State Climatologist: “It’s Likely Much of Texas Will Still Be in Severe Drought” Next August, With Worse Water Shortages

Even The PBS Newshour’s Coverage is “Climate” Free

Sign seen in Austin, TX.

The U.S. Drought Monitor puts it another way [click on map for detail].  Over 80% of the state is now rated under “Exceptional Drought” (darkest red):

Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon has a number of charts that provide some historical quantification and comparison.  In his Monday post, “Texas Drought: Spot the Outlier,” N-G offers “a plot of Texas average summer (June-August) temperature versus Texas summer precipitation” as far back as records go (1895):

Nielsen-Gammon explains, “Can you spot the outlier?  The year 2011 continues the recent trend of being much warmer than the historical precipitation-temperature relationship would indicate, although with no previous points so dry it’s hard to say exactly what history would say about a summer such as this one.  Except that this summer is way beyond the previous envelope of summer temperature and precipitation.

Human-caused climate change is starting to take us outside the bounds of the recorded weather extremes.  And the Texas State Climatologist warned it is likely to get worse:

I’ve started telling anyone who’s interested that it’s likely that much of Texas will still be in severe drought this time next summer, with water supply implications even worse than those we are now experiencing.

The link to climate change is clear — record-smashing heat makes any drought more devastating — even if major media outlets, including PBS’s News Hour, choose to ignore it.

Texas climatologist Katherine Hayhoe put it this way in an email:

We often try to pigeonhole an event, such as a drought, storm, or heatwave into one category: either human or natural, but not both. What we have to realise is that our natural variability is now occurring on top of, and interacting with, background conditions that have already been altered by long-term climate change.

As our atmosphere becomes warmer, it can hold more water vapor. Atmospheric circulation patterns shift, bringing more rain to some places and less to others. For example, when a storm comes, in many cases there is more water available in the atmosphere and rainfall is heavier. When a drought comes, often temperatures are already higher than they would have been 50 years ago and so the effects of the drought are magnified by higher evaporation rates.

Climate Wire (subs. req’d) quotes an expert from the Lower Colorado River Authority:

The recent trend line — short bursts of rain and flash flooding followed by long, drawn-out periods of little to no rain — suggests strong evidence of climate change, whether or not Texans agree on the cause of the planet’s warming trend, says LCRA meteorologist Rose. (Rick Perry, Texas’ Republican governor, who is running for president, says he does not believe climate change has a human cause.)

“The climate seems to be changing, and we can’t rely on every other year getting a big flood and getting a lot of water,” Rose said. “We appear to be going into a period now that’s going to feature longer dry periods and then short bursts of rain in between.”

That is in fact the basic prediction of climate science for the Southwest U.S. — see “USGS on Dust-Bowlification” for recent studies.

But, as Steve Sconik of Capital Climate notes, even supposedly “liberal” media aren’t connecting the dots, or, as he puts it, “Mainstream Media Chronic Climatological Challenge Continues“:

The PBS News Hour last night devoted nearly 8 minutes to the subject:

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Although moderator Gwen Ifill and NPR correspondent and Texas native Wade Goodwyn correctly recognized this as the “worst drought in Texas history”, the word “climate” was not even uttered. (Neither was it mentioned in the 3 minutes of coverage on the flooding from Hurricane Irene.) With the governor of the state embarked on a vicious anti-science campaign, shouldn’t the question at least have been asked? Apparently the reporters have bought into the inane prayer meme:

GWEN IFILL: As you talk to people, to farmers, to ranchers, to people who depend on rain, do they have any innovative or alternative ideas about how to cope with this crisis, other than to get down on their knees and pray for rain?

WADE GOODWYN: Not really.

Some of the viewers evidently did get the message, anyway:

Doug Stewart said:

I listened and watched in shock tonight and Gwen Hill and Wade Goodwyn, both whom I have long respected, discussed the drought in Texas puzzled while failing to connect the dots to make the connection between global warming and CO2 production. Wade’s only solution was to pray for rain. What has happened to your courage and objectivity?

Gordon Pricd said:

Again, a story on the Texas drought – and not a mention of climate change. Given the position of Governor Perry – that climate science is essentially fraudulent – isn’t a question journalistically justifiable. Indeed, demanded?

If climate change is no longer a topic that can be credibly raised in the context of some of the worst-ever droughts and floods in the nation’s history – major items on the same program – then that’s a story all on it’s own.

rrjim said:

Most inane coverage and questioning by Gwen Ifil I could imagine. Worst draught in Texas history, Governor of Texas running for president who doesn’t “believe in” global warming. But not one question about climate change and maybe the connection? Why is that?

Nielsen-Gammon has some more charts on just how off-the-chart this drought is.  Here’s the historical distribution of August temperatures:

Texas August temperatures, including 2011 estimate

He notes, “We’re on track for an August average temperature of 88.1 F.  There’s still time for it to change by a few tenths, but not only will we shatter the previous August record (by over 2 F), but we’ll also break the all-time record for warmest month by about 1 F.  The all-time record, by the way, was set just last month.

