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State Climatologist Predicts Overall Dry Conditions to Continue

By Bruce Barr
County GIS Analyst

In a recent TAMUtimes article, John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M, states that the current Texas drought could last another five years, or even until 2020.

“We know that Texas has experienced droughts that lasted several years. Many residents remember the drought of the 1950s, and tree ring records show that drought conditions occasionally last for a decade or even longer,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “I’m concerned because the same ocean conditions that seem to have contributed to the 1950s drought have been back for several years now and may last another five to 15 years.”

The professor is referring to a La Nina temperature pattern present in the Pacific Ocean that tends to create drier than normal conditions in the southwest. With 57 percent of counties having an average Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) rating higher than 600, the chances of wildfires across the state will persist along with the drought.

KBDI values of 600-800 are often associated with more severe drought and with increased wildfire occurrence. Intense, deep-burning fires with significant downwind spotting can be expected. Live fuels can also be expected to burn actively at these levels.

The current drought has cost Texas untold billions of dollars in losses to the agriculture and agriculture related industries. But as counties have learned with the exceptional number of wildfires this year, combating them also puts an unprecedented stress on county resources.

Not only is county heavy equipment called on to assist with state and local agencies, county personnel are often the mainstays of volunteer fire departments, the front line of wildfire defense. Sheriff’s offices and constables and reserve deputies are called upon to assist with evacuation and re-entry of affected neighborhoods. Depending on the length of the evacuation and the extent of the fire zone, these same law enforcement officers could be working additional patrols looking for looters or managing media vehicles and gawkers.

While federal agencies may offer reimbursement for larger events covered by presidential disaster declarations, the expense of responding to smaller daily fires often isn’t recouped. As the drought lingers, unfortunately, the wildfires will also. Drought Workshop Scheduled for Nov. 14 Tom Boggus, state forester and director of the Texas Forest Service, will be a presenter at the TAC Fall Administrative Workshop Nov. 14, 2011, at the Omni Marina Hotel, Corpus Christi. With longterm meteorological forecasts predicting current dry conditions could continue through the decade, Boggus will discuss how the Texas Forest Service and counties must work together to mitigate the impacts of a persistent drought on local ecologies and economies.

For more information, contact Bruce Barr at .