The historic drought that plagued the Lone Star State for much of 2011 finally appears to be receding, at least for some areas of the state.

In its weekly Drought Monitor report, the USDA showed that 18.6 percent of Texas is now free from any stage of drought or abnormal dryness.  The last time Texas saw such a high percentage of white on its Drought Monitor map was in February 2011.

While the majority (81.4 percent) of the state still remains under some stage of drought condition, this week’s report showed progress as Texas recovers from the lingering effects of last year’s drought.

Substantial improvement has been made to the state’s drought recovery in the first half of 2012 thanks to the end of La Niña and much-needed precipitation.

By the end of March, many areas in eastern Texas had seen almost as much rain in the first quarter of 2012 as they received throughout 2011. The Drought Monitor for Jan. 3 reported 99.99 percent of Texas in some stage of drought, leaving just one-tenth of a percent without any reports of dryness.

Since then, rain has quenched the dry fields in the region, and the state greened up as waves of new growth emerged. See the stunning satellite images here.

In total, 47 of the past 69 Drought Monitor reports showed at least 75 percent of Texas in severe to exceptional drought.  Last year’s drought peeked in the Oct. 4 report, with 100 percent of the state in moderate to exceptional drought; 88 percent of Texas was reported in the most severe level of drought.

Today, just 9.31 percent of the state, primarily in the western half, remains in exceptional drought.

Check out the drought progress in the image below:

Drought loosens grip on Texas

Conditions may be improving, but ranchers and farmers in west Texas should prepare for an extended drought in their near future. According to the Climate Prediction Center, the drought is expect to persist – if not worsen – through the end of July in much of the western half of the United States, including west Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, northern Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and southeastern California.

Drought loosens grip on Texas

So what does the summer forecast reveal? Though it may be months away, the possibilities of an El Niño summer could bring hope to Texas, the southern Plains and the rest of the nation.

Bloomberg reported that with the possibility of an El Niño summer, temperatures across the U.S. could be much lower than last summer’s blistering heat waves. Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at Weather Services International, predicts that the South, especially Texas, will be much cooler this summer.   If El Niño does develop, Crawford suggests that the hottest part of the summer will be its beginning, with cooler conditions continuing through the season.