HARLINGEN — Weather has dominated news, social media and just plain talk here in the Valley recently.
Just the second snowfall in decades will do that for a place.
But weather which is not so visible is slowly creeping into a danger area — drought.
For Texas, October and November were two of the driest on record, and even the areas saturated by Hurricane Harvey’s historic flooding are experiencing dry conditions.
The state climatologist warns things aren’t going to get better this winter, mostly due to a La Nina condition in the Pacific Ocean which will mean warmer, drier air for much of the state.
“October is usually one of our wettest months and oftentimes is extremely wet, but it’s been fairly dry and the forecast going forward into winter doesn’t look promising,” John Nielsen-Gammon said in a statement.
As of now, experts don’t believe the state is necessarily going to repeat the last significant Texas drought which began in late 2010 and lasted until 2013.
Still, the October-November period this year was the 12th-driest since 1895.
A lack of rainfall isn’t just a problem for home gardeners, or people with manicured lawns. Extreme dry periods raise concern about dangers from wildfires, about poor forage in winter pastures and a drop in surface water levels for both livestock and wildlife.
Here in the Valley, it’s been a long, dusty slog in 2017, with the region quickly falling behind early in the year when it came to rainfall — and staying there.
Brownsville is 4.20 inches under its normal annual average, Harlingen is 5.37 inches under its average and McAllen is down 2.04 inches. And while rain is in the forecast for the next few days, it is unlikely to alter those numbers.
“There is a pocket of wetness in the Mid-Valley, a couple of them, near Weslaco, and there is an area near McAllen that’s not too far below average,” said Barry Goldsmith, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Brownsville.
“Northern Hidalgo County, especially some of the farmland and especially the ranchlands, and the King Ranch in western Kenedy and eastern Brooks County, they’ve done quite well,” Goldsmith added. “We’ve actually, through our travels up there, noticed it’s green and that makes sense because they’ve gotten the rain.
“But the rest of the Valley overall is looking at anywhere between 75 and 90 percent of average (rainfall) with a few pockets of 65 to 70 percent of average,” he added.
The McAllen area was the beneficiary of garden-saving fall showers which helped the city recover significantly from “moderate drought” conditions. Much of western Cameron County spent most of the year rated as “abnormally dry” as defined by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Harlingen, or at least parts of the city, could be even worse off than 5.37 inches under its average rainfall. Those readings were taken at Valley International Airport, but at the National Weather Service cooperative site just 1.6 miles to the south-southwest, the rain gauge there reads almost nine inches under normal rainfall for the calendar year.
As of Dec. 7, the latest U.S. Drought Monitor update, all of Cameron County was listed as abnormally dry, as was all but northwest Willacy County. Starr County was listed as being in moderate drought, and Hidalgo County was listed as normal.
“We had enough rain at the right time, meaning just in time, to keep the drought from getting really, really bad in 2017,” Goldsmith said. “The story has been drier than average and certainly warmer than average, but it has rained just enough to keep us from going into full-bore, extreme, exceptional or more widespread severe drought.
“We know what that looks like, right?” he asked.
Goldsmith said the “spigot” for the Valley turned off at the end of 2010, and didn’t turn on again until the fall of 2013 and into 2014.
“Since then, it’s been OK — it hasn’t been perfect — but it’s been better than it was back then,” he said.
The state climatologist, Nielsen-Gammon, said 35 percent of Texas is in drought conditions now, which is up from just 2.5 percent a month ago.
The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, which covers November through February, forecasts worsening drought as likely in all of Texas except the Panhandle region and El Paso and areas 100 to 200 miles east.
“Its effect will vary by region and local conditions when it comes to forage, crops and surface water,” he said.
Cities 2017 rainfall Inches below norm
Brownsville 22.55 inches 4.20 inches
Harlingen 19.13 inches 5.37 inches
McAllen 19.35 inches 2.04 inches
Source: National Weather Service as of 12/12/2017