Heading into the height of West Texas' prime wildland fire season, drought conditions within the region continue to worsen according to several weather monitoring agencies.
In Thursday's weekly U.S. Drought Monitor Report, 88-percent of the State of Texas was classified as being under some form of drought designation, which was up from 87.5-percent one week ago and 81-percent from a mid-November 2013 report.
Locally, Gaines County's drought designation ranged from "abnormally dry" in the extreme southwestern portion of the county's boundaries, to "severe drought" over roughly one-half of the county's 1,500 sq mile area, primarily north and west of the Seminole community. Currently, a large swath of the Permian Basin region is seeing drought conditions range from "no-drought" to "abnormally dry," thanks in part to recent snowfall activity south of a Pecos-to-Andrews-to-Snyder line..
North of Gaines County, drought conditions are more visible, as South Plains, Texas Panhandle and Rolling Plains counties range in drought designations from "moderate" to "exceptional," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report.
David Hennig, a metrologist with the Midland regional office of the National Weather Service, said Thursday drought conditions appear to be in the forecast for the next one-to-three months locally, according to forecast models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.
"The one-to-three month outlook is showing the Permian Basin region should see above average temperatures and below average precipitation chances, meaning our drought conditions are going to remain the same or worsen even," said Hennig.
Hennig added long-term forecast models are showing West Texas residents will see more zonal flow jet stream patterns, which typically mean little, if any, moisture will be associated with passing high/low pressure systems. In meteorological terms, a zonal flow relates to the flow of air -- or the jet stream -- along a latitudinal component of existing flow, normally from west to east.
"With zonal flows, there is no opportunity for moisture from the Pacific (Ocean) to make its way over the Rocky Mountains and into the region," he said. "The moisture typically dies out well before the mountains with this type of weather pattern, which results in the above average temperatures and below average precipitation chances."
Results of the zonal flows have been evident through the first two months of the 2014 calendar year, as just 0.14 inches precipitation has been recorded within the Seminole community, while 0.17 inches has fallen in Seagraves, according to information provided by the Texas Tech University Mesonet Weather Monitoring System.
To start the 2014 calendar year, no precipitation fell during the month of January, which marked the seventh time in local weather history -- dating back to 1922 -- that such a feat had occurred within the Seminole community. The last time that occurred was in the 2011 calendar year, which proved to be the driest year on record for the Seminole community, with 3.54 inches.
Texas State climatologist, Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, said in a mid-February interview with Southwest Farm Press there was an outside chance an El Nino weather pattern could develop later this calendar year, which would increase precipitation chances for the parched Texas landscape.
“Most of the forecast models are pointing in a positive direction for an El Nino. It’s still way too early to say, but there’s a potential for it,” said Nielsen-Gammon, who added that if the Pacific Ocean weather phenomenon did develop, its effects will not be in time to offset another dry, hot summer.
El Nino, according to a NOAA definition, is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, which offer increased rainfall chances across the southern tier of the US.
“That’s not good for drought conditions, because that means more evaporation and more water demand,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
A wet fall was followed by a fairly dry December and an especially dry January.
“The thing about the dry winter is that we’ve had some fall moisture issues already,” he said. “Depending upon how much rain we get in the spring, that basically determines how rapidly things dry out in the summertime. Even with a normal rainfall, summer is a time in just about all areas of the state when we’re water stressed because evapotranspiration is so high. So we’re going to hit the summertime dry conditions earlier than normal, unless we make up this winter moisture deficit in the next couple of months.”
Unfortunately, making up that deficit is not likely to occur in February and march this year. “We still don’t have a good jet-stream pattern to bring us plentiful moisture, and there’s no sign of it developing.”
On average, according to NWS figures, the Seminole community sees roughly 18 inches of precipitation per calendar year.
In the 2013 calender year, the Gaines County communities of Seminole and Seagraves saw 11.34 inches and 10.85 inches of precipitation, respectively, according to information provided by the Texas Tech University mesonet weather monitoring system.
And, in looking ahead, it appears no long-term relief in precipitation appears to be in sight.