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2011 was the 'worst' drought in Midland - Energy And Water Development Corp

2011 was the ‘worst’ drought in Midland

The National Weather Service reports Midland is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

The rainfall totals at Midland International Airport show 0.52 inch of rain since Sept. 1. That is more than 6 inches below average.

Midland County is in the midst of a burn ban, and drought conditions are “exceptional” – the most intense and impactful stage of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

But as bad as it has been, Midland has experienced worse. The “worst” happened in 2011.

2011 became the drought that all others in and around Midland will be measured against. Actually, the weather event’s months stretched from October 2010 to July 2011 when the National Weather Service reported 0.18 inch fell at Midland International Airport. That was 10.16 inches below normal.

The other numbers paint an equally dry tale of the 2011 drought.

  • There were two periods during that stretch that rank in the top 7 of consecutive days all-time without rainfall. Both were more than 80 days.
  • There were the most days of 105-degree weather (18),
  • There were the most 100-degree days (65),
  • 2011, at the time, was the warmest year in Midland’s history.
  • For the calendar year, 2011, there was 5.47 inches of rain (the third lowest annual total in Midland’s history).

And don’t forget the wildfires. The National Weather Service offices reported wildfires in Midland and Andrews counties that engulfed more than 121,000 acres. There also was the Rockhouse fire west of Marfa that burned 314,444 acres. It was, at the time, the second largest wildfire in the state’s history.

“2011 will be very difficult to beat,” said Scott Kleebauer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Right now is keeping pace, but 2011 was the worst.”

So, what’s going on?

Kleebauer told the Reporter-Telegram that Midland is in a similar La Nina pattern as 2011. Storms are left to the north and drylines are pushed to the east, which is helping southwest winds to dry out the atmosphere more than usual.

“We are stuck in a dry slot,” Kleebauer said. “Dry begets dry. … The pattern has to change (to get meaningful rainfall).”

Kleebauer said the current prediction from the National Weather Service is for the La Nina system to wane and “head closer to neutral.” It will then take a month or two for weather patterns to shift, he said.

“We need the dryline to move west to get any development of storms,” Kleebauer said. “As long as it remains east, it will be difficult to get much of anything.”

The 2011 drought was not only notable for the weather pattern but also for the aftermath. Former Mayor Wes Perry said at the time that water resource measures would have happened eventually, but the drought brought a sense of urgency to build a 67-mile pipeline from water fields in Winkler County to Midland.

That pipeline has allowed the city to tap into decades worth of water and be less reliant on the Colorado River Municipal Water District, which also developed more water resources after the 2011 drought for its member and customer cities.

Some will remember 2011 for the most restrictive watering measures in the city’s history and the drilling of water wells across the city and county. What maybe became the symbols of the drought conditions were the progressive decline of the Wadley Barron “duck pond” and the signs that popped up around town for those who had their own water sources (to protect against others calling the city on them). People were only allowed to use city water to landscape maintenance on certain days of the week.

“It was such a nightmare,” Perry said Tuesday of the dry conditions.

Perry said Midlanders’  reaction to the 2011 drought was to conserve. He added it was amazing people “got on board so quickly.”

Because of the work of Perry, the Midland City Council and the Midland County Freshwater Supply District, the T-Bar Ranch Pipeline was completed in 2013, and there hasn’t been any conversation about reinstituting any restrictions for when people can water this time around.

“It is remarkable how much that has changed,” Perry said. “(In 2011), it was like we were going to dry up and go away if we don’t do something different. Today, it is not a problem. It is quite amazing.”

Another product from the 2011 drought were conversations with the cities of San Angelo and Abilene to develop other water resources, specifically the purchase of “50 years” of groundwater from Fort Stockton Holdings in 2020.


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