La Niña weather pattern expected through spring

Farmers and ranchers in areas of Texas where drought already exists should expect it to get worse over the next few months, and the rest of the state should expect to get drier, as well, according to climatologists at the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).

The prediction is based on a La Niña climate pattern, which is expected to linger throughout the winter and spring, TWDB Manager of Water Availability Program Dr. Nelun Fernando said.

“During a La Niña event, the Pacific jet stream is north of where it typically traverses our state,” Fernando said. “As a result, we will likely not get the storm systems that we would get if the jet stream was located farther south, so it is likely that this winter and spring will be drier and warmer than normally expected.”

Texas has had La Niña conditions develop several times over the past decade, with the winter of 2017-2018 being the most recent, Fernando noted.

“We did have some drought that year, but it didn’t last very long due to some rain events and storm systems that came through,” she said. “There are other weather systems that can occur and relieve drought. We had a La Niña for two consecutive years in the winters of 2010 and 2011, and in the second year, the drought broke in a couple of places because they had regional rainfall. So, it’s not impossible for things to improve in some areas.”

Impacts of La Niña patterns are most pronounced in Texas during the winter and spring, Fernando said. In addition to drier weather, an a La Niña event brings higher temperatures.

“The change in the jet stream means that there could be less cloud cover over Texas, and more solar radiation can reach the land surface, leading to sensible heating and warmer temperatures,” she said.

Several counties in the Panhandle, West Texas and Far West Texas are experiencing exceptional drought, the most intense category on the National Weather Service’s (NWS) drought scale. Most counties in those areas are experiencing at least moderate drought.

Other parts of Texas are listed as abnormally dry, but currently, 52 percent of the state is not experiencing any drought conditions.

“Unfortunately, it’s not looking too good as it stands right now,” Fernando said. “Predictions for the next three months show it is very likely the existing areas of drought will remain, and it’s likely the drought will extend.”

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