Here’s another amazing chart:

He explains:

The graphic [above] shows that what is the worst one-year drought overall for Texas in the last 100 years is also the worst one-year drought at 55.8% of all locations in the state.  The dark-red shading denotes 2011 as absolutely the worst one-year drought in the past 100 years throughout almost all of western Texas as well as many parts of eastern Texas such as Houston.

Places where 2011 does not rank as #1 don’t necessarily imply that the drought is less severe there, only that one or more previous droughts have been more severe.  Second on the list is 1925 (brown), which is the one-year drought leader for large parts of eastern Texas from Temple, Austin, and eastern San Antonio all the way to the Louisiana border.  So if you’re included in that area, know that as bad as the drought is in 2011, it has been worse.  The 1925 drought does not show especially prominently in the statewide statistics because the western half of Texas was wet during 1925.

I should note that these assessments only include precipitation.  The especially warm temperatures associated with this year’s drought make the 2011 impacts somewhat worse than what would have been produced by the same amount of rain in 1925.


Let’s end with Climate Wire, which has some of the human stories of this epic tragedy in its piece, “Record-setting agricultural disaster in Texas gets ‘worse by the day‘ ” (subs. req’d):

After scanning the landscape surrounding this tiny (population 757) central Texas town, one immediately understands why the city’s officials have decided to scratch the word “cotton” from the annual September Cotton Festival.In normal years, these fields would be overflowing with lush cotton crops ripe for harvesting. The locals say that around this time, it’s typical to see the Miles central collection point so overflowing with cotton it looks like someone tore open a giant pillow. But the drought of 2011 has completely devastated the crop. Acres of flat brown patches are all that’s left….

The Texas Department of Agriculture says the record-setting drought that began in October has resulted in a staggering $5.2 billion in losses for rural farm communities, the greatest seasonal loss on record. Cattle ranchers have lost $2 billion, while the hit to the cotton industry is put at about $1.8 billion. That’s just a preliminary estimate of the overall damage and doesn’t include smaller crops like lettuce.

“I’ve been involved in cattle and calf production my entire life, and I have never seen these types of conditions across Texas,” said Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in an interview. “Texans are suffering through the worst one-year drought on record, and this calamity is just getting worse by the day.”

Texas provides the “hell” — while Irene provides the “High Water” — in Hell and High Water.  Yet this uber-extreme weather will probably be a not-terribly-unusual summer in Texas by around mid-century, if climate science deniers like Governor Rick Perry continue to be successful in blocking serious climate action — and if the media continues to refuse to connect any dots whatsoever.

Related Post:

22 Responses to State Climatologist: “It’s Likely Much of Texas Will Still Be in Severe Drought” Next August, With Worse Water Shortages

  1. Joe Romm says:

    Oops. Accidentally shut off commenting overnight.

  2. BBHY says:

    Outside of Fox News, you really don’t hear about climate change in the mainstream media. I’m pretty sure that the oil industry has applied considerable pressure behind closed doors to make that happen. Now that public funding for PBS has been drastically reduced, they are more dependent than ever on donations and a big part of those donations come from the oil industry.

  3. wvng says:

    One of the most pernicious impacts of the right’s jihad against government and anyone funded by government is the defensive crouch it forces them all into. They are all afraid of losing their funding, and their liveihood, if they do anything the jihadists don’t like. That leads directly to appalling sights like the PBS Newshour doing an 8 minute segment on the exceptional drought in Texas without one word about climate change.

    It also leads commercial interests, knowing that the right has been conditioned to believe climate change to be a liberal hoax, to ensure they don’t lose a portion of their customer base by reporting accurately on the subject.

  4. Deborah Byrd says:

    Hi Joe, thank you from all of us in Texas for the wonderful post.

    Your post partly inspired this one from me …

    All best,


  5. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    The “Texas Summers” graph above shows more than a disruption of climate. With 2007 data at the low end of temperature with record rainfall for around a century, a mere four years later the 2011 data is at the opposite extreme with unprecedented heat and unprecedented lack of rainfall.

    This massive expansion of the amplitude of events’ data within so short a period is surely the clearest evidence yet that what we face is climate destabilization, not climate disruption.



  6. Bill Goedecke says:

    I don’t find the response of our society to our climate crisis particularly surprising. As I recall, a systems approach to science was never the mainstream. Science was reductionist and myopic and was tied in with technological development. If I recall right, Odum, the ‘father of ecology’ – who took a systems approach, was opposed by others who saw systems as aggregates. The paradigm in science seemed to discourage any kind of teleological view of evolution and nature. Science was paired with economics – hence we have the industrial agricultural system. The politicians just represent the old paradigm which is both reductionist and myopic. However, I truly share your alarm!

