The ongoing--and now record-length to a certain extent--drought in the Texas Panhandle has not been heard about much recently, with headlines featuring the central and eastern U.S. cold wave and the California drought. But, the Panhandle and southwest Plains continue to have bone-dry conditions. The following article, by Kevin Welch of the Amarillo, Texas Globe-News, highlights this situation.
The Texas Panhandle is in the middle of a record streak, but it’s certainly no cause for celebration.
“The past three calendar years in the Panhandle have been the driest three calendar years on record,” said Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. “That’s drier than 1954 to 1956 — the previous record — by three inches, or 10 percent. The next driest was 1933 to 1935 during the Dust Bowl.”
On a broader scale, the current drought has still not matched the record one in the 1950s.
“This current drought started more intensely than in the ’50s. But it’s run over a shorter time,” said Justyn Jackson, a meteorologist at the Amarillo office of the National Weather Service.
That office has recorded about 34.5 inches of precipitation for the past three years compared to a normal total of 61 inches. That includes the record of just more than seven inches in 2011, when it should have been about 20 inches.
Looking ahead, it seems to be more of the same.
The Climate Prediction Center’s latest forecast said the region’s drought will at least linger through April, and it may strengthen. That prediction includes areas of the eastern Texas Panhandle that had shaken their drought status and were merely ranked “abnormally dry.”
The drought has already shown recent signs of spreading and deepening, according to a map released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The areas of extreme and exceptional drought are larger than on the previous week’s map, with parts of Dallam, Hartley, Sherman, Moore, Oldham, Potter, Randall, Carson and Deaf Smith counties in those two most extreme categories of drought.
December’s and January’s precipitation numbers show the trend continued — even taking into account that this is normally the dry time of year — with about half the normal precipitation.
Nielsen-Gammon expects the area to climb out of the deep freeze within a week or so, but the dryness likely will continue.
“We still have a generally warm Atlantic Ocean, and that tends to mean dry conditions,” he said. “An El Nino (warmer water in the tropical Pacific Ocean) is looking possible, but it’s hard to say.” (BA note--the "warm Atlantic Ocean" refers to a positive Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation phase--which we have discussed in previous blog entries.)
Winter wheat that isn’t irrigated — a major crop in this region — has been struggling and is waiting for moisture.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeder Jackie Rudd and AgriLife Extension small grains specialist Clark Neely said the lack of moisture is a major problem, and there may not be any dryland wheat without moisture soon.
Average cash receipts for wheat, dryland and irrigated, totaled $303 million a year in the region from 2005-2008, according to a report by Extension Economist Steve Amosson. Farmers irrigate about half of all wheat acres in the region.
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