Drought over for many in Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles
November 1, 2018
Good news for the drought-stricken areas of the southern Plains: The drought that raged on this past summer in southwest Kansas and the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles is already largely over.
For months, farmers, ranchers, meteorologists and climatologists in the southern Plains states have been anxiously anticipating the development of the El Nino climate pattern this fall and winter, with its hope of precipitation relief. Interestingly, right on the heels of an internet webinar early last week about the drought in the southwest U.S., a second webinar on Oct. 26 focused on the southern Plains drought status and the developing El Nino. Two El Niño experts: Victor Murphy, National Weather Service Southern Region Headquarters Climate Services program manager, and Kyle Brehe, regional climatologist for the Southern Regional Climate Center/Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge announced on the webinar that good news came earl and that Kansas, and the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles continue to see improvement.
"Southwest Kansas is completely drought free," Murphy said. "The Oklahoma Panhandle is now totally drought free. Only 2 percent of Oklahoma, in the northeast quarter of the state, remains in drought. Regarding Texas, there continues to be a persistent (but improving) area of severe drought (D2) in a small part of the Texas Panhandle that is centered around Amarillo and just to the east of Amarillo, and in far west portions of New Mexico in Culberson County or Hudspeth County," Murphy added. He noted only 1.6 percent of Oklahoma is in drought (of any kind,) and 3.6 percent of Texas is in drought (of any kind.)
In general, for Texas, Murphy said the biggest impact may be too much water. Statewide, September was the third wettest month on record for Texas (7.66 inches), which only trails August 2017 when Hurricane Harvey impacted the state, and also May 2015.
Right on September's heels, October has proven to be nearly as wet. "In fact, September/October may well turn out to be the wettest two consecutive months on record for Texas," Murphy said. "The number to beat is 13.01 inches in April/May 2015. We'll know in two weeks."
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The same time period has been nearly as wet for Oklahoma. "It's hard to see any lingering drought issues in either of these two states (Texas and Oklahoma.) This is reflected in the most recent U.S Seasonal Drought Outlook,(SDO) and the latest Winter Outlook. Each of these were released last week/in mid-October," Murphy said, including graphics contained in these two website links:
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While New Mexico needs help with its drought, there's hope that the developing El Nino could bring rain relief. "Both the SDO (above link), and the Winter Outlook show an increased tilt for wetness in New Mexico. This would be a godsend, should it occur," Murphy said. "Between the drought and the lack of snow pack in 2017-2018, if the winter of 2018-2019 fails to deliver at least normal precipitation/snow pack, then water supplies for New Mexico statewide will be a serious issue in the spring/summer of 2019."
"According to the Climate Prediction Center, there is a 70 to 75 percent chance that an El Nino will form during the winter of 2018-2019. Over the past few months, the transition from a La Nina to an El Nino has been taking place both at the sea surface and at various depths below the surface in the east-central and eastern Pacific," Brehe said.
An El Nino is present when sea surface temperatures in the east/central equatorial Pacific Ocean are at least 0.5 degrees Celsius above average (1 degree F) along with consistent tropical wind and rainfall patterns.
Ocean temperatures in portions of the east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean are now 1 to 2 degrees F above average, so they're on the border of an El Nino. El Niño is expected to develop within the next month or two.
El Nino affects global weather patterns (winds, storms, temperature, precipitation.) El Nino typically occurs every three to five years, and usually lasts nine to 12 months. While El Nino typically develops in the late summer or fall, and dissipates in spring, it is typically strongest in winter.
El Nino, and its counterpart: La Nina, are climate patterns that alter the normal rainfall pattern from Indonesia to South America; a distance of halfway around the globe. El Nino increases rainfall over the eastern half of the tropical Pacific Ocean, but it decreases rainfall over the western tropical Pacific Ocean and Indonesia.
During an El Nino, the Pacific jet-stream shifts further south and moves east from southern California to the Four Corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, then into Texas and Oklahoma, into Georgia and the southeast coast. As the jet-stream shifts south, it typically results in increased storminess and precipitation across those areas.
"Precipitation is generally above normal because a more active southern branch of the jet stream aids in storm system development and acts to steer them along the southern U.S.," Brehe said. "Temperatures are generally below normal due to more cloud cover associated with storm systems dampening daytime highs."
The Climate Prediction Center expects the following for this El Nino winter precipitation: Much of the southwestern and southern U.S. has at least a 33 percent chance of receiving above-normal precipitation.
Areas of eastern Arizona, most of New Mexico, central and southern Texas, southern Louisiana, and southern Mississippi have between a 40 to 50 percent chance of receiving above normal precipitation.
"This is a classic El Nino precipitation signature for our area. In response to the precipitation outlook, the winter seasonal drought outlook depicts drought conditions improving and in some cases being eliminated across parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Areas of Oklahoma and Texas that are still classified in drought are expected to improve as well," said Brehe.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, all of the southwestern U.S. has a 40 to 50 percent chance of being warmer than normal, with chances in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas between 33 and 40 percent. "This is not a classic El Nino signature for our area. However, the contrasting forecast is not necessarily surprising, considering that the temperature signal for El Nino events has proven to be more erratic than the precipitation signal in our area," Brehe said.
The webinar presentations were a collaboration of NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System, the NWS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state climatologists, universities and other drought experts. NISDIS was created to help explain how drought affects society, the economy and the environment.
NIDIS hosts the webinars so that folks who are interested can watch the entire webinar, which is recorded and available on http://www.drought.gov.
For more information go to http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/predictions/long_range/lead02/off02_prcp.gif
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.