Southwestern ranchers living in a “forgotten” drought

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Eastern Texas has been blessed with abundant moisture the past few months, leaving many with the impression that the great drought is over. But that’s far from true for west Texas and New Mexico, where drought conditions remain classified as “severe” to “exceptional.”

The December-February period was called the 11th wettest on record for much of the eastern portion of Texas, with records going back 117 years. But that leaves the western two-thirds of the state bone dry, and it has become the forgotten drought because west Texas and New Mexico are sparsely populated.

“Last year, the whole state was in drought at one time or another and most of the state was in exceptional drought, so we can call it ‘the Texas drought’ and say it’s bad everywhere. That’s the easy five-second statement. But now things are complicated, John Nielson-Gammon, the State Climatologist told StateImpact Texas.

Nielson-Gammon now says instead of a “Texas drought,” there are different regions in different levels of recovery, and some regions are not recovering at all.

The area near San Angelo seems to be the dividing line for moisture in Texas. The area has had about 5 inches of rain since the beginning of the year – enough to turn pastures green, but not enough for ranchers to consider restocking their herds. Drive west of San Angelo and the green landscape begins to fade.

The U.S. Drought Monitor still shows the heavy dark brown drought indicators covering west Texas and New Mexico, but normal colorings have returned for eastern Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. This year the lingering drought that also hit Georgia and Florida last year is working its way up the East Coast.

Last year New Jersey experienced its wettest year on record, and saw nearly 24 inches of rain in August and September alone due to Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. Since then rainfall has been sparse. The first three months of 2012 saw average precipitation of just 6 inches throughout the state, well below the average of 10.6 inches.

Near-record heat in New Jersey and other northeastern states this week has climatologists worried that the early stages of a drought are underway for that region. For the East Coast, climatologists say the reduced rainfall is the absence of a subtropical jet stream that normally brings moisture up the coast.



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