State climate czar says drought causing concern

HARLINGEN — Texas’ dry winter is receiving notice from state officials.

State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon was quoted in Texas A&M AgriLife’s weekly crop report released Tuesday as saying most of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions.

Here in the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville and southern Cameron County are in moderate drought with Harlingen right on the edge of that line and listed as being abnormally dry. Willacy County is abnormally dry, and Hidalgo County’s eastern edge is the same, but the rest of Hidalgo County, about two-thirds, is in moderate drought.

Even drier conditions extend up the Valley, with Starr County in moderate and severe drought, and Zapata County with significant areas of severe and extreme drought.

Those ratings in the U.S. Drought Monitor report from last week were repeated Thursday, when the latest drought update arrived with practically no changes for Valley locations.

“Much of the state has been waiting to get decent amounts of rain into the soil for spring planting,” Nielsen-Gammon told A&M AgriLife. “The lack of rainfall is definitely something to be concerned about at this point.”

According to Nielsen-Gammon, temperatures have been “strange,” the report said.

“Temperatures have been slightly warmer than normal despite colder temperatures arriving earlier than usual,” the report reads. “So far, there haven’t been any record-setting cold or warm records around the state this winter.”

Nielsen-Gammon’s interview was conducted prior to Tuesday’s record high temperature of 88 degrees recorded in McAllen. The previous record high for the date was 86 degrees set in 2013.

Most of the colder temperatures in the state this winter have been in the north. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, temperatures have trended significantly higher than normal this winter.

In Harlingen, for example, the average daily temperature in January has been 66.3 degrees, which is 6.3 degrees higher than normal.

In Brownsville, the average daily temperature has been 67.3 degrees, 6.7 degrees above normal. In McAllen, the daily average has been 68.4, which is 7.7 degrees higher than the daily norm for the month.

In December, Harlingen recorded average daily temperatures of 2.3 degrees above normal, Brownsville hit a mark of 3.9 degrees above normal and McAllen was 3.1 degrees higher than its usual daily temperature for the month.