UPDATE (with Eye-Popping Videos): Record Rains Don’t Ease Texas Drought, State Braces for Multi-Year Dust Bowl
"UPDATE (with Eye-Popping Videos): Record Rains Don’t Ease Texas Drought, State Braces for Multi-Year Dust Bowl"
Texas finally received rain over the first weekend in October. But as the Drought Monitor shows, while the portion of the state under exceptional drought has dropped a little, 99% of the state is still under severe drought, just as it was last week.
The L.A. Times reported:
Texas has finally received some rain, but the weekend deluge has yet to make a dent in the yearlong drought that weather experts say could last a decade.
Some cities set daily rainfall records last weekend, prompting flash-flood warnings, including Waco, which received 5.83 inches of rain Sunday. Houston, in the midst of its driest year and after enduring its hottest summer on record, received 5.11 inches of rain, another daily record. Dallas got 1.37 inches.
Deluges are not the ideal solution to a drought because of the possibility of flash floods and massive runoff. What’s needed is slow but steady rain. Unfortunately, global warming pushes the extremes in both drought and deluge.
UPDATE: Coincidentally (or not), while I was writing this post, Lubbock was hit by a monster dust storm. Here’s one amazing video (via NY Times) and another is at the end:
A fearsome dust storm whipped through the Panhandle and South Plains of Texas on Monday with wind gusts up to 75 miles an hour in some places…. the monstrous cloud wrapped the city of Lubbock in darkness shortly before 6 p.m.
Tim Oram, a meteorologist at the weather service, said that in Lubbock, the cloud of dust whisked from the ground stretched up to 8,000 feet high and caused zero visibility brown-outs in some places.
“To get to zero visibility, that’s pretty thick,” Mr. Oram said. “That’s what made this one probably a little unusual.”
For background, see USGS on Dust-Bowlification: Drier conditions projected to accelerate dust storms in the U.S. Southwest (which has stunning videos of dust storms in Australia) and NBC: “The Dust Storm that Swallowed Up an American City” (which has stunning videos of this summer’s monster dust storm in Phoenix).
I reported several weeks ago that state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon had predicted: “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.”
More recently, he did an analysis suggesting the drought could last a decade, which made headlines, but more recently he modified that to “I’d guess the odds that this drought will last five years are only about 25%”:
Texas A&M University prepared a press release based on my discussion of the prospects of a multi-year drought. Rather than saying that the drought could last another 5-15 years, the headline of the press release said that the drought could last until 2020. I approved the headline; after all, 2020 is between five and fifteen years from now.
I realize now that this was a mistake. Naming a particular year implied a certain precision which the fuzzy word “could” could not overcome. While it was technically correct, it gave the wrong impression, and for that I apologize.
Now that the mistake has been made, I want to consider the consequences.
One consequence is that the story captured the attention of a lot of people. The fuzzy words operate on an intellectual level, but the specific “2020″ gave the whole thing a visceral quality, making people think, “A drought until 2020? Eel!”. It made the inconceivable conceivable, which is useful since most Texans have not experienced a drought lasting more than two years.
I also suspect I’ll become known as the guy who thinks the drought will last until 2020. I suspect this even though the story says “could”, which in normal usage does not imply odds greater than 50%. Indeed, I’d guess the odds that this drought will last five years are only about 25%.
He then makes an interesting analogy:
I wonder if a similar transference of uncertainty (from the prediction to the person predicting) accounts for the common but unsubstantiated impression that scientists were predicting global cooling during the 1970s. The scientific consensus at the time was that global cooling was possible but not likely. Did that become internalized as “Scientists are predicting global cooling…. I think it’s possible but not likely?”
Back to the Texas drought. Here’s another amazing story from last week, “Texas drought leaves lake too low for cities’ use“:
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The devastating drought has taken its toll on a Texas Panhandle lake, now too low to keep supplying water to nearly a dozen cities.
The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority near Amarillo voted to stop using Lake Meredith, which had been a water source since the 1960s.
The water authority’s half-million customers are not likely to notice the effects of Wednesday’s vote until next summer, said Kent Satterwhite, the authority’s general manager. Although the lone remaining water supply is plentiful, the peak demand may put stress on its delivery, he said.
This year the lake’s water, for the first time, was pumped for cities’ use only from June through August instead of year-round because water levels dropped to a record low – just under 31 feet, Satterwhite said. The record high level was nearly 102 feet in 1973.
Here’s one from last month, “Farmers in the Southern Plains brace for multi-year drought”
Cleavinger, who farms about 3,500 acres with his son in the Panhandle town, has been growing corn, wheat and cotton and raising cattle for 33 years. None compares to this year, when the combination of brutal heat, relentless winds and no rain created one of the most difficult years in history for Texas agriculture.
Many farmers across Texas, as well as parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico — areas under extreme drought conditions, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor — are reporting the toughest season they’ve ever seen.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the agencies that run the Drought Monitor, foresee continued drought through the end of the year . But climatologists say there is strong possibility that the drought, nearing 12 months in duration, may extend to become a multi-year event, spanning several growing seasons. This could have painful consequences to the agricultural sector, with few tools for relief.
I’ll end with a quote from Texas climatologist Katherine Hayhoe:
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.
Here’s another eye-popping video of Monday’s Lubbock dust storm:
- Texas Drought Now Far, Far Worse Than When Gov. Rick Perry Issued Proclamation Calling on All Texans to Pray for Rain
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