With 23 people dead so far in Texas flooding, and more rain on the way, it is easy to overlook an important development: the deluge has nearly brought the end of a historic four-year drought.
Many reservoirs are now at or near capacity. Underground aquifers are slowly being replenished. And lakes are filling up. As of Tuesday, just five percent of Texas, encompassing about 218,000 people in central and northern pockets of the state, was under moderate drought conditions, according to government data.
That was before more rain hit those areas this week.
“It seems that we have good water resources that will hopefully provide enough water for at least a year,” said Fouad Jaber, a water management researcher at Texas A&M University who researches water management.
Even if forecasts for a wet 2015 turn out to be wrong and the rains suddenly disappear, it would take a sustained dry period of about two years to wipe out the gains made in the past few weeks, Jaber said.
Much of the turnaround has to do with the same rains that have caused so much destruction. May has been the wettest month on record for Texas, culminating with violent storms last weekend that triggered sudden floods that washed away cars and pulled homes from their foundations. As of Thursday, 23 people were dead and nine remained missing, including members of two families vacationing together along the Blanco River. Swollen rivers are expected to keep rising, and more rain is in the forecast for later this week.
A year ago, things were much different. At that point, the drought was three years old, and 90 percent of Texas was suffering from dangerously dry conditions.
While Texas is a place of weather extremes, the recent whipsaw is unusual. This week marked the third time in a century that such sudden, heavy rains ended a drought. The other two occurrences were in 1957 and 1919, according to State Climatologist John Neilsen-Gammon.
SOURCE: JON SCHUPPE