteriorate more over the area through the spring of 2013.”
In July 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a special announcement that many counties — including Cameron County — were experiencing historical, exceptional drought conditions that posed an imminent disaster.
“Whereas, record high temperatures, preceded by significantly low rainfall, have resulted in declining reservoir and aquifer levels, threatening water supplies and delivery systems in many parts of the state,” the resolution reads.
Perry again renewed that resolution this week
Vega said Texas isn’t the only place affected by the drought; it’s widespread and reminiscent of a bad drought in the 1950s, 1998 and also a strong drought in 2002.
But for Cameron County, the drought will hit agriculture the hardest.
“Right now, our concern is the levels on the lakes,” he said. “Falcon Reservoir and Amistad Dam, all the water there — they provide most water for the lower Rio Grande Valley and right now both reservoirs are extremely low.”
He said Falcon Lake is down 25 percent and Amistad is down 45 percent.
In June, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality notified the City of Edinburg that both lakes will be under stage one water restrictions and are under a watch, which means a water shortage is possible.
Stage 1 water restrictions are mild. The use of water for non-essential uses is restricted. Outdoor watering is limited to no more than twice a week.
“The main concern is reservoir levels,” Vega said. “Those have an agricultural impact. A lot of water for irrigation comes from Falcon. Especially right now, in early spring the farmers start preparing their fields and a lot of irrigation goes on so there could be some restrictions.”
So what needs to happen to break this drought?
The short answer is tropical atmospheric activity.
“It would probably take, hopefully, some tropical activity coming in and giving us some good rains. So we’ll have to wait until early summer or so,” said Vega. “We might have some storms come through and provide some good rains through the spring, but those would only provide temporary breaks in the drought.”
Additionally, good heavy rains need to fall over the watershed of the mountains in Mexico.
“Those waters flow into the Rio Grande and into reservoirs,” he said. “The same goes for Colorado snow melt.”
Regardless whether the drought continues into 2013 or even 2014, 2012 is one for the record books, which started being kept in 1878.
“And of course the temperatures have been about normal because of drought and dry conditions and we’re still looking up some data, but this could be the warmest year ever for portions of the Valley,” Vega said. “We broke a couple of records in December. For Christmas Day, we broke a record. We set a record of 88 degrees on Christmas Day. The old one was 86 degrees in 1964.”
The bottom line is this latest drought is of historic proportions.
“We haven’t seen this since the 1950s. It’s been a heavy impact. It’s really a hard impact in deep South Texas,” Vega said.