Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2011 Vol. 58 No. 8


Texas Drought Outlook

Severe drought and 100 degree temperatures plaguing southern U.S. states from California to Florida are making national news. Texas Department of Transportation highway signs are warning of severe drought.

NOAA and National Weather Service experts recently held a workshop in Austin with representatives of agencies in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico to discuss implications of prolonged drought conditions. Texas Division of Emergency Management planning staff participated on a panel discussion.

Chad McNutt of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Office (which is led by NOAA) explained that the meeting was one of an ongoing series of Drought Outlook Forums to be held around the nation.

“Texas and the surrounding states have observed one of the driest winter and spring seasons on record.” He said. “The message from the meeting was that: given current drought conditions, the expected above-normal temperatures, and the precipitation outlook, there is a strong chance that drought conditions will not significantly improve or may intensify in August-September.”

Some participants at the workshop were even more pessimistic, noting that they could not rule out the potential for a drought similar to the Texas drought that lasted from 1950 to 1957. Due to conditions in the Pacific Ocean, the La Nina weather pattern, the odds are stacked against ending the drought any time soon, they said. Nationwide and Texas specific information can be found on the NIDIS U.S. Drought Portal page.

TDEM is responsible for a state drought preparedness plan. TDEM Planner Mario Chapa gave an overview of TDEM’s role in drought preparedness at the meeting. He explained the agency hosts and coordinates meetings of the Drought Preparedness Council, an organization established more than a decade ago to serve as a clearinghouse for information on drought gathered from multiple agencies, including the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Texas Water Development Board and Texas Agrilife Extension Service and others. The Council meets each month and produces monthly reports, which can be found on the State Drought Preparedness Council page.

In addition, TDEM and several other state and federal agencies participate in and share information via the Drought Joint Information Center (JIC) website. Additional information and educational resources are also found on the Texas AgriLife Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) website.

The NOAA workshop was attended by personnel from over 40 institutions. They represented state and federal water resources, agriculture and livestock, forestry and wildfire management agencies. They discussed a wide range of potential drought impacts – from wildfires and crops loss to increased insect infestation and wildlife entering urban areas in search of water. The potential for temporary water crises in communities with lower water tables or water main breaks were discussed, along with loss of tourism revenue, rising food prices and political conflict over water rights.

The aim was to focus on providing detailed assessments of present drought conditions and impacts to date, comparisons with past drought events, and predictions for the next season through next year. The purpose of the meeting was to communicate the severity of the current drought and the likelihood that the situation may not improve over the next several months or years.

McNutt explained the workshop “is part of an effort to establish Regional Drought Early Warning Information Systems. An early warning system communicates forecasts, monitoring, and observations and puts the information in a context that allows decision makers to take action and increases general awareness and education among stakeholders.”

Nationwide and Texas specific information can be found on the:

NIDIS U.S. Drought Portal page

Drought Joint Information Center (JIC) website

Texas AgriLife Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) website

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