  7. Pangolin says:

    So Texas farmers need to plant rice AND sorghum every year and hope one crop gets the right rains?

    Anybody want to bet they get a dry early season and then flooding rains?

    If this keeps up we’re going to see climate refugees wandering around the country trying to find a place with weather that isn’t threatening to kill them.

  8. Peter Mizla says:

    How true

    but will the media ever report ‘climate refugee migrations’ due to climate change?

  9. pudge1671 says:

    It would appear Mr. Gammon is calling his boss a lair and I can’t for the life of me understand why perry doesn’t fire him. I also can’t understand why the people in Mr. Gammons position don’t try to get the governor fired for being a charlatan.

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    Last month was the hottest and fifth-driest August recorded in Fort Collins, and this summer has shaped up to be the fourth-hottest in 123 years of recordkeeping at Colorado State University.

    This summer’s heat is part of a trend: The eight-hottest summers on record here have all occurred since 2000.

    “The fact of the matter is, the state as a whole has had many of the warm summers since the late 1990s,” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

    “That’s consistent with what many climate scientists predict will be part of a response to greenhouse gas emissions.

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    ” The average temperature for August was 74.3 degrees, or 4.1 degrees above normal for the month, putting last month atop the list of hottest Augusts on record. “

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    “For Augusta, with 138 years of data, 2011 was the warmest summer on record,” he wrote in a recent assessment that concluded the state’s drought is worsening.

    The city’s average mean temperature of 83.7 degrees was 4.5 degrees above average, eclipsing a previous record of 83.4 degrees set in August 1993.

    In June, July and August, the city’s average high temperature of 97.1 was 6.5 degrees above average and also broke the previous record from 1993, when it was 96.5 degrees, Stooksbury said.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    Montanans have been delivering hay to Texas at $120 a bale.

    Last time I was sitting on a bale of hay I had no idea that it could ever be worth $120!

  14. Gordon says:

    I’d like to see some analysis on how insurance will go. It seems to me that rates in problem areas, such as Florida coastline and TX/OK/KS drought areas, will increase rapidly and then be unavailable AT ALL. We should see migration from those areas, especially after people lose money on their farms for the second time.
    Another concern is – these people will move to progressive states – and probably dilute the states’ electoral ability to act on climate change.
    Limbaugh and Fox News – the two deadliest enemies of America’s future.

  15. Peter Mizla says:

    The heat this summer has extended into most of the south, and as far east as Indiana.

    It looks like the Map issued by Stanford University last year on increasing heat waves in the 2020’s and after.

    With the premise of reaching 2 degrees C above the preindustrial level.

    Regions of the Midwest, great plains, south look to become a dry inferno. Perhaps the report was too conservative in its timetable.

  16. muoncounter says:

    Guvna P would have to fire a large number of the tenured science faculty at TAMU, UT and Rice – and even the governor of Texas doesn’t have that much power. Sadly, neither does the combined weight of academia have an influence at the state house. Nope, we’re stuck with the choice made by the good folks of Texas (and I are one), educated by one of the finest public school systems in the country. Texas is #49 in verbal SAT scores in the nation (493) and #46 in average math SAT scores (502).

    In Perry’s world, the high numbers are the best ones.

  17. Doug Bostrom says:

    When the fossil fuel industry mobilizes their zombie army of witless volunteers to beat the press senseless every time climate change is mentioned, is it any surprise that editors and reporters are eventually trained to avoid mentioning the topic? It’s only human to avoid that sort of pain.

    Attack of the brain eaters, successfully inflicting a blind spot on our media…

  18. Paul magnus says:

    Let’s not forget ocean acidification.

    The rate of ghg emissions is unprecedented for millions of years.

    It’s this super exponential rate which means we are effectively in uncharted waters and of the scale.

    In the next decades chaos will rain.

  19. Ginny in CO says:

    Does that mean we can get rain if we endure chaos? :)

    Sorry, it provided a much needed moment of humor to the dry and ominous article.

  20. Rebecca says:

    I would like to see some coverage of the drought in Louisiana. The dark red around the edges of Texas doesn’t just end there!
    In Shreveport, almost all of our beloved dogwoods and countless other trees, including most of our smaller magnolias, have died.
    Springtime in this southern city won’t be the same without our lovely dogwoods. I can’t imagine what a tropical storm would do to this city.

  21. Joan Savage says:

    Back on 8/26 The Texas Tribune ran a piece which the NY Times saw fit to republish.

    “Assessing Climate Change in a Drought-Stricken State”

    In passing, I’m noticing a journalism thing; by placing the certainties (temperature increase) ahead of unknowns (cloud cover effect, duration of La Nina) the article leaves the reader with questions. Reorganizing it to have the questions first and the certainty (temperature increase) at end generates a more conclusive perception, yet with the same information.