Dallas Off The Drought Map, But No Luck For Houston

Word that the Dallas area has officially emerged from the drought is giving Houstonians hope that we might be next. Drought experts say "not so fast."

Mark Svoboda would like to promise the drought in the Houston area will be over soon, but it's not quite that easy.

"I wish I could promise that."

drought map
US Drought Monitor

He's a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's the organization responsible for the US Drought Monitor, a color-coded map that shows which areas of the country are in a drought. Unfortunately for
Texas, a lot of the state is still covered with red or dark brown splotches, indicating exceptional or extreme drought. The Houston area is more yellow, or in a severe drought. Svoboda says recent rains have helped, but there's a big difference
between short term water gain and enough moisture to actually help Southeast Texas farmers and ranchers and industries that depend on water.

"If you're looking at concern about just turning your tap on in the urban areas and water's going to come out, you might be in a lot better shape than a producer out there relying on rainfall for their livestock or for crops or if you're relying on irrigation water for rice, you're going to have a different definition of when drought impacts you and that's the difficult thing about it. To say the coast is clear for everybody would be premature for sure."

He says Dallas didn't start the drought like we did here in Houston. There was more rain in north Texas before the drought started and over the summer. But he says there is some good news here for us. 

"You know, the good thing about your area there in the Houston area is that you're right off the Gulf. The pattern changes, it can happen quickly. We get into sort of a spring moisture fetch, we get into summer and your situation can really turn around much more quickly than someone who is up in the panhandle of Texas.”

The three reservoirs where Houston draws its water are all mostly recharged and the city has lifted its watering restrictions. But Alvin Wright with the city's public works department says summer will be here sooner than we think.

"The drought should have been an indicator for most of us also that we went through a situation that we never went through before and so we want people to understand that in order for us to maintain the reservoirs that we do have, which are pretty large, we've got to mindful about being conscious of how we use water on an everyday basis."
 
Mark Svoboda agrees. He says there is reason for cautious hope here in Houston, but things could also easily slide the other way.
 
"You know, we're coming out of this and it wasa pretty good winter overall and we'll see what spring and summer brings, but it isn't going to just recharge everything automatically, because we know the temperature will ramp up and we know that precipitation doesn't keep pace with what we lose to the atmosphere when Texas gets hot in the summer."

